Eye Protection at Work

Eye injuries are very common in the workplace. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), about 2,000 people in the US sustain vision-threatening eye injuries on the job every day.

The good news is that safety experts and eye doctors believe that eye protection can lessen the severity of eye injuries, and in some cases even prevent them.

Personal protective eyewear, including goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full-face respirators must be used when an eye hazard exists. Proper eye protection depends on the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, and individual vision needs.

man wearing protective goggles while working
Nastasic / Getty Images

Eye Injuries at Work

People at work usually experience eye injuries for two main reasons: not wearing eye protection or wearing the wrong kind of eye protection. A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey determined that nearly three out of five workers who experienced eye injuries were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident.

In some of these cases, the workers believed that eye protection was not required for the task they were involved in.

Types of Work-Related Eye Injuries

Accidents and injuries to the eyes at work include chemical and grease splashes, steam burns, ultraviolet radiation exposure, and flying pieces of wood or metal. Severe damage to the eye is often caused by actual cuts and scrapes to the eye itself.

Besides serious eye injuries, some workers may also be at risk of developing diseases from eye exposure. Some infectious diseases can be transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eye. Direct exposure to blood splashes, respiratory droplets from coughing, or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects are often culprits.

Potential Eye Hazards at Work

Whenever a risk for eye injury exists on the job, proper eye protection must be used. Keep in mind that some jobs may include more than one potential eye hazard. Protection is needed if any of the following eye hazards are present:

  • Projectile objects: Dust, concrete, metal, wood, etc.
  • Chemicals: Splashes and fumes
  • Radiation: Visible light, ultraviolet radiation, heat or infrared radiation, and lasers
  • Bloodborne pathogens: Hepatitis or HIV from blood and body fluids

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that workers use eye and face protection at all times if there is a reasonable probability of injury that could be prevented.

Some jobs pose more of a vision hazard than others. The following occupations have a high risk of sustaining eye injuries:

  • Construction
  • Carpentry
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining
  • Electrical
  • Auto repair
  • Plumbing
  • Welding
  • Maintenance

How to Protect Your Eyes on the Job

The first step in protecting your eyes and vision at the workplace is being aware that a risk of injury exists.

Doing the following three things can help keep your eyes safe:

  • Eliminate hazards at the beginning of the day by using machine guards, work screens, or other engineering controls.
  • Use proper eye protection.
  • Keep your safety eyewear in good condition. Replaced damaged safety eyewear.

To be completely safe, find out the proper safety requirements for your type of work and make sure the workplace is as safe as possible. Remove eye hazards wherever possible.

Types of Safety Eye Protection

The type of eye protection you should wear depends on the hazards present in your workplace.

Consider the following:

  • If you are working in an area that has particles, flying objects, or dust, you must at least wear safety glasses with side protection (side shields).
  • If you are working with chemicals, you must wear goggles.
  • If you are working near hazardous radiation (welding, lasers, or fiber optics) you must use special-purpose safety glasses, goggles, face shields, or helmets designed for that task.

In order to provide adequate protection, safety glasses must be fit properly. In addition, eye protection devices must be kept in proper working order. Scratched or dirty safety lenses often reduce vision and cause glare. These conditions may contribute to accidents. Remember to check your safety eyewear frequently and replace faulty or old glasses or goggles when needed.

Safety Glasses

Safety glasses may look like normal eyewear, but they provide significantly more eye protection. Safety glasses that wrap around the eyes or that include side shields provide additional protection.

These types of glasses may be made with either prescription or non-prescription lenses. The lenses and frames of safety glasses are much stronger than regular eyeglasses. They provide protection from flying particles, dust, or chips of hazardous materials. Lenses of safety glasses are often made with plastic or polycarbonate material. Polycarbonate provides the most significant protection.

Make certain that your safety glasses of choice meet the safety standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Safety Goggles

Goggles provide significant protection from impact, dust, and chemical splash. Safety goggles, like safety glasses, are highly resistant to impact. These goggles also provide a secure shield around the entire eye to protect against hazards that may come from any direction. Goggles can be worn over prescription glasses and contact lenses.

Face Shields and Helmets

Face shields provide full protection for workers exposed to chemicals, heat, or blood-borne pathogens. Helmets are commonly used by welders or people working with molten materials. Face shields and helmets, however, should not be used alone. They should be used along with safety glasses or goggles, so the eyes are protected even when the shield is lifted.

Special Protection

All welders and people working with lasers need special safety eyewear. Helmets or goggles with special filters to protect the eyes from optical radiation exposure should be used at all times.

A Word From Verywell

Vision is our most precious of senses. Protecting the eyes and vision in the workplace is extremely important. Using the proper protective eyewear can help keep you safe from any type of eye hazard on the job. If you sustain an eye-related injury on the job, or if you have pain in the eye, blurred vision, or loss of any vision, immediate attention is extremely important. Prompt medical attention could help reduce damage or even save your eyesight. 

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eye safety.

  2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics

  3. United States Department of Labor. Eye and face protection.

Additional Reading

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.