Protective Eyewear

March 1, 2007
Protective Eyewear By RON MOORE

SUBJECT: Protective Eyewear

TOPIC: Eye protection for rescue personnel

OBJECTIVE: Rescue personnel will be able to explain the requirements for eye protection for extrication personnel, identify the various types of eye protection available, and select eye protection appropriate for their assignment.

TASK: Given a rescue simulation, the participant will be able to properly select and don eye protection appropriate for their rescue assignment

If your job at a vehicle rescue scene exposes you to hazards from flying objects, pressurized fluids, broken glass, bodily fluids, dust or particles, you should be using some form of eye protection. If vehicle rescue is something you do as part of your duties, then your department should be providing approved eye protection for you. Most importantly, your officer or supervisor should be enforcing your department's standard operating procedure (SOP) requiring use of protective eyewear at vehicle-rescue incident scenes.

As medical, rescue and extrication personnel, we must consider our potential for eye injury as being similar to that of a worker in a factory, at a construction site or within an industrial setting. Occupational injury reports collected industry-wide show that the most common eye injuries to workers include particles or slivers embedded in the eye, injury from chemical splash or burn, eyeball lacerations, facial contusion and black eye, and blood-borne pathogen exposure from blood, bodily fluids or human remains. All of these injury potentials are relevant to members of the fire service as well.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) provide us with standards for eye protection in order to minimize the number of occupational eye injuries each year. Compliance with these standards is crucial because it minimizes the chances of a responder being injured in the first place. Donning eye protection also reduces the liability exposure of every fire department officer supervising workers where eye protection is needed. If they get hurt and it turns out that you let them work without proper eye protection, then you as an officer or supervisor aren't doing your job. Here's why.

The Requirements

We must all agree that personnel involved in a vehicle-rescue incident, especially one with serious injuries and entrapment, are vulnerable to "flying objects" whether they are solid items or sprayed fluids that can strike the responder in the face or eyes.

Section 5-10.1 of NFPA 1500 Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, 1997 edition, states that appropriate primary eye protection must be provided and used by members exposed to a specific hazard such as found at a vehicle-rescue scene. Both OSHA and the NFPA 1500 standard reference ANSI Z87.1 as the benchmark standard for occupational eye and face protection. ANSI is the acronym for the American National Standards Institute, an organization that administers the private-sector voluntary standards system in the United States.

The most recent update of this standard, ANSI Z87.1-2003, became effective in August 2003. ANSI Z87.1-2003, officially called the "American National Standard Practice for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye Protective Devices," sets forth requirements for the design, construction, testing and use of eye protection devices, including standards for impact and penetration resistance.

The Protection

ANSI Z87.1 establishes two levels of impact protection and also defines primary and secondary eye protection. Rescue personnel must know how to recognize high-impact eyewear and the difference between primary and secondary protection.

A primary protector is eye protection that may be worn alone or in conjunction with a secondary protector. The best examples are safety glasses or goggles. A helmet-mounted faceshield is an example of secondary protector equipment. ANSI Z87.1 makes it clear that the faceshield mounted in front of our structural firefighting helmets can never be primary eye protection - at a fire or at a rescue incident. In other words, flipping your faceshield down when operating rescue equipment cannot be accepted as appropriate eye protection at a rescue scene. ANSI Z87.1-compliant goggles or safety glasses are the recommended means of providing primary eye protection for "appropriate hazards" such as projectiles and splashes. Standard helmet faceshields can only be used only when a primary eye protector is in place first.

Another significant change in the 2003 ANSI update is the introduction of two categories of impact resistance: basic and high. The category of safety glasses designed with high-impact lenses will survive a more violent impact and resist penetration better than the basic level glasses. Vehicle rescue applications call for the high-impact criteria for safety glasses.

According to the Z87.1-2003 standard, the high-impact lenses will have a plus sign (+) placed somewhere on the frame itself. To tell the difference between old-standard Z87 eyewear and a new-standard Z87 unit, look for the manufacturer's mark or logo along with a "+". For example, the marking "Willson Z87.1+" can be found along one temple of a pair of safety glasses manufactured by the Willson Company. The plus sign indicates that these glasses meet the 2003 high-impact standard. (In Canada, compliant safety glasses may be found with the Canadian marking "CSA Z94.3-1999" on the frame.)

