The Right Eye Protection

Make sure your eyes are always protected when on the job.

By Alexandra Walsh

An average of 2000 U.S. workers suffer eye injuries requiring medical treatment each day, with 100 resulting in missed workdays for recovery.

Eye injuries are one of the most common incidents on jobsites, and they cost more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and workers’ compensation—not to mention potentially lifelong consequences for the injured worker.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires workers to use eye and face protection whenever there is a reasonable probability of injury that could be prevented by such equipment.

Personal protective eyewear such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full-face respirators must be used when an eye hazard exists. The eye protection necessary depends upon the type of hazard, the circumstances around exposure, other protective equipment used, and individual vision needs.

Identifying Workplace Hazards

A hazard assessment should determine the risk of exposure to eye and face hazards, including those which may be met in an emergency. Employers should be aware of the possibility of multiple and simultaneous hazard exposures and be prepared to protect against the highest level of each hazard.

How eye injuries happen to workers:

  • Striking or scraping: Most eye injuries result from small particles or objects that strike or scrape the eye—dust, cement chips, metal slivers, and wood chips. These are often ejected by tools, blown by the wind, or falling from above. Large objects may also strike the eye or face, or a worker may run into something that causes blunt-force trauma to the eyeball or eye socket.
  • Penetration: Objects like nails, staples, or slivers of wood or metal can go through the eyeball and result in a permanent loss of vision.
  • Chemical and thermal burns: Industrial chemicals or cleaning products are common causes of chemical burns to one or both eyes. Thermal burns to the eye also occur, often among welders. These burns routinely damage workers’ eyes and surrounding tissue.

Eye diseases are often transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eye because of direct exposure to splashes of blood, droplets from coughing or sneezing, or touching the eyes with a contaminated finger or object. Eye diseases can result in something as minor as reddening or soreness of the eye or in a life-threatening disease such as HIV, hepatitis B virus, or a serious influenza virus.

Choosing the Right Pair of Safety Glasses

Safety glasses lacking in comfort, performance, and style tend to find their way off workers’ faces, leaving them susceptible to all sorts of injuries. Educating site managers and workers on how to choose the right pair of eyewear is critical for creating a culture of compliance.

The eye protection chosen for specific work situations depends upon the nature and extent of the hazard, the circumstances surrounding exposure, other protective equipment being used, and personal vision needs. Eye protection should be fitted to an individual or adjustable to provide the right kind of coverage. It should be comfortable and allow for good peripheral vision.

Keeping size, style, and performance top of mind when purchasing safety glasses can be the difference between compliance and catastrophe. Here are some tips on what to consider when selecting your eyewear.


Look for comfortable safety glasses with removable temples or a special system designed to accommodate accessories like elastic bands to keep them snug to your head. This is especially important when used with a removable foam gasket—an option for reducing dust and debris from entering the eye—available on nicer safety glasses.


Appearance and attractiveness are subjective considerations. If a different color frame or lens choice makes someone feel better about wearing safety glasses—well and good! It can turn safety glasses from something they have to wear to something they want to wear.

The real test comes down to whether workers continue to wear the glasses in locations or situations that technically do not require them, or if they remove them as soon as possible. As an add-on, this extends beyond the workplace to weekend activities away from work that also pose eye-injury hazards.


Higher-quality protective eyewear exceeds safety minimums by offering features and upgrades that enhance productivity such as scratch-resistance, anti-fogging treatment, and polarized lenses that filter UV rays. The best lenses offer many of these benefits all at once to protect your vision.

Anti-Fog Lenses

Safety glasses that fog up is one of the primary reasons workers refuse to wear safety glasses. Fogging causes workers to frequently remove their eyewear to wipe lenses dry, or even worse, stop wearing it entirely.

Safety eyewear with an anti-fog coating can significantly decrease injuries by providing the worker with a consistently clear view.

But remember, not all anti-fog technologies are created equal. Many anti-fog safety glasses feature topical coatings to the surface of the lenses. These have a limited life span and can wash off after a brief time worn. Anti-fog treatments that are permanently bonded will not wash or wear off after long-term use, even in extreme temperatures.

UV-Resistant Lenses

Outdoor work presents an added risk of sun damage to the eyes, and workers outside should choose safety glasses that also provide UV protection. According to the American Optometric Association, UV-protection sunglasses should block 99%-100% of UVA and UVB rays, screen 75%-90% of light, and wrap around the head for maximum protection from all angles.

The top safety eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate materials covered with a scratch-resistant coating that filter out 99.9% of harmful UV rays. There are a wide range of tints available, including transition lenses that automatically adjust from dark to clear, based on light conditions.

Polarized Lenses

Sources of glare like water, roadways, metal drilling equipment, or other shiny surfaces can be particularly difficult for those with sensitive eyes or susceptible to migraines. That is why polarized safety glasses have become increasingly popular for traditional sunglasses as well as protective eyewear.

A special filter blocks intense reflected light and reduces glare by allowing only direct light to enter the field of vision, leaving eyes feeling more comfortable and rested.


Look for Z87 safety glasses marked with ANSI Z87.1 Performance Standard compliance (tested for impact and coverage) or Z87+ (tested for high impact). Some glasses are also tested to a more rigid U.S. Military (MIL) impact test, though there is no specific marking required for this. Look for MIL-impact glasses to be called out on packaging or in marketing materials.

Safe Storage

The life span of any piece of safety gear can typically be extended by taking good care of it. Regularly clean your safety glasses with a microfiber cloth and store them in a sturdy case when not in use.


Eye protection in the groundwater industry is critical. There are any number of ways a groundwater contractor can suffer an eye injury at a drill site. Make sure you—and everyone else around you—are wearing proper eye protection when on the job.

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.