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Laboratory Eye Protection: Focus On Safety

March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month, an event sponsored by Prevent Blindness to encourage employers and employees to make eye safety and eye protection a workplace priority. Unfortunately, eye injuries in the workplace happen much too often. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that every day about 2,000 U.S. employees experience work-related eye injuries that require medical treatment.

Approximately 60 percent of workplace eye injuries are caused by foreign matter getting into the eye. Another 35 percent result from the eye being struck by an object or piece of equipment. In a laboratory setting, the most common cause of eye exposures are chemical and biological splashes. Aerosol exposure and touching the eye with a contaminated finger or glove can also result in eye injury as well as illness. It’s often overlooked that the mucous membranes of the eye are a significant route of exposure for biological materials including viruses such as bloodborne pathogens and bacteria.

The positive news is that most eye injuries that occur in the workplace are preventable. According to The American Academy of Ophthalmologywearing appropriate protective eyewear can prevent more than 90% of serious eye injuries.

Safety glasses with side shields are the most commonly used type of eye protection in laboratories. They provide protection from moderate impact hazards and minor chemical and biological splashes. Safety glasses have shatter-resistant lenses commonly made of polycarbonate.

Regular prescription glasses are not safety glasses and do not provide adequate eye protection. OSHA’s Eye and Face Protection regulation requires that employees who wear prescription lenses while engaged in operations that involve eye hazards wear eye protection that incorporates the prescription in its design, or they must wear eye protection that can be worn over the prescription lenses without disturbing the proper position of the prescription or protective lenses.

For some activities, goggles may be needed in place of safety glasses. Goggles should be worn when there is a likely risk of a chemical splash that can cause eye injury, such as when pouring concentrated corrosive materials. They should also be worn when handling larger volumes of potentially infectious biological material. Goggles provide a greater level of protection than safety glasses as they form a protective seal around the eyes and prevent liquids from entering under or around the goggles.

All protective eyewear must comply with ANSI Z87.1-2020, the American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices.

The use of eye protection should be a mandatory requirement for all laboratory personnel and visitors working in or entering any lab space where there is potential for eye exposure.

It’s critical that employees be trained on facility-specific requirements for eye protection and that policies are enforced.

To help employers educate employees on eye safety and the importance of eye protection, Prevent Blindness offers a workplace safety module as part of its free program, the Healthy Eyes Educational Series. Prevent Blindness also has fact sheets to promote eye wellness in the workplace and at home.

For additional information on Workplace Eye Wellness Month, or for assistance evaluating your facility’s eye protection policy, please contact us.

This blog was written by Beth Graham, Safety Partners’ Director of Quality, Research, and Training.

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