Even before COVID-19, protecting first responders’ eyes from biohazards and bloodborne pathogens was an important priority, yet one that might be easily overlooked by an EMS crew rolling up on a chaotic scene.
With the delta variant’s higher transmissibility, however, the need for proper protection is even greater.
The Herald Sun reported in August, for example, that “450 North Carolinians died of COVID-19 at home last year,” noting that Cabarrus County Emergency Medical Services alone received 198 COVID-19 emergency calls. “Most people in the grips of COVID-19 required advanced life support care, such as breathing tubes or masks hooked to oxygen supplies when paramedics arrived. In some cases, they were unconscious,” the article noted.
While the need for eye protection has grown, figuring out the best equipment to use hasn’t always been easy or straightforward. A new standard was recently released to help: ANSI/ISEA Z87.62 – 2021 American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection Devices for Preventing Exposures Causes by Sprays or Spurts of Blood of Body Fluids.
ANSI/ISEA Z87.62-2021 sets forth criteria related to the general requirements, testing, permanent marking(s), selection, care and use of protectors to minimize or prevent exposure to the wearer’s eyes and/or face — mucocutaneous exposures, nose and mouth — caused by spray or spurt of blood, body fluids and/or other potentially infectious materials. This new standard is a first iteration and does not encompass every biological hazard. Within this context, test criteria specifically do not assess aerosolized pathogens, although they may be considered in a subsequent version.
The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) led the process of creating the new consensus standard, which represents the safety equipment industry’s first effort to standardize eye and face protectors used in occupational settings where spray and spurt biological hazards pose a risk. The new standard won American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approval in July 2021.
Spray and Spurt Protection
Spray and spurt protection are assessed through a robust test method applied to a range of products categorized by their effective coverage area of the eyes, nose and mouth. Requirements for conforming products are similar to those in ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 for optical quality and some physical requirements. (ANSI/ISEA Z87.1, the widely adopted American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection, was updated in 2020.)
“Every day, millions of workers in healthcare settings, clinical research and testing facilities, veterinary services or first responder environments are exposed to bloodborne pathogens, and occupational health and safety regulations require employers to protect employees from these hazards,” said JP Sankpill, director of safety regulatory compliance at Essilor of America, and chair of the Z87 Committee.
Jim Harris, PhD, PE, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and vice-chair of the Accredited Standards Committee on Safety Standards for Eye Protection, Z87, added that while new safety products quickly entered the market attempting to meet demand, there was no standard by which to evaluate how well these products performed on tests simulating some spray or spurt situations. Now, Harris explained, Z87.62 provides specific performance criteria for protecting workers from potentially infectious bodily fluids.
It’s important to note that ANSI/ISEA Z87.62 focuses on coverage, but does not impose any protector impact criteria. Users whose environments may require impact protection should select items that may be dual marked to ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 and Z87.62.
The standard can be purchased from ISEA for $65 at safetyequipment.org/standards or through any licensed resellers.