How Eye Safety Compliance Can Kick Off a Culture of Safety

By Phil Johnson, director of technology, Eye & Face Protection Group, Honeywell Safety Products

The value of establishing a safety culture is widely recognized by employers today. Companies that empower employees at every level with individual ownership in the safety process stand to reduce injuries and retain a more productive workforce. Furthermore, a safer workforce can improve morale and reputation, support hiring initiatives and save a company hundreds of thousands of dollars in injury-related costs annually.

When it comes to creating a culture of safety, an eye protection program is a great place to start. First, eye safety is a persuasive safety conversation opener because it’s easy for everyone to understand how valuable —and vulnerable — our eyes are. Second, eye protection is easy for safety managers and peers alike to see in action; at a glance, everyone can tell who is being accountable for his or her own safety. Eye protection is an ideal platform for providing positive feedback to those who are in compliance and encouraging every worker to reinforce safe behavior.

Kicking off a culture of safety initiative with an eye protection program works well because eye hazards are found in nearly every industry. From beauty salons to heavy manufacturing, from laboratories to forestry, workers everywhere are exposed to hazards ranging from harmful chemicals and vapors to flying objects to harmful ultraviolet radiation. More than 36,000 nonfatal occupational eye injuries requiring days off from work occur in the U.S. each year, according to Prevent Blindness America. Yet more alarming is that as many as 90 percent of such accidents could be prevented if workers wore the proper eye protection. That means that every day of the year an average of nearly 100 workers experience a serious — yet preventable — eye injury that requires time off. The resulting costs to employers and individuals are significant. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workplace eye injuries cost employers more than $934 million in direct and indirect costs each year. The cost to an injured worker, who may temporarily or even permanently lose his or her vision, is immeasurable and includes diminished quality of life, lost wages and medical expenses.

By becoming familiar with the national standards for eye and face protection, safety managers can select the proper personal protective equipment, educate their workforce on usage and safe practices, and encourage buy-in and compliance among the workforce at large. This article examines eye protection standards in the United States so that safety officers can build a safety culture starting with a solid eye protection program in any industry, with results that everyone can see.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) sets the standard for occupational eye and face protection. Titled ANSI Z87.1, the standard has been in existence through several iterations for nearly 50 years. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) specifically cites ANSI Z87.1 as the minimum performance requirement for protective eyewear, and therefore employers are legally required to comply with it. Those found in violation of eye safety requirements may be assessed a civil penalty ranging from $5,000 to $70,000 for each violation.

ANSI Z87.1 specifically calls for the use of eye and face protection by workers exposed to any hazard that can be injurious to the eyes, including flying objects, particles, chemicals, vapors and harmful light radiation. Employers are responsible for conducting workplace hazard assessments to determine whether a site requires eye protection. An assessment should include a thorough walk-through to identify all potential eye hazards as well as a review of all material safety data sheets (MSDS).

Once a safety manager has determined the types of hazards present and the corresponding levels of protection required, he or she should be sure that all safety eyewear complies with the ANSI Z87.1 standard. Eyewear meeting the standard is tested and approved for requirements such as area of coverage, optical performance, light transmittance, ignition properties and impact resistance. Safety eyewear that complies with all performance aspects of the standard are marked with “Z87” on every major component including frame and lenses, and are subject to marking requirements that convey information about the manufacturer of the product and the standard to which the product conforms. Where impacts are an identified hazard, impact-rated eye protection is required; such products will carry Z87+ markings to indicate their higher impact strength. In even more extreme conditions, Military (MIL V0) ballistic performance may be appropriate. This rating protects against impact energies seven times higher than the ANSI standard.

In April 2010, revisions were made to ANSI Z87.1, which affect both safety eyewear products and the methods employers use to select them. While the revised standard remains performance-based, it has been reorganized by typically encountered hazard type rather than by protector type. This re-classification adds new product requirements, testing methods and expanded product markings that match the protector’s capability to the hazards being defended. Furthermore, ANSI Z87.1-2010 calls for testing by the manufacturers of prescription safety eyewear by specified types. It also states that manufacturers of lens and frame components, as well as the complete prescription safety eyewear device, must provide test results to the purchaser upon request. This is an important step in ensuring that all aspects of the safety standard are met in every pair of prescription safety eyewear.

Safety managers whose worksites comply with eye safety standards stand to reap many rewards. However, by building an eye safety program based on individual accountability, open communication, clear goals and direct feedback, the stage is set for greater safety outcomes. The most important change brought about by a safety culture isn’t a shift in equipment or procedures. It is something more subtle, something small you can start today; a new attitude with regard to workplace safety. Once a true culture of safety has been established, you’ll be on your way to a safer environment, and all parties will benefit from the efforts.

About the Author
Phil Johnson is director of technology for Honeywell Safety Products’ Eye & Face Protection Group. He has worked extensively in product development for a variety of applications including industrial safety, laser safety and military combat protection, designing eyewear that complies with global performance standards. He has directed research in lens technology, particularly optics and light management. His background also includes experience in quality assurance and he is currently a member of several standards development groups including the ANSI Z87.1 committee for occupational eyewear.