Protecting your Eyes on a Building Site

A seldom addressed risk on construction sites is the harm that can be done to one’s eyes, despite the fact that the eyes are one of the most important and central body parts which enable us to continue working on a construction site and remain safe while doing so, in other words reduced visibility can actually affect our ability to correctly judge and remain safe on construction sites. That is one of the reasons why we need to protect these important organs.

There are so many hazards on construction sites that may affect our eyes and our ability to see, such as flying particles that may be ejected as a by-product of operations such as grinding, sawing, hammering and welding as well as dust and other particles from wood, metal, plastic etc. becoming airborne and entering our eyes.

Fumes and splashes from molten material or chemicals and harmful light rays from operations such as arc welding or oxyacetylene cutting can also present a serious risk to worker’s eyes.

One of the most effective and common ways of protecting your eyes is by utilising personal protective equipment but this should never be the first choice when addressing hazards. Firstly the hazards that may affect the eyes needs to be identified and the risks associated need to be addressed, thereafter the hazard should be eliminated. It is not always possible to eliminate the hazard or replace the hazard with something less hazardous, and in this instance these hazards need to be minimised by implementing control measures. The last option should be the implementation of personal protective equipment (PPE).

PPE used to protect your eyes include:

  • Safety glasses
  • Safety goggles
  • Face shields and Helmets

Safety glasses look like ordinary glasses but are actually designed to protect workers from the impact of flying particles. The lenses of these glasses are designed to provide the wearer with more impact protection against flying particles than ordinary glasses do.

Safety goggles are not the same as safety glasses although they are often confused. Goggles provide workers with another form of protection and come in many different forms. Your choice of goggles will depend on the hazards present on the site, for example on sites where dust is a particular concern, dust goggles are especially helpful because they provide a tight seal around the eyes compared to safety glasses.

Face Shields and Helmets are aform of PPE used to protect the eyes in conjunction with other PPE. They shouldn’t be the only form of PPE used. They mostly provide protection for the face against flying particles, heat, chemical or molten materials. When engaging in activities like welding or metal cutting, face shields are recommended because they provide increased facial protection.

Be alert to the eye hazards present at your worksite and remember your White card training as well as training provided by your employer regarding eye protection and PPE.

Wear the PPE that is provided for you according to your employer’s instruction and training, failure to do so may result in disciplinary action.

Make sure that the eye protection you use fits appropriately to be effective, if it is too big, small or loose the level of protection can be significantly reduced.

If you do suffer an eye injury, report the incident to your supervisor and get medical attention immediately.


White Card Update: How to Avoid Eye Injury for Construction Workers

The very nature of the construction industry and the various hazards that it presents make workers vulnerable to a number of injuries, including eye injuries. Eye injuries are one of the most common workplace injuries reported by construction workers because of the heavy machinery and tools involved. Construction work exposes workers to a wide variety of hazardous materials, many of which are airborne such as saw dust, sand, metal shavings, paint, stone dust, chemicals, dirt, nails, toxic chemicals and radiation.

According to recent studies most workers who reported eye injuries were not wearing personal protective eyewear at the time. Some workers using safety glasses were still injured because the glasses were not sufficient protection for the task undertaken.

Not only should employers provide workers with the appropriate Personal protective equipment for the job to be done safely, but they should also provide a wash station where eyes can be washed whenever necessary.

The best protective eye wear is the kind that protects the entire eye and has shields which reduce the gaps. These prevent dust particles and other foreign objects from flying into the eye area and damaging or irritating the eye because they have side shields which minimise the gaps.

Concrete coring and welding are just two of the many construction activities that necessitate the use of these safety glasses. Safety glasses with side shields usually have vents to prevent fogging and hampering vision. Workers who wear contact lenses need not use ventilated protective glasses and workers wearing prescription glasses should use the appropriate safety glasses that fit over their prescription glasses.

Although safety glasses are usually manufactured using the highest standards, its best to use safety glasses made from industrial strength materials that do not buckle under routine hazardous worksite conditions.

What are Workers Responsibilities?

While employers are responsible for providing the appropriate eye gear free of charge should the job require it, workers have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of themselves including their eyes. Workers must wear the eye gear whenever engaging in eye threatening activities. Employers must train workers on PPE and ensure they are well maintained and clean

Construction workers must use protective eye gear every time they are actively involved in a construction related task and the appropriate eye protection for the task should be utilised. Most eye injuries occur when workers least expect it and are not wearing the necessary protective eye covers.

Ensuring that PPE is well maintained and protective eye gear is kept in excellent condition is also the workers’ responsibility, but should the PPE become damaged it should immediately be reported.

Guidelines on What Protective Eyewear to Wear

  • Workers should always wear goggles or safety glasses that have side shields fitted, not ones that leave the sides open, exposing parts of the eye area.
  • If you use contact lenses, wear unvented goggles.
  • The following circumstances warrant and in fact require the use of safety eye goggles:

When there is a lot of dust, liquids, gases and when engaging in overhead work.

  • Also wear a clear, plastic face shield for:

Work with corrosive chemicals or metals that can splash into the eye, grinding, chipping, or using a wire brush on welds, work involving flying particles, sandblasting work.  

What to do in an Eye Emergency:

Hopefully it will not get to this, but should you find yourself with an eye injury first seek medical attention especially if the eye is sore, blurry or if you have lost vision. When waiting for medical help to arrive your first aid officer can assist or you can attempt to the following steps

If you get particles in your eye:

•Avoid rubbing the eye

•Your eye will naturally secrete tears, try to let these tears wash the dust out or irrigate the eye with an artificial tear solution or water.

•Attempt to lift the upper eyelid outward and down over the lower eyelid to remove the dust speck.

•If the particle does not wash out, keep the eye closed and seek medical care.

If you suffer a blow directly to the eye

•Apply a cold compress without putting pressure on the eye. A cold compress can be made by putting crushed ice in a bag.  

•In cases of severe pain or reduced vision, seek immediate medical care.

If you sustain cuts and punctures to the eye or eyelid

•Never wash out the eye as is often our first instinct to do.

•Do not attempt to remove an object that is stuck in the eye.

•Cover the eye with a rigid shield, like the bottom half of a paper cup and seek immediate medical attention.

Chemicals in the eye

•As soon as possible, wash the eye with water for at least 15 minutes. Place the eye under a faucet or shower, use a garden hose, or pour water into the eye from a clean container.

•Remove contact lenses first before flushing out the eye.

•Do not try to neutralize the chemical with other substances or bandage the eye.

•Seek immediate medical attention after flushing.

Posted by Steven Asnicar