Australia, Features, Products, Safety

Sites for sore eyes: Why construction requires a safety-first vision

The eyes provide an essential service on a job site: vision. They are also an organ that is vulnerable to injury, particularly in the construction sector which is considered a high-risk environment due to the nature of the work involved.

The eyes provide an essential service on a job site: vision. They are also an organ that is vulnerable to injury, particularly in the construction sector which is considered a high-risk environment due to the nature of the work involved.

In Australia, construction ranks third in terms of serious injury claims and fatality statistics.

While the incidence of serious eye injuries has diminished in recent years, it remains an important issue.

“As long as eye injuries continue to occur on jobs sites, eye safety needs to remain a focus,” stresses Nic Williams, who is the Product Manager for Blackwoods’ brand PROSAFE.

“There’s just a multitude of hazards in construction that can cause eye injuries and impact on an employee’s ability to work or wellbeing – vision is such a vital function and should never be overlooked.”

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Workers in construction are commonly subjected to risk of eye injury from processes such as cutting, drilling, or grinding, or because of environmental conditions onsite, including exposure to sun, dust, or chemicals.

“Injuries to eyes can be broad and complex in construction, depending on the individual’s job,” explains Nic. “Those that engage in hammering, grinding, sanding or masonry work will be at risk of getting small particles in their eyes. Welding work causes sparks and flashes which are risks. Often workers are exposed to various chemicals onsite – a common one being cement. If cement powder gets into the eyes, it can cause chemical burn. Not to mention those working outside will exposed to UV rays and glare, or windy conditions which can cause dust or particles to go into the eyes.”

Nic acknowledges the great strides that have been made in terms of workplace safety and PPE to prevent eye injuries.

“Of course, the best solution is prevention in the first place. There has been a lot of progress in the last decade on improving site safety,” he elaborates. “There’s also been a lot of development and innovation with PPE, which has happened in tandem with those wider improvements to safety in industry.”

Past reports, including a 2008 Australian Government study entitled ‘Work-related eye injuries in Australia’, indicated that most eye injuries occurred as a result of workers not wearing appropriate eye protection. That same report also mentioned that a considerable proportion of eye injury cases occurred when protective eyewear was worn, suggesting “the need to examine the design and safety eyewear and/or to improve the training of workers to that they know how to properly wear the eye protection.”

According to Nic, Blackwoods have taken that advice to heart with their PROSAFE eyewear range. As the brand’s namesake suggests, safety is foremost in the design. And as Nic points out, safety starts with the wearer.
“Our PROSAFE eyewear have been designed with the end user in mind, meaning that comfort is considered equally as important as functionality,” he explains.

“PPE is always the last tier of defence. And in some ways it’s the most important because exposure to hazards is inevitable in construction. But to protect, people have to actually wear the PPE. In the case of eyewear, they have to be designed to be worn at all times onsite. If glasses aren’t comfortable, workers will be inclined to take them off, which poses the most significant risk to their eye safety.”

While PROSAFE has an extensive array of eyewear to choose from, Nic highlights three products in particular that are suited to construction applications. These include the Kulya, the Koorbat and the Kowar – titles inspired by Indigenous Australian names for native birds.

“These three specs in particular are popular – we’ve had very positive feedback from customers about how comfortable they are and how good they look, which is what we’re aiming for – in construction, workers put safety specs on at the beginning of day and you don’t want them taken off at all on a job site, so it’s essential they’re comfortable, and not too heavy or cumbersome,” Nic stresses. “Which is what we’re aiming for, along with durability. These all have impact protection as well as anti-fog and anti-scratch finishes which makes them resilient in those work situations, which translates to better performance and longevity.”

Importantly, these safety glasses comply with both the Australian / New Zealand standard (AS/NZS 1337.1:2010) as well as the European standard (EN 166:2001) for personal eye protection in resistance to surface damage and resistance to fogging, with the exception of mirrored lenses.

“It’s not an industry requirement for us to meet the European standard, but we invest in the testing and compliance to both the ANZ and EU standards because the objective is for wearers to keep their glasses on when they’re on site, for the duration of their shift,” expounds Nic. “Whilst the ANZ standard has comprehensive requirements, it doesn’t include testing for anti-fogging and anti-scratch properties, which the EU standard does. These extra requirements around anti-fogging and scratch resistance make a difference to wearability.”

The minimum requirements around the ANZ standard cover optical properties, lateral protection and impact resistance – with a particular focus on impact resistance.

“This relates to airborne particles or objects hitting the lens,” explains Nic. “Our Kulya, Koorbat and Kowar safety glasses are all rated as medium impact resistance.”

The Kulya, Koorbat and Kowar safety glasses also meet the EU standard requirements, with the exception of the mirrored lenses.

“They have a coating which is extremely scratch and fog resistant – both which are about the user being able to see clearly at all times on the job,” Nic elaborates. “The anti-fog is especially useful as often safety glasses are worn with other PPE including masks, so it stops them from fogging with a mask on and when you’re travelling in and out of different temperatures. An important feature, now more than ever, as due to Covid restrictions many of us are required to wear face masks.”

In addition to the common features mentioned above, the Kulya, Koorbat and Kowar also have individual features that distinguish them.

“The Kulya have a polarised Cat 3 lens, which makes them especially suited to outside construction jobs where there is a lot of sun glare to contend with,” expands Nic. “The Koorbat have a lightweight, half frame and slim arms so these are designed to fit under headwear such as helmets or earmuffs easily. Whilst the Kowar are also lightweight and have slim arms, but they have a full wrap around frame and have a detachable gasket option which offers additional protection in a dusty environment.”

Nic reiterates the importance of choosing the right eyewear for any given application.

“We have specialists who can advise on which safety glasses will best meet the needs of construction site workers and are happy to provide advice and recommendations on appropriate eyewear protection,” he notes. “We have an extensive range of products – basically we have eyewear to suit most workplace situations.”

Furthermore, Blackwoods donates 10 per cent of the profits from all PROSAFE-branded eyewear purchases to the Fred Hollows Foundation.

“We’re proud to support the foundation,” Nic says. “In particular these proceeds are channelled into the Fred Hollows Indigenous Australia program which supports increased investment and access to eye care services to remote and under-served Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

To circle back to his earlier comments on the importance of workplace eye safety, Nic concludes with a piece of advice for those working in construction.

“Make sure you inspect your safety specs before you put them on – make sure they don’t have any cracks, scratches or damage,” he concludes. “Put them on, make sure they fit and feel right. If they don’t, get a new pair. Safety has to come first, always.”

For more information on the PROSAFE eyewear range, please visit here.

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