Know your eye safety issues

June 4, 2007
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An Ohio-based provider of turkey and chicken products, Cooper Farms, places health and safety issues at the top of its list of priorities. Following guidelines established by the USDA, EPA and Ohio Department of Agriculture, the poultry company must ensure customers receive a safe, healthy food product at all times.

But the daily activities associated with working in a poultry processing plant also present unusual safety challenges for the more than 450 employees who are out on the floor each day. Just ask Kevin Reed, the company’s safety manager, who is responsible for personnel safety issues, including eye protection, in an environment where workers often come into close contact with biological materials and are regularly subject to extreme fogging conditions.

“Eye protection is a crucial part of our workplace safety program…From airborne particles to extreme fogging conditions, our workers are exposed to a variety of challenging situations,” says Reed. “I know solutions are out there. For me, it’s just a question of finding someone who can give me the answers.”

In Reed’s case, that someone was a safety eyewear sales representative for Uvex products from Bacou-Dalloz. Reed elaborates, “Having someone on your team who knows the products that are available and who can recommend ways to solve our problems is key to managing a successful eye safety program.”

Different applications, same needs
The safety issues encountered at the company may be in some ways unique to the food processing industry, but they are not really so different from those experienced in steel plants, construction sites and a host of new workplace environments spawned by today’s technology. Safety eyewear must be able to protect against a mixed bag of hazards, whether they be metal projectiles, chemicals, wood shavings or animal particles. Special lens coatings are used to eliminate fogging and increase the life of the lens by reducing scratching. The availability of specialized lens tints helps alleviate the adverse effects of a variety of lighting conditions that may be present in the workplace.

Coating challenges
Throughout their workday, employees at the poultry company transition between two environments where the temperature goes from 38ËšF to 50ËšF, which can result in instant fogging. To help keep their eyewear free from fogging, employees rely on safety eyewear with anti-fog coating. The coating used combines both hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-repelling) properties, which allows employees to enjoy a clear field of vision, even in extreme environments.

“When the lens is exposed to extreme moisture or humidity, its hydrophilic properties take over to absorb and release moisture from the lens,” says Phil Johnson, director of technology for the eyewear manufacturer. “If the lens reaches the point of saturation, the hydrophobic properties take over, causing the moisture to drip right off the lens without interrupting vision or causing the wearer to remove the eyewear.”

In addition to anti-fog coatings, other coatings are used that significantly reduce scratching and harmful effects of chemical splashing. Some of these coatings are permanently bonded to the lens surface, providing scratch protection and resistance against the harmful effects of some chemicals. Most importantly, the coatings help retain optical quality and extend visual clarity for the life of the lens. And because the lenses last longer, the cost of ownