Keep Both Eyes On Safety

The swashbuckling pirate with a patch on one eye has always remained a romantic figure in our imaginations.  But, in reality, there is nothing adventurous or noteworthy about losing an eye at work.  Yet, every day an estimated 1,000 eye injuries occur in the workplace and cost business more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and workers' compensation.  Then there is the emotional toll of an eye accident for which no amount of money can compensate.

Why do these accidents continue to occur? Employees just aren't using their safety eyewear.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that three out of every five workers who received eye injuries were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident.  Others were harmed when they wore the wrong kind of eye protection for the job, such as glasses with no side shields.

Check Out The Hazards

OSHA requires employers to provide the proper eye protection for the job.  But, you must first determine where the eye hazards are located and what kind of equipment will best protect your workers' eyesight.  Look for these typical eye hazards at your worksite:

Next, look at the types of jobs that may expose your workers to eye hazards.  Eye injuries occur over a wide range of occupations.  Craft workers, such as mechanics, repairers, carpenters, and plumbers, have suffered the most eye injuries, with assemblers, sanders, and grinding machine operators a close second.  However, eye injuries can occur in all jobs, from the warehouse person to the lab technician.

Once you have evaluated the eye hazards, you will need to find the best protection available for your workers.  Safety eyewear comes in many different types and styles, from glasses with side shields to goggles and helmets.  Whatever kind of protection is chosen, it must comply with ANSI standards. All of this information you have now gathered on eye hazards and protection is known as a "work-place hazard assessment," which must be put in writing and signed by a responsible person.

Making It Fit

Set aside time for fitting protective eyewear and teaching your employees how to use and care for the equipment.  It is very important that the eyewear fit properly.  There have been too many cases of injuries caused by objects or chemicals going around or under the protector when it is loose. When fitting, though, make sure that air is allowed to circulate between the eye and the lens.  If any of your workers have prescription lenses, they should have either prescription safety eyewear or equipment that can be worn over the lenses.  Since uncorrected vision problems can contribute to accidents, many employers take the extra step of conducting regular eye exams for their workers. Provide a good selection of colors and styles to help motivate your workers to use the eyewear.  You may wish to have your safety eyewear supplier or eye care professional help you conduct the fitting and selection process.

An Eye On Training

You can't just hand out safety eyewear and expect everyone to know what to do with it.  OSHA requires you to train your employees on all aspects of using the equipment.

Start off the training session by relating a recent eye accident or near miss. Or, try this experiment with your employees: have them close one eye and ask them to imagine how they would do everything they do now with both eyes.  Now tell them to think about coming to work with only one good eye and how scared they would be about losing the other one.  Now have them close both eyes and imagine being completely blind.

Once you've caught their attention, you can pass on the following important safety information:

Should An Accident Occur...

If, despite all your precautions, an eye accident should occur, your workers should be ready with some basic first-aid training behind them.  Everyone should know where the nearest eyewash station is located, and they must be taught how to use it.  Make sure the eyewash stations are checked frequently and that there is plenty of clean water at a comfortable temperature.  Teach employees to continuously wash out their eyes with clean water or to help a co-worker who might be injured.

Set An Example

Post eye-protection policies and other eye safety reminders around the workplace to encourage compliance.  Of course, supervisors should set an example by wearing safety eye gear at all times. As for that nifty eye patch, keep it where it belongs--with the Halloween costumes!

Note On Contact Lenses

The American Optometric Association has published new guidelines regarding the use of contact lenses in industrial environments which "refutes claims that contact lens negate the protection provided by safety equipment or make the cornea more susceptible to damage by optical radiation, in particular, arc flashes." The guidelines also list factors to determine lens selection and wearing schedules and are available on the Internet at www.aoanet.org.