Welders: Use the Correct Safety Eye-wear
Attention to worker safety is an integral part of good business practices. Personal protective includes tools, barriers, signs, and much more. And, while it may seem to be just one aspect of overall safety in the workplace, the importance of occupation safety eyewear cannot be overemphasized. Many professionals, doctors, glass workers, construction workers, perform daily functions that put their eyes at risk. Welders, in particular, face the serious risk of eye injury or conditions caused by exposure to flying particles, fumes, or radiation.
Welding produces visible light, which can be harmful, as well as invisible rays, including ultraviolet (UV), and infrared radiation (IR). Invisible radiation, though out of sight and therefore out of mind, can cause damage without the worker immediately realizing it. Sometimes the damage might not become evident until years later. In general, people are exposed to radiation every single day, from the sun, light bulbs, microwaves, etc. However, welding poses a greater risk of health problems because of the intense concentration of light as well as the frequency of exposure because of the job. When it comes to the work hazard of welding, it’s not just welders who are at risk; employees who work in the general vicinity can also be exposed to potentially damaging light.
While it’s important for workers to be protected from dangerous exposure to light, welding lenses and goggles actually provide multiple layers of eye protection. They also shield the eye from various hazards such as heat, sparks, and debris. However, lenses and goggles aren’t sufficient for all types of welding. Arc welding, for example might require a full facemask. To make sure that welders are kept safe, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (1910.133(a)(5)) requires:
- “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses equipment with filter lenses that have a shade number appropriate for the work being performed for protection from injurious light radiation.”
- Shielded metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding, and flux cored arc welding, require filter lenses with a minimum protective shade of 7, the highest required minimum being 11. Carbon arc welding requires a minimum 14 shade. Gas welding requires a minimum shade of 4.
- They recommend that, when choosing lenses, you start with a shade that is too dark to see the weld zone. Then go to a lighter shade which allows a sufficient view, while still meeting the minimum requirement.
If proper protection isn’t worn during welding, various conditions can result. One of these conditions is a painful eye condition called photokeratitis. It’s also commonly known as snow blindness and arc eye. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), “photokeratitis is like having a sunburned eye”. It affects the cornea, which is the clear front part that covers the iris and pupil, as well as the conjunctiva, which lines the inside of the eyelids and covers the white part of the eye. Although the damage from photokeratitis isn’t permanent, it is very painful and irritating, and part of the treatment might be to avoid bright lights for a period of time, which could mean not working temporarily. The severity of the symptoms depend on the length of exposure. Symptoms include: sensitivity to bright light, seeing halos, pain, blurry vision, red eyes, teary eyes, headache, swelling, and grittiness, or the sensation of sand being in the eye.
If workers’ eyes aren’t properly protected, they also run the risk of getting cataracts. This is when the lens of the eye, which is normally clear, becomes clouded. Symptoms are: cloudy vision, frequent changes in eye-wear prescription, double vision, and sensitivity to light. Currently, the only effective way to treat cataracts is by having surgery. How much better to prevent this condition, if possible, by wearing the proper eye safety protection while welding.
As mentioned earlier, welders aren’t the only workers potentially exposes to hazards that come from welding. There is a risk to others who enter the area temporarily. Some companies use a shield curtain to protect non-welders from the hazards particular to welding. However, depending on the circumstances, this may not always be optimal or possible. Also, some welding work might require consultation or review by others, so close exposure might become absolutely necessary. In these cases, clear polycarbonate lenses, that meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1-2003 standard, might be the protection of choice. These can shield workers temporarily in the area from flying particles as well as a significant amount of UV light.
There are many options available to protect welders and others from light, fumes, flying particles, and slag. However, optimal protection is usually gained by using UV blocking lenses or goggles along with a face shield or helmet. While the face shield itself should be shaded, since welders often lift up the face shield, the spectacles worn should have the filtering needed to protect the eyes from the intense UV and IR light.
In general, OSHA has comprehensive requirements when it comes to Personal Protective Equipment. They cover areas such as: the sanitary and reliable condition of equipment and the employer’s responsibility when employees provide their own equipment. They also give direction regarding communication with employees affected by hazards, as well as training to use equipment properly. Additionally, they require that, if an employee normally wears prescription glasses, that the Personal Protective Equipment either include the prescription or fit properly over the prescription glasses.
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