Australians suffer around 50,000 eye injuries every year even though many of them are wearing eye protection at the time of their injury.
Safety eyewear is often incorrectly fitted, is not rated appropriately for the task or does not provide adequate protection, according to a Safe Work Australia (SWA) report.
Ordinary eyewear such as prescription glasses, sunglasses or contact lenses do not offer appropriate eye protection and can actually increase the severity of injuries in the event of an incident.
Eye injuries can lead to permanent vision loss, contributing to depression and negatively affect work and social relationships, as described in a Comcare Eye Health in the Workplace guide.
The most dangerous injuries for the eyes are in the mining, construction, agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, in which 60 per cent of all eye injuries in Australia occur.
It is therefore critical to have the appropriate eye protection. That means knowing when to use medium, high or extra high impact rated eye protection and when to use safety glasses, safety goggles, face shields or a combination of these.
Choosing your impact rating
Eye protection impact ratings are determined by the PPE’s ability to withstand an impact from a specifically-weighted ball without cracking, detaching or dislodging, breaking or coming into contact with the eye or the head.
Rating requirement: Can withstand impact from an object moving at 12m per second.
Suitable tasks: Chipping, riveting, spalling, hammering and managing a strap under tension. Choose safety glasses with a Standards mark.
Rating requirement: Can withstand impact from an object moving up to 45m per second.
Suitable tasks: Scaling, grinding and machining metals, some woodworking tasks, stone dressing, wire handling and brick cutting. Choose safety glasses with a Standards mark ‘I or F’.
High impact (visor only)
Rating requirement: Can withstand impact from an object moving up to 120m per second.
Suitable tasks: Metal chipping, hydraulic nailing or any mechanical procedure involving high velocity machinery.
Extra high impact (visor only)
Rating requirement: Can withstand impact from an object moving up to 190m per second.
Suitable tasks: Any mechanical procedure involving very high velocity machinery.
While impact resistance is critical mine workers should also consider whether they need safety glasses, safety goggles, a face shield, or a combination of these.
Safety glasses allow air in and around the eye area while safety goggles fit tight against the face, offering protection against dust and splashes. Face shields provide further protection and can also be worn over spectacles or goggles.
In determining suitable safety eyewear, a risk assessment should be carried out by a qualified OHS professional to choose what suits each work environment.
Mine workers should also consider the type of lense, the shape of their head and if anti-fog lenses for use in humid conditions are required.
Certification to the AS/NZS1337.1:2010 Standard means there is quality assurance that the product will perform as stated. Check safety eyewear to see if it has the Australian Standards logo, which indicates they conform to tests for impact resistance.
It is also important to consider UV protection. The sun’s ultraviolet radiation can cause a range of debilitating health conditions, from mild irritation to cataracts and cancer of the conjunctiva.
The article also appears in the Oct–Dec edition of Safe to Work.