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Eye injury prevention depends on protective eyewear at work, home

By Robert Goetz | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | May 2, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —

Eye injuries are an all-too-common occurrence in the United States, affecting more than 20,000 workers each year, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

These injuries impact the military as well.

During the fourth quarter of 2018 alone, the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps reported 2,916 eye injuries.

However, most of these injuries are preventable: All it takes is one important piece of safety equipment.

“An estimated 90 percent of these injuries could be avoided if proper eyewear was being used,” said Vernon Vinson, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph occupational safety and health specialist.

The Air Force uses 91-series Air Force Instructions, Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, American National Standards Institute publications and host nation requirements to determine the need for eye protection, said Tech. Sgt. Thomas Powell, JBSA-Randolph safety specialist.

“The Air Force requires involvement at all levels regarding eye protection,” he said. “From commanders to individual workers, there are key responsibilities that must be met in order to maintain effective mishap prevention. Commanders must ensure the procurement of eyewear is available.”

Supervisors play an important role by analyzing job tasks and all related AFIs, technical orders and manufacturer instructions to determine the type of protection required, Powell said.

“Supervisors must also ensure personnel are trained on the use, inspection and maintenance of the eye protection they will be using,” he said.

Service members and civilians in certain career fields – such as aircraft maintenance and civil engineering – are more susceptible to eye injuries, but people in any career field could need eye protection at some point, Powell said.

“Even administrative jobs may need eye protection for certain tasks or self-help projects around the office,” Powell said. “It’s important that supervisors use a job hazard analysis worksheet to determine whether or not eye protection will be needed for tasks that may not be common to their employees. Regardless of the career field, any employee that is exposed to a potential eye-injuring hazard is required to wear eye protection while that hazard is present.”

The type of protective eyewear used depends on the situation, Vinson said.

“Nonprescription and prescription safety glasses provide eye protection for general working conditions where there may be dust, chips or flying particles,” he said. “Side shields and wraparound-style safety glasses can provide additional side protection.”

Goggles provide protection from impact, dust and chemical splash, and, like safety glasses, are highly impact-resistant, Vinson added.

“They also provide a secure shield around the entire eye and protect against hazards coming from any direction,” he said.

Other types of protective eyewear are face shields and helmets, which provide protection against exposure to chemicals, heat or blood-borne pathogens, Vinson said. Helmets are used for welding or working with molten materials. 

“However, face shields and helmets need to be used in conjunction with safety glasses or goggles so the eyes are protected when the shield is lifted,” he said.

Although eye injuries at JBSA-Randolph are rare, those that do occur usually happen in industrial work areas such as flightline maintenance, vehicle maintenance and the civil engineering shops, said Tech. Sgt. Dominick Fugazzi, JBSA-Randolph safety specialist.

“In certain cases, personnel have exposed their eyes to various debris, fuel, oil and solvents as a result of not wearing any eye protection,” he said.

Desk jobs do not require protective eyewear, but computer use can cause eye problems, Vinson said.

“Looking at monitors for hours at a time when working on computers, tablets and even cellphones can cause your eyes to become dried out, red and, in some cases, can cause headaches,” he said. “Some simple ways to reduce the risk of this happening are to place the monitor at an arm’s length away from your face;, follow the 20-20-20 rule and take a break every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds; and reduce the glare on your smartphone and digital screen by adjusting the low light filter setting to lower screen brightness or use a matte filter to reduce eye strain.” 

The workplace is not the only place where protective eyewear is essential, Vinson said.

“At home if you participate in any hobbies, yard work, vehicle maintenance or other home maintenance tasks, you should have at least one pair of ANSI-approved protective eyewear available for use,” he said. “You should use eye protection if an activity involves hazardous chemicals or other substances that could damage your eyes upon contact, flying debris or other small particles that could hit participants or bystanders, or projectiles or objects that could become projectiles and fly into the eyes unexpectedly.”

Using the right protection for the possible hazard involved is exercising sound judgment regardless of the location, Vinson said.