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Goggles & specs go eye to eye

23 January 2013

While some form of eye protection is often needed on construction sites, knowing exactly what is required is often less than straight forward. Graham Abbott offers some advice Arecent visitor to the IOSH website forum

While some form of eye protection is often needed on construction sites, knowing exactly what is required is often less than straight forward. Graham Abbott offers some advice

Arecent visitor to the IOSH website forum was asking for advice for a safety policy she was writing after some chemical splash incidents. She was inclined to follow the guidance given on the material safety data sheet (MSDS), but another writer considered these to be overly defensive and took little account of how the materials were used.

Someone else wrote that their company insisted on goggles without exception whenever chemicals were handled, and yet another said that where they worked safety spectacles were worn at all times, and goggles carried for high risk tasks.

There is no legislation to assist in the decision, or to contravene. Safety spectacles don't provide the same level of impact resistance as goggles but the mechanical threat alone is not the definitive factor.

Goggles provide liquid splash, dust and fume protection but are not the most popular to wear over a full shift and are more likely to be removed if they are uncomfortable, fog up and don't fit.

The employer is legally responsible for assessing the risks and deciding how to manage them. Eye protection must be provided whenever employees are exposed to potential eye injuries if work practices or engineering controls cannot eliminate the hazard. Each task and workplace environment carries its own hazards, such as blood and infected body fluids in a medical environment, flying particles and welding arc in manufacturing, splashes and fumes from chemicals and even bright sunlight in the construction industry.

The risk assessment should identify all possible threats, and as always engineering controls and working practices fully explored first with PPE used only as a last resort. The EN166:2002 standards give a clear idea of what each item of eye protection will defend against and its degree of resilience to impact hazards.

The markings found on all safety frames and lenses will reveal the product's performance in the face of impact, dust, liquid splash, molten metals, optical quality, sun glare and even their resistance to fogging and surface scratching. But it is down to you to match the hazards your employees face with the protection offered by the product.

The basic rule of thumb suggested by UVEX is that goggles are more suitable for tasks such as grinding or cutting, bolt, needle and nail guns, concrete breakers or any other task requiring high levels of explosive force or impact. Goggles should also be worn when there are environmental contaminates such as dust or fumes which will not be prevented from reaching the eye by spectacles. At other times spectacles should be worn in accordance with the risk assessment and/or the site or company policy.

For prescription lens users, the minimum requirement is the use of overspecs or goggles. At best, prescription safety specs which incorporate safety lenses and side shields. Full face shields can be an option to goggles for impact and splash as well as being compatible with prescription spectacles and some respiratory masks.

In some industries the mandatory use of eye protection is becoming common.

Some construction companies now insist on the use of eye protection at all times, and all sites have areas and tasks for which protection is compulsory. The Wates Group introduced the compulsory wearing of eye protection in 2005, and eye injuries fell by 80 per cent as a result. It had introduced a policy five years earlier that all workers must carry eyewear, but employees resisted wearing the equipment and the injuries continued. Most were minor and typical for construction work, such as a moderate direct impact to the eye or eye area, or airborne foreign objects entering the eye. Some were more serious but none involved long-term loss or damage to eyesight.

Many Wates workers had been in the industry for decades and never worn eye protection or suffered injury, and the concept of eye protection was of something that was uncomfortable, unattractive and unnecessary. Uvex had the task of presenting its modern frame designs and lens coatings and challenging workers to test the comfort and style of products which had already received acceptance in other industries. Goggles and spectacles will offer exactly the same level of protection if they are not worn, which is none at all. The first consideration in making the selection of any PPE is will the worker continue wearing it when the foreman's back is turned, and that is usually down to comfort, style and education.

Graham Abbott is sales and marketing director for UVEX (UK)