Keeping vision protected from hazards

Wearing the right eye protection for the job is crucial to maintaining eye safety. Copyrights: Bollé Safety – F. Bourcie

Mining is an industry sector where workers are at risk of eye injuries. Bollé Safety speaks to Safe to Work about the practical ways that workers and employers can stay in constant vigilance.

When a drill bit snapped and hit a worker with a shard, he and his colleagues wouldn’t have expected a near-miss. But the shard was sticking out of the worker’s left lens without him even realising it ­— until a colleague pointed it out.

Following the accident, the worker involved only had his safety glasses manufacturer to thank for saving his eyes.

This eye hazard is no foreigner to mine sites. Furthermore, flying or falling objects (or sparks striking the eye) account for nearly 70 per cent of the analysed accidents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States. The particles are reported to be travelling faster than a hand-thrown object at the time of accidents.

Unfortunately, the mining industry, along with construction, manufacturing and agriculture, is a sector where employees most often suffer eye injuries during work.

Both underground and open-cut miners are vulnerable to eye injuries, and each group of workers faces different factors that increase the risk of eye injury. Common hazards include dust and flying particles, various fumes, UV exposure and chemical hazards.

Dust

Regular blasting and the use of mining machinery creates airborne objects such as sand and dust. Active ventilation of the mine sites creates additional danger, while surface mines are also subject to wind and dust conditions.

These particles can cause abrasions, punctures and contusions of the cornea. In fact, corneal abrasion is one of the most common types of eye injury, especially in dusty environments.

Eye injuries vary from something minor, such as scratches that can heal in a couple of days to more severe abrasion, which could cause permanent damage.

Light and heat

The sensitivity of eyes to light is fundamental to sight, but it also makes them vulnerable to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the form of light and heat. The eye is even more sensitive to radiation than the skin, which is protected by the skin’s outer layer and protective pigment.

Apart from flash burn, which can present itself immediately, adverse effects can occur cumulatively when the eyes are exposed to bright light or high temperatures. These injuries come from a number of sources, including fires, furnaces, welding torches, molten metal, sparks and direct sunlight.

Chemical exposure

The fragile moisture and pH balance of the eyes could make common chemicals found in the workplace cause serious harm to the eyes.

A short exposure to vapours, mists or fumes of many industrial chemicals may also be strong enough to cause irreversible eye damage. The escape of air and water under high pressure is another possible cause of eye injury.

Keeping eyes safe with suitable protection

Not wearing eye protection at work is considered a major factor contributing to eye injuries, according to Bollé Safety. Wearing the wrong protection for the job may also lead to many accidents.

Evidence suggests that glasses and goggles designed for specific workplaces are the best way to protect eyes from the wide range of hazards.

In dusty environments, safety glasses with SBR “positive seal” gasket and strap kit maximise eye protection. To fight dusty and humid environments, choose models with scratch and for resistant coating.

When working in an outdoor environment, polycarbonate lenses in safety glasses block 99.9 per cent of UV rays regardless of the lens colour. However, polarised models are excellent in removing the reflection and glare.

While alternating exposure to bright and low light, comfort sensitivity perception (CSP) lens technology is recommended. This type of lens is also suitable for extreme temperature environments.

Bollé suggests wearers choose the product that fits their face and ensure the equipment is adapted to each wearer’s face.

If wearing prescription lenses, users should consider prescription safety glasses or comfortable over the glasses (OTG) or goggles (in dusty environment) that would fit over prescription eyewear.

All-around protection

Reducing hazards in the workplace is essential and there are many other things companies can do to ensure workers are safe from potential hazards.

These include making sure to reduce and avoid falling and flying debris, as well as smaller particles like chips and dust. Lighting should be adapted to better suit the health and wellbeing of workers. First-aid kits should be readily available, and eye wash stations should be carefully positioned around the facility. Eye safety policy, training and drills will help educate and reinforce best practices in eye care.

DOs

• Rinse the glasses under cold water to remove any dust

• Clean the lenses softly with cleansing solutions or pre-moistened wipes

• Use a clean microfibre soft cloth to dry the lenses

• Always carry and store your spectacles in a protective case or pouch

• Eyewear that are scratched or which frame is damaged must be replaced.

DON’Ts

• Never use hot water which can alter and damage the coatings of the lens (anti-reflective, anti-fog, etc)

• Never use clothes, fingers or general-purpose tissues to clean lenses

• Do not clean with any solvent or alcohol-based cleaning product

• Do not place your glasses with the lenses facing down.

This article also appears in the Apr-Jun edition of Safe to Work.