There are four things you can do to protect your eyes from injury:
- Know the eye safety dangers at your work.
- Eliminate hazards before starting work by using machine guards, work screens or other engineering controls.
- Use proper eye protection.
- Keep your safety eyewear in good condition and have it replaced if it becomes damaged.
Selection of protective eyewear appropriate for a given task should be made based on a hazard assessment of each activity. Types of eye protection include:
- Nonprescription and prescription safety glasses. Although safety glasses may look like normal dress eyewear, they are designed to provide significantly more eye protection. The lenses and frames are much stronger than regular eyeglasses. Safety glasses must meet standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Look for the Z87 mark on the lens or frame.
Safety glasses provide eye protection for general working conditions where there may be dust, chips or flying particles. Side shields and wraparound-style safety glasses can provide additional side protection.
Safety lenses are available in plastic, polycarbonate and Trivex™ materials. While all four types must meet or exceed the minimum requirements for protecting your eyes, polycarbonate lenses provide the highest level of protection from impact.
- Goggles. Goggles provide protection from impact, dust and chemical splash. Like safety glasses, safety goggles are highly impact-resistant. In addition, they provide a secure shield around the entire eye and protect against hazards coming from any direction. Goggles can be worn over prescription glasses and contact lenses.
- Face shields and helmets. Full face shields protect workers exposed to chemicals, heat or blood-borne pathogens. Helmets are used for welding or working with molten materials. Face shields and helmets should not be the only protective eyewear. They need to be used in conjunction with safety glasses or goggles, so the eyes are protected when the shield is lifted.
- Special protection. Helmets or goggles with special filters to protect the eyes from optical radiation exposure should be used for welding or working with lasers.
Safety glasses must fit properly to provide adequate protection. Also, eye protection devices must be properly maintained. Scratched and dirty devices reduce vision, cause glare and may contribute to accidents.
Combined with machine guards, screened or divided work stations, and other engineering controls, using the correct protective eye wear can help keep you safe from any type of eye hazard.
Can contact lenses be worn safely for industrial jobs?
Contact lenses can’t provide significant protection from eye hazards in the workplace. However, there is no evidence that wearing contact lenses increases the risk of eye injury.
Contact lenses may actually increase worker safety and productivity because they often provide improved vision in the workplace. Individuals who wear contact lenses usually have a wider field of vision than with eyeglasses. They also often have less visual distortion, especially with higher power lens prescriptions. In addition, wearing contact lenses instead of eyeglasses can improve the fit and comfort of eye safety equipment, such as goggles and full-face respirators.
The American Optometric Association believes workers should be permitted to wear contact lenses in most eye-hazardous environments (see the AOA Guidelines for the Use of Contact Lenses in Industrial Environments). However, these workers must wear eye protection over contact lenses according to the requirements for all workers performing the same job.
In some cases, such as when hazardous chemical fumes are present, the safety of contact lenses may need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Check your employer’s safety policy regarding the wearing of contact lenses. Your optometrist can help your employer and you determine whether you can safely wear contact lenses in your workplace.