Effective eye protection in the construction industry
By Mahmoud Barakat, Honeywell Industrial Safety
Wednesday, 19 September, 2018
The construction industry remains one of Australia’s most hazardous, with the sector accounting for 12% of serious compensation claims in 2015–16. Every year, construction workers sustain injuries that critically impact their ability to continue working, like sight loss or even blindness. However, such injuries can be reduced, if not prevented, by following some key measures required for effective eye protection.
Construction sites pose significant eye injury risks. Every day, workers face a myriad of hazards, including flying nails, wood splinters, metal fragments or finer particles such as dust and grit created by cement mixing, sawing or chipping. The implications can be serious, ranging from temporary blurred vision, irritation or burns, to severe and long-term impaired vision or even blindness. In other cases, where direct contact with substances such as liquid mists or sources of radiation may not cause instant injury, it can have a slow, steady and ultimately damaging effect on the eyes. The tragedy is that most eye injuries are entirely preventable.
What causes an eye injury will depend on the type of work undertaken on-site, so the first line of defence is to carry out a risk assessment to identify potential hazards. Ideally, the priority is then to have these hazards removed before beginning work. However, as this is not always possible, safety eyewear is then critically important for eye protection.
Under the model WHS laws, employers have legal duties that cover the provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers must provide suitable PPE to workers and provide training in the proper use, wearing and maintenance of the PPE, as well as instruction in how to detect and report any faults.
Where eye safety is involved, the first consideration for employers is to provide the right eyewear solution for the work environment. There are several different types of eyewear available, so safety managers will need to assess the risks that workers face in order to provide the most appropriate equipment. Safety glasses, goggles and face shields are all used in construction environments and each has a specific use.
Safety glasses are suitable when the eye area does not need to be fully enclosed to remain protected. Safety glasses should be tested to ensure they meet Australian and New Zealand safety standards and provide a level of impact resistance against high-speed particles. Advanced lens treatments such as anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings are also available. Anti-fog technology enables construction workers to carry out tasks indoors and outdoors without worrying about impaired vision, which can increase the risk of accidents.
Goggles protect against more serious eye hazards, like dust, flying particles, molten metal and hot liquids, and should be used whenever a tight seal is required to protect the eyes. This prevents any objects or liquid from slipping through the space between the face and the eyewear. Look for goggles with anti-scratch and anti-fog ventilation or with an anti-fog lens coating for more effective protection in changing environments.
The final level of protection is the face shield, which protects not only the eyes but the full face. This is the best protection when workers are coming into contact with hazards like solid particles flying at high speed. It may also be important to opt for a face shield that has not only been tested to withstand strong impact, but also to protect against arc flash, molten metal, hot solids and caustic chemical droplets.
Working outdoors or indoors can make the difference when it comes to selecting suitable safety eyewear. The contrasting work environments require different lens tints and shades to block out sunlight, enhance colours or accommodate diverse work applications. UV protection is really important and it is always advisable to purchase eyewear that offers 99.9% UV protection and is K&N marked, which means the product has superior anti-scratch and anti-fog properties.
It is all very well providing the correct eye protection, but if the worker doesn’t use it, they put themselves at risk. It is important to remember that PPE is not always comfortable to wear, especially eyewear if workers are not used to wearing glasses on a daily basis. To resolve this issue, many proactive employers involve employees in purchasing decisions. This gives the user the opportunity to test out the eyewear and provide feedback before a final decision is made. Workers should also provide feedback once the eyewear has been purchased and advise if it is causing issues.
Two important points that influence user buy-in are comfort and style. Eyewear needs to provide maximum comfort as this is a significant factor in determining worker acceptance and uptake. Remember, the construction worker needs to wear the eyewear over the course of an entire day, in what can be tough and often uncomfortable environments. Style also needs to be taken into account.
On a building site, construction workers will also be required to wear other PPE such as hard hats, hearing protection and gloves. It is therefore crucial to ensure that the PPE is compatible and the use of one does not negate the use or performance of another. The best eyewear will be designed with this in mind.
Another important thing to consider is that Australia has an ageing workforce. Research reveals that most people over the age of 40 wear prescription glasses all or part of the time. Some workers choose to wear their regular glasses in place of protective eyewear, which can be a costly error as prescription glasses do not provide the level of protection required. Others choose to wear their regular prescription glasses under protective googles, which can be uncomfortable and at worst can impair overall vision and compromise safety. PPE manufacturers like Honeywell have been working to overcome this challenge, introducing prescription safety eyewear, which combines a corrective lens with a safety frame. This tailored eyewear solution provides vision correction while also keeping the worker safe.
Safety eyewear may not be as complicated as respiratory or fall protection, but it is still important that employers provide information on how the eyewear works, especially if it is adjustable. Adjustable eyewear allows workers to reduce the space between the face and lenses, thus reducing the risk of objects or liquids getting into the worker’s eyes. Employers need to supervise construction workers on-site and make sure they are wearing the eye protection and remind them if they are not. Hanging posters in common areas like the changing rooms or regular safety briefings can help to alert workers of potential risks.
Finally, workers need to undertake regular checks to make sure that the eyewear is still usable. Eye protection may not seem like an important priority on a busy construction site compared to other risks, but the consequence of failing to take action literally changes lives.
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