Prescription Safety Glasses

OSHA states that contact lenses do not pose additional hazards and can be worn with acceptable primary safety eyewear - safety glasses or goggles. Therefore, the worker may choose to wear contact lenses or regular glasses. If any workers want to wear prescription glasses, then they should wear tight-fitting goggles over their street-wear glasses. An additional advantage of goggles as primary eye protection is their ability to block small airborne particles from reaching the eyes during an incident in a high wind or dust environment. This is another reason why approved safety glasses must have side shields.

Care and Use

Safety glasses or goggles need maintenance. Personnel must be advised to clean their safety glasses following the manufacturer's instructions. Carrying safety glasses with your turnout gear is a big challenge. You must avoid rough handling that can scratch your lenses. Scratches impair vision and can actually weaken the lenses. The solution has to be keeping them in a case when they are not being worn. Replace scratched, pitted, broken, bent or ill-fitting glasses. Damaged glasses interfere with vision and do not provide protection.

Defender Visor For Cairns 1010 And 1044 Helmets

Just released from MSA is an interesting innovation related to the topic of eye protection called the "Defender Visor for Cairns" helmets. Based on a concept popular with European fire service helmet manufacturers for many years, the Defender Visor stows up inside the head area of a Cairns 1010 or 1040 helmet. When primary eye protection is needed, the wearer simply flips the internal helmet visor down and instantly has donned ANSI Z87.1 and NFPA-compliant primary eye protection. It is this author's hope that this is just the first of an exciting trend for U.S. helmet manufacturers to provide retractable helmet-mounted eye protection systems for rescue personnel.

Model SOP for Protective Eyewear At Vehicle-Rescue Incidents

All personnel engaged in a task or activity such as that listed below must wear personal protective equipment for the eyes. This includes but is not limited to tool set-up and preparation work, maintenance of equipment, equipment stowage, training sessions and real-world incident scenes.

Wearing of proper primary eye protection is required by department policy when operating in or near any hazardous activity or when involved in any rescue-related assignment that is likely to become hazardous such as but not limited to;

Operating compressed air or hydraulic-powered rescue tools or equipment, During glass breakage

When striking or holding a chisel, punch or bar

When cleaning or blowing with compressed air

When sanding or spraying paints, lacquer, or other irritants

When using, pouring, or handling open containers of gasoline, diesel fuel, oils, acids or other potential eye irritant liquids

When in an area where hazardous work is being done or where hazards such as sparks or splash from metal materials, flying solid particles, high wind situations, caustic or acidic liquids or powders, splash from pouring of liquids or chemicals are reasonably expected to be present

When working on an assignment or within an area where there is a chance of electrical arcing or sparking of an electric storage battery

When cutting brush, trimming trees, or cutting any wood or wood product

When in an area where there is exposure to human or animal blood, other body fluids, or human remains or where exposure can reasonably be expected

When working under vehicles or in locations with potential eye injury hazards are overhead

When considered necessary by the person in charge of the work being performed

When working with material whose label or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) requires PPE; specifically eye and face protection

NOTE: If you are near enough to any of the above operations to be exposed to its hazards, you must wear the proper primary eye protection.

When flying objects could injure you, wear primary eye protection that provides side protection. During standby at incidents where you may be required to wear eye protection if called into service, keep your issued eye protection donned or immediately ready for use at any time.

When hazards come from above and below as well as the side, goggles can be used instead of safety glasses. Faceshields, as secondary eye protection, should be lowered when protection to the face is necessary. The faceshield can be worn over the safety glasses or goggles for additional eye and face protection at any time.

RON MOORE, a Firehouse contributing editor, is a battalion chief and the training officer for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department. He also authors a monthly online article in the "MembersZone" and serves as the Forum Moderator for the extrication section of the website. Moore can be contacted directly at [email protected].

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