Every year, thousands of construction workers suffer preventable eye injuries that lead to days away from work. Ten to twenty percent of these injuries lead to temporary or permanent vision loss. The vast majority of these injuries can be prevented when workers wear safety glasses that are properly selected for the task at hand. So why are there still so many eye injuries every year?

The simple answer is that safety glasses don’t work if workers aren’t wearing them. A survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that almost 60 percent of workers who suffered an eye injury weren’t wearing eye protection at the time of the incident. Root cause investigations in the form of worker surveys inevitably list a common culprit for this lack of eye protection – fogged eyewear.

Fogged eyewear is caused by four factors:

  1. Ambient heat – the temperature of the surrounding environment
  2. Increased humidity – more moisture in the air increases chances lenses will fog, especially on hot days
  3. Exertion – body heat and sweat add to the heat and humidity surrounding workers
  4. Fit of eyewear – tight or wraparound eyewear can restrict airflow, promoting more condensation on lenses

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

On sites that require full-face respirators and heavy Tyvek suits to protect workers from health hazards, fogging eyewear can be an even bigger problem, especially if workers also wear prescription glasses (contacts may help alleviate this problem). And though fogging is primarily an issue in areas with high heat and humidity, it can also crop up when workers go back and forth from outdoor areas to cooler areas indoors.

“When workers have to repeatedly stop work to wipe fog from their safety glasses, it’s no wonder those glasses end up not being worn,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “This is especially true when wiping glasses means taking off other equipment like gloves or a respirator. The risks of not wearing eye protection are too great to ignore, but fogging brings safety problems of its own that need to be addressed.”

If workers leave fogged eyewear on to comply with safety rules, they risk other types of injuries due to impaired vision. Being unable to see clearly puts workers at risk for many other serious injuries, including falls and backovers.

Preventing and Dealing with Fogged Eyewear

There are several steps employers can take to help prevent or stop fogging eyewear and the eye injuries that can follow.

  1. Perform a safety audit. Walk the jobsite and talk to workers about potential problems with your current eyewear options. Fit and availability may also be factors.
  2. Try different anti-fog products. Anti-fog wipes, sprays and gels can help prevent or eliminate the problem of fogging. Make sure these anti-fog treatments are available wherever workers put on or take off PPE, including in break and rest areas.
  3. Invest in anti-fogging glasses. Lenses with built-in anti-fog protection may be a worthwhile investment, especially for hot and humid areas where workers have to frequently stop work to wipe fog away from eyewear. Frame styles designed for improved airflow or those that sit away from the face can also help limit the effects of fogging.
  4. Treat fog as a hazard. Train workers on what causes fogging problems and the options available to prevent them. Discuss the potential for injury when eye protection isn’t worn and make sure all employees are aware of the expectations regarding eye protection. Consider including fog as a hazard discussed during heat stress training.

The LHSFNA’s Eye Protection Toolbox Talk, Eye Injuries in Construction Health Alert and It’s Your Body pamphlet all provide additional information to help LIUNA members and signatory employers prevent eye injuries. To order these or other publications, visit https://lhsfna.org/publications/ or call the Fund’s Occupational Safety & Health Division at 202-628-5465.

[Nick Fox]