In a moment, your vision can change and so can your ability to work. An on-the-job eye injury can be quick and devastating. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007, the construction industry had 5,200 eye injuries that resulted in lost work hours. Don’t let it happen on your jobsite. By taking the proper precautions and safety measures, workers can protect themselves from one of the most easily avoidable workplace injuries.

While on construction jobsites in particular, workers’ eyes are exposed to a number of substances that, when airborne, can cause serious damage, such as:

  • Splashes of chemicals or solvents
  • Sparks
  • Splinters
  • Dust
  • Debris full of wire or glass
  • Insulation fibers
  • Welding fumes
  • Nails and other sharp objects

Working with power tools, live circuits, welding arcs, cement mixers and pressurized liquids or gases are among the numerous ways that eye injuries occur. Even working in the vicinity of workers in these circumstances can be hazardous. Performing overhead tasks puts Laborers in precarious situations as well.

Protecting the eyes starts with using the right equipment. In 2003, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) updated its voluntary standard on eye and face protection devices (ANSI Z87.1), covering safety goggles and face shields among other equipment. The protectors were separated based on their shatter resistance in basic- and high-impact testing. The ANSI Z87.1 can be purchased in ANSI’s web store.

Newer, sleeker models also make protection more popular to wear. “I believe use of protective eyewear has increased significantly as more styles are available and it has become cool,” says LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health Scott Schneider. “Enforcement by contractors is another key element.”

Employers are encouraged to provide protection for workers according to the tasks performed. ANSI-approved safety goggles are necessary for overhead work, operations that create dust or where fumes/gases are present. Workers should wear a clear, plastic face shield when sandblasting, working with chemicals/metals that can splash or exposed to flying particles. Welding should be done with a welding hood and behind a flameproof screen to protect other workers.

If you work under these conditions, an eyewash station must be visible on your jobsite. If a chemical gets into your eye, rinse it thoroughly for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not rub your eye. Seek medical attention immediately if your eye is punctured or hit with metal, wood or debris from a power tool. For more tips on eye injury first aid, read Eye Injuries – Common but Preventable.

March is “Workplace Eye Health and Safety Month,” and the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America wants to help you create a safer worksite. The Fund publishes a health alert called “Eye Injuries in Construction,” which is available to signatory contractors via the online publications catalogue. Also, the Roadway Safety Program has a “struck-by” module that demonstrates the speed at which particles can fly and the subsequent damage that can occur. For more information or to download a free copy, visit

[Jennifer E. Jones]