Protect Yourself From Flying Debris

Hydroexcavation industry veterans discuss the importance of safety glasses and face shields.

Protect Yourself From Flying Debris

Safe hydroexcavation requires both face shields and safety glasses to protect operators from flying debris.

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As hydroexcavator operator Joe Harp walked up to his co-worker to aid him on a job site, he suddenly felt like  he had been shot with a BB gun.

“I turned my face away from the wand and immediately shut the water off,” Harp says.

He was running the wireless remote to the unit while his co-worker was running the dig wand. Harp knew he had just been hit by a rock.

“I was thinking that it just went under my shield, but after looking, I noticed a hole that was in my face shield that was in the same area where I was hit on my chin.”

Harp wasn’t seriously injured — no blood or broken teeth — but he knew that it could’ve been different if he had not put down his face shield before approaching his co-worker.

“If it wasn’t for my face shield slowing that down or possibly changing the trajectory of the flying debris, I would have had a long explanation and even longer paperwork on why I wasn’t using my PPE,” Harp says.

Standards for safety.

Just as important as the heavy equipment on any project is the safety gear for operators using the equipment. To guard against the impact of flying debris, safety glasses and face protection are tested to the ANSI Z87.1-2015 standard, which is designed to make the difference between a day that ends successfully and a day that ends in the hospital.

“Spectacles (glasses) are tested for high impact by using a 6.35 mm steel ball traveling at 150 ft/s, and face shields are also tested for high impact at 300 ft/s,” says Michael Myrick, marketing product trainer and analyst at MCR Safety, located in Collierville, Tennessee. “According to the standard, there is no testing method for psi.”

He also points out, “Generally, high-impact glasses — in conjunction with a high-impact face shield — would work best for an application like excavation. The face shield would act as secondary protection for the eyes, and the glasses would act as the primary protection. As such, the coverage of the glasses should completely encapsulate the orbital area around the eye. In the event of hydroexcavation, the use of an indirect vented goggle that is tested to the ANSI Z87.1-2015 standard for water droplets and rated a D3 would work best.”

Already wearing glasses?

Sometimes, though, the operator is already wearing prescription glasses.

“If the person wears prescription glasses, it’s recommended they use a prescription safety glasses company to either supply them with prescription glasses or goggle inserts,” Myrick says. “Also, the use of an over-the-glasses, high-impact-rated safety glass could be used over standard prescription glasses. In either case, they need to use something along with a high-impact-rated face shield.”

Tony Spearing, vice president at Brass Knuckle Protection in Alpharetta, Georgia, echoes Myrick’s comments. He suggests existing options and alternatives for eyeglass wearers.

“Some goggle styles allow prescription glasses or prescription inserts to go underneath them,” Spearing says. “Also, some safety eyewear styles also come with prescription inserts, while others provide diopter options, which are already molded into the lens. Often, full prescription safety glasses are available either through the employee’s optician or a vision program offered by the employer in conjunction with a manufacturer.”

Protection is prudent.

The importance of safety glasses and face shields can never be overstated, especially in extreme environments that have rigorous project demands. At those times, safety gear can become one of the most important factors for project completion and cost-effectiveness. 

“In extreme environments like vacuum excavation, one would need to use glasses with superior anti-scratch and anti-fog properties,” Myrick says. “When selecting the right glasses for the wearer, you should answer the following concerns: comfort, coverage and protection level. Over my 22 years in the industry, I found that if the glasses are not comfortable, the employee simply will not wear them.”

Harp encourages his fellow hydroexcavator operators to make sure they are wearing the proper personal protective equipment, and he has even gone on social media to tell the story of his close call.

“To sum everything up, PPE in the world of hydrovacing is an essential part of what we do,” Harp says. “Although it can be a nuisance and seem like it’s slowing you down, it does do its job — which is to make your job safer. Never become complacent with your PPE and safety plans because it could save your eyes, your teeth and your time.” 


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