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Did you know wearing eye protection can be a COVID requirement?

Appearing below is an updated version of an article first published in September 2021. Among the updates: a link to specific requirements applying to Ontario’s long-term care sector. 

Employees who work indoors and outdoors within two metres of an unmasked person must wear appropriate eye protection and masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, says the Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development. Ministry inspectors are now enforcing this requirement.

The eye protection requirement was first introduced in healthcare settings, where it has been highly effective, says Wagish Yajaman, WSPS' Manager, Specialty Services. Now, as a measure needed during this pandemic, it applies to all provincially regulated workplaces if employees, in the course of providing services, are required to come within two metres of another person - indoors or outdoors — who is not wearing a mask or face covering and is without an adequate shielding barrier (e.g. plexiglass, partition, wall).* Please note that there are specific requirements for the long-term care sector.

Why eye protection is required

COVID-19 is transmitted through the air via infectious droplets expelled by people carrying the virus, including people who have already been vaccinated. Just as these droplets may cause infection if they come into direct contact with the mucous membranes of our mouth or nose, there is also a risk of infection if the mucous membranes of our eyes are exposed.

"To reduce the risk of transmission, all points of entry on another person within two metres need to be protected," explains Wagish. "With just a mask, we are protecting only two of those points of entry, the mouth and nose. A third point is the eyes."

Educating yourself is the first step in implementing a COVID-related eye protection program, says Wagish. We’ve put together a Q&A to answer questions about the requirement.

What's driving this requirement?

The Ministry of Health has determined a high risk of COVID-19 transmission exists if a masked worker is not wearing eye protection when working within two metres of an unmasked or improperly masked person. This is due to several factors, including the rapid spread of highly transmissible COVID variants and improper use of masks.

"Most masks don't cover the area around the eyes," says Wagish, "and people also inadvertently touch their eyes with their hand."

What types of eye protection help prevent transmission of COVID?

Face shields, safety goggles and safety glasses with side shields. Prescription eyewear is not suitable on its own because it is open around the periphery, says Wagish. All eye protection, including face shields, must be used in conjunction with a mask or face covering.

Does eye protection against COVID-19 need to be CSA approved?

No, says Wagish. Any type of eye protection is acceptable so long as it covers the front and sides of the face. However, CSA approved eye protection is required to protect against other workplace hazards, such as projectiles or impact.

What do I need to consider when purchasing eye protection against COVID-19?

Make sure it fits properly and does not interfere with the proper fit of a mask. In the case of goggles and safety glasses with shields, you don't want workers to have to keep pushing them back up and touching their face. "Comfort is another factor," says Wagish. "How much pressure is it putting on the temple or the bridge of the nose?"

How should we remove protective eyewear? Wash your hands. Grasp the side arms and lift away from the face without touching the front of the eyewear, then wash your hands again.

How should we sanitize eye protection, and how often?

Disinfect between each use with disinfectant wipes approved for use against COVID-19. Avoid sharing eye protection among workers.

Public Health Ontario outlines these steps for disinfecting:

1. Clean hands and put on a pair of gloves.

2. Wipe the inside of the eye protection first and then the outside.

3. Ensure all surfaces remain wet for the disinfectant contact time (e.g. 1-3 minutes).

4. Rinse with tap water and allow to dry.

5. Remove gloves and wash your hands.

6. Store the eye protection in a clean, designated area.

How WSPS can help

Check out these online resources:

 

* Wearing a mask indoors is a requirement under the Reopening Ontario Act, as stated in Using masks in the workplace. Since the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker, inspectors with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development may apply the eye protection requirement to both indoor and outdoor settings if the work being performed involves workers who are required to be working within two metres of an unmasked person due to the way their work is organized.