Eye Injury Prevention Month

“American Academy of Ophthalmology urges making eye health part of a daily work wellness routine,” according to an article published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The article goes on to state that each day, about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment [1]. However, 90% of these accidents can be avoided by wearing eye protection [2].

So what does this mean to those of us working in clinical diagnostic laboratories? Since October is National Eye Injury Prevention Month, I would like to explore eye safety in the laboratory as there are a variety of hazards that are unique to the work we do.

I am often asked why personal glasses can’t be used for protection when working in the laboratory, and what makes safety glasses so special? Personal glasses are not constructed to meet the regulatory requirements for impact, chemical, and other specific-hazards protection that personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to meet. PPE provides a protective barrier between the wearer and the hazard. Personal glasses also do not provide side protection. Manufacturers of personal protective equipment must adhere to the requirements for materials of construction and resistance to hazards (such as impact and chemicals). The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) have established standards for safety eyewear. Per Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) requirements, protective eye- and face-protection devices must comply with any of the following consensus standards, including side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects:

  • ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices, incorporated by reference in § 1910.6
  • ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices, incorporated by reference in § 1910.6
  • ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R-1998), Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection, incorporated by reference in § 1910.6

Now, let’s take a look at hazards in the laboratory. Have you ever been aliquoting a urine specimen and had it splash to your eyes and face? How about a broken shard of glass that flew into your eye? Have you seen someone pouring off some hazardous waste that splashed back into the person's face? Have you heard of a dry-ice fragment bouncing under a laboratory technician’s safety glasses and into his/her eye? Have you ever rubbed your eye with a gloved hand while working in the lab? Splashes, sprays, aerosols, lacerations, and particulates are common issues within laboratories.

Common types of eye hazards within the laboratory:

  • Chemicals
  • Blood and body fluids
  • Infectious agents
  • Ultraviolet light
  • Lasers
  • X-rays
  • Radioactive materials
  • Chemical waste
  • Impact
  • Sharps (e.g., needles, blades, glass)
  • Dust
  • Compressed gases and pressurized house air
  • Electrical
  • Bunsen burners/flames

Wow—that’s a lot to consider! What can you do?

  • Assess your work area to identify potential hazards so that you can be prepared to provide the appropriate protection to your employees.
  • Eliminate hazards or substitute a different process or chemical, if possible.
  • Identify the correct type of protection that you need for the specific hazard (e.g., blood and body fluid "splash protection" may not be adequate for working with corrosive chemicals).
  • Protective equipment may need to be layered, such as wearing safety glasses with side shields to protect your eyes and adding a face shield to protect your face (remember the example of the splash when aliquoting urine?).
  • Wear your eye protection because it won’t help you avoid an injury if it’s in your lab coat pocket or in a drawer.
  • Make sure your protective eyewear:
    • Is readily available.
    • Fits properly.
    • Is stored safely and away from potential damage and contamination.
    • Is inspected prior to using it to make sure it is not damaged or compromised, and dispose of it if it’s damaged.
  • Educate your laboratory employees about:
    • Eye hazards for the tasks that they are performing in their labs.
    • Types of eye protection needed and when it needs to be worn.
    • How to appropriately put on (don) and take off (doff) protective eyewear.
    • Where to safely store their protective equipment.
    • How to obtain protective eyewear if it needs to be replaced.
  • Ensure you have emergency eyewash stations that are:
    • Located within 10-seconds travel (about 55 feet) from hazardous chemicals or other hazards that may warrant emergency eye flushing.
    • Marked with signage.
    • Free from obstructions.
    • Flushed weekly and appropriately documented.

Don’t take a chance with your vision. Be knowledgeable of the hazards, always wear your protective eyewear in anticipation of a hazard, and help educate your colleagues on how to keep their eyes safe in the lab. By the way, don’t forget your other PPE—that’s important too.

And don’t ignore eye protection when you leave work. Injuries can occur during sports and leisure activities as well as home and vehicle maintenance. Show your loved ones how much you care about them by providing eye protection for their favorite hobbies and sports.

To help you find out more about safety eyewear and injury prevention, below are some suggested resources that are free of charge (but also be sure to refer to your accrediting organization for information and requirements):

October is a busy month for a variety of safety observances, so I am working on another blog post for National Fire Prevention Week to share with you soon.

Pat Hlavka

Pat Hlavka is a Safety Coordinator in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. She received a B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an M.S. degree in Safety from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers. Pat worked as a safety professional in the industrial setting (IBM and Benchmark Electronics) for over 15 years. Since joining the Mayo Clinic in 2008, her responsibilities have focused on laboratory safety including the safety audit program, developing and maintaining documentation, training, communications, awareness, incident investigation, laboratory safety committees, and emergency management.