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Preserving the Precious Gift of Sight

Ted Schorn

Mark, a conscientious supervisor, was called to a machine line in the fall of 2017. Something was causing an improper surface finish on the parts being cut. Peering into the machine, he noted a clogged cooling line. Using a small tool, he tried to free the line. “I couldn’t see the coolant port well enough as my glasses were smudged, so I tilted them back on my head to get a clear view.” Unknown to Mark, pressure had remained in the line and his probing freed a small 1.5 mm chip which flew into his right eye. That was the last clear view Mark has had; he is now sighted only in his left eye.

Safety glasses are probably the most common form of personal protective equipment (PPE). Yet the importance of their proper use cannot be overstated. In 2017, the foundry industry suffered an increase of 10% over 2016 in lost time recordable injuries to the eye according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For people like Mark, statistics are not as important as the challenge of seeing his grandson, now with only one eye.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) eye (and face) protection should be worn in the presence of five categories of hazards:
1.    The impact of flying particles.
2.    Molten metal.
3.    Liquid chemicals, acids, caustics.
4.    Chemical gases or vapors.
5.    Injurious light radiation.

To this list, the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) adds nuisance dusts (air borne particulates).

These hazards are present in foundries, but of major concern are flying particles and dusts in cleaning and shakeout areas and molten metal on melt decks and pouring areas. The pertinent section of OSHA regulations is 29 CFR 1910.133 for eye and face protection.

Safety eye wear must meet the ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015 standard for testing, marking, selection, care, and use of eye and face protection devices in occupational and educational settings. Safety glasses that meet this standard will have “Z87” on the frames, side shields, or possibly on the lens itself. Other coding will describe other tested aspects of the device, for example “+” indicates an added high velocity impact rating.

Side shields are mandatory [29 CFR 1910.133(a)(2)] in the presence of flying particle hazards and dusts and must also meet Z87.1 requirements. Side shield design should be adapted to the specific hazards in the working environment.

The proper fit and comfort of safety glasses is of critical importance. The temples (the side pieces) should fit over the ear and be adjusted to hold the glasses the proper distance from the face and eyes. Temples come in bayonet, spatula and cable styles. Especially for working in hot, humid environments and with prescription glasses, spatula temples are best for both comfort and fit. Nose pieces should be adjustable for comfort and to hold glasses at the right height relative to the eyes, especially with prescription lenses. In survey after survey, the most frequent reason given for not wearing glasses is comfort/fit. Ensuring eyewear is properly fitted and comfortable will encourage employees to wear eye protection more consistently.

The care of safety glasses is often neglected—and leads to the second most frequent cause of use failures—an inability to see through the glasses. Safety glasses should be inspected and cleaned at least daily with a soft cloth specifically designed for lenses. Too frequently, workers pull their work shirt out, use a shop rag, or a paper towel. All of these are prone to scratch lenses and remove the anti-fog coating. The ideal cleaning procedure is to run the glasses under running water to remove the larger particles, then use a lens cleaner to remove oils and residues that water cannot remove and gently wipe dry with a microfiber cloth or other tissue specifically designed for optical cleaning. Some lens cleaners restore the anti-fog coating on the lens. Never use abrasive cleaners or household kitchen or bath cleaners on safety glasses.

Safety glasses should be stored where they are protected from mechanical damage, heat and moisture. Lenses that have become scratched, abraded or have suffered an impact event should be replaced. While lens integrity is an important factor in replacement, scratches on the lenses impair vision and can lead to eye strain as the brain tries to compensate for the loss in its field of view.

Goggles are like safety glasses, but they seal to the face, providing even more protection from flying particles, dust, splashing liquids, and vapors. Care of goggles is similar to that for safety glasses. Some special concerns include:

  • Selecting the proper degree of ventilation as goggles may quickly fog without proper air circulation. Ventilation may be direct (such as holes in the sides) or indirect (a baffled air entry).
  • To fit snugly, the straps must retain a degree of elasticity and be adjustable.

If a task generates flying debris, and foreign material is getting behind safety glasses, employees may benefit from enhanced PPE such as safety goggles or face shields. Face shields never take the place of safety glasses or goggles—but are intended for supplemental eye and face protection.

Face shields may also provide protection against heat, radiant light, or other forms of energy when they have reflective coatings on their surfaces. Face shields, with their bulky nature and added weight, must be fitted properly with adjustable head gear. In some operations the face shield is fastened to a hard hat or it may be part of a full head cover, such as a “melt suit.” The face shield itself may be removable (for easy replacement) or incorporated into a lift front design.

As with all PPE, proper training must be provided to users on how to inspect, put on, adjust, use, take off, clean and store the equipment. Replacement parts or units should be available along with the prescribed cleaning supplies.

Even the most effective eye protection program can be defeated if the user doesn’t wear the eye protection as required and when required. Employees should be trained to be conscious about hygiene practices. Using dirty hands, soiled shirt sleeves or tails, or paper towels to wipe or rub the eyes has caused many injuries during or even after work.

It is easy to take for granted the gift of sight. It is only when that gift is lost or compromised that we recognize its value. Just ask a guy like Mark.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the February 2019 issue of Modern Casting