Meeting the challenges created by COVID-19 has become a daily, if not hourly, task for all of us. In the workplace, questions emerge about how to protect ourselves from infection. How do people working on the frontline protect themselves? How do ordinary employees make sure they are safe at work? Is there a type of safety eyewear people should be wearing to further protect themselves? The short answer, of course, is yes. Let’s look at this issue in context and with the right background information.

What is COVID-19

COVID-19 is the new name of the 2019 edition of the Corona virus. It is actually a family of viruses. The word corona means crown or wreath in Latin. It is called the Corona virus because each virus particle, or virion, has a series of towers coming out of the capsid and the top of each looks like a crown. It is a new disease that has not previously been identified in humans.

How is it transmitted

COVID-19 is transmitted person-to-person by contact with contaminated mucous from an infected person. The first person likely became infected from an infected animal in a live food market in Wuhan, China. The virus causes infections of the nose, throat and lungs. A cough or a sneeze aerosolizes the COVID-19 contaminated mucous making transmission more likely. The virus may deposit on surfaces and if touched will transfer to a person’s hand and if this then contacts their eyes, nose or mouth transfer of the virus may be completed. It is thought that the virus can survive on surfaces for many hours.

Recommended Eye Protection

The membrane of the eye is a prominent entry route for the virus, which can be introduced directly into the eye from blood splashes or respiratory droplets produced by coughing or sneezing. Workers should understand that regular prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses are not considered eye protection.

Health Canada recommends safety eye protection for a variety of potential exposure settings where workers may be at risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Safety eyewear needs to be selected based on the specific nature of the work and related tasks being completed and the potential circumstances of exposure.

When selecting safety eyewear, consideration needs to be given to other PPE that will be worn to ensure the entire ensemble works together to provide optimum protection. Eye protection must be comfortable to increase wearer use and compliance. It needs to allow for sufficient peripheral vision and must be adjustable to ensure a proper fit. The basic types of safety eyewear include safety glasses, goggles, face shields and full-face respirators. Each of these is discussed below in the context of protection from exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Safety Glasses

Ordinary safety glasses provide impact protection, but do not provide the same level of splash or droplet protection as goggles, face shields and full-face respirators. There are, however, one type of frame that will perform adequately. The OnGuard 800 – Thermoplastic rubber seal with D3 droplet rating, which includes a Rx carrier inside the google. The gasketed soft seal where the glass meet the facial contours ensures comfort and a good fit.

Goggles

Safety goggles provide the same broad protection as safety glasses and because they have a tight-fitting seal to the face they provide good protection from splashes of COVID-19 contaminated liquids. Goggles come in three forms: direct vented, indirect vented and non-vented.

Direct-vented goggles have front-facing vents that improve air circulation and reduce fogging, but they allow for air flow directly into the goggle and are not recommended for COVID-19 biohazardous atmospheres.

Indirect vented goggles have covered vents and provide protection from splash entry by liquids. Air flow through the covered vents is restricted by the vent cover. The covered vents ensures that there is no direct straight-line passage from the exterior to the interior of the goggle preventing a liquid splash from entering the goggle. An example of these is the Uvex Stealth goggles with lens insert, rated D3. This goggle features an indirect venting system to help reduce fogging and it has a soft, flexible seal to confirm to facial contours for a secure, gap free fit. They include quick adjust headband clips to allow for fast easy sizing.

Non-vented goggles have no venting of any kind and offer protection against all hazard types. Indirect vented and non-vented goggles provide protection against COVID-19 contaminated droplets. These two types of goggles are preferred for COVID-19 work environments. Goggles are available through your Eyesafe™ program.

Face Shields

Face shields may be used as an added protection with goggles in a work area where exposure to COVID-19 is possible. Face shields provide protection against inadvertent exposure by splash or droplets to the eyes, nose and mouth by a sneeze or directional cough and can be used in conjunction with goggles. Face shields should have a crown and wrap around the face all the way to the ears to ensure a splash cannot reach the eyes. Face shields provide better face and eye protection from splashes and sprays. They may be disposable or re-usable.

Full-face Respirators and Powered Air Purifying Respirators

Full facepiece respirators and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) provide integrated respiratory protection and protection for the eyes and face. The selection of this type of PPE is typically based on an assessment of the practicality of use given the work demands of the job or task at hand. Full-face respirators and powered air purifying respirators provide the best protection from COVID-19 splash and droplet exposure of the eyes, nose and mouth and are the preferred control.

Compatibility of the multiple types of PPE is also an important consideration. Safety goggles may interfere with some types of respiratory protection. Face shields may not fit comfortably over all respirators. In most work setting an integrated program of PPE can be established. Full facepiece respirators or powered air-purifying respirators may provide the optimal solution. In any situation where combinations of PPE may be required judicious selection of complementary PPE is important to allow for proper protection.

Specific procedures for cleaning and disinfecting used equipment should be followed for reprocessing reusable eye protection devices. Contaminated eye protection devices should be reprocessed in an area where other soiled equipment is handled. Eye protection should be physically cleaned and disinfected with the approved disinfectant, rinsed, and allowed to air dry. Manufacturers may provide guidance on the most effective means of disinfecting their respective products.

Employee exposure to COVID-19 biohazards is a serious issue. Safety eyewear needs to be included as a control strategy in these areas to complement the other PPE needed. Care needs to be taken in the selection, use and care of personal protective equipment and this includes safety eyewear.

Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 30 years of experience. He is a regular safety conference speaker in Canada, and he provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS certificate and diploma programs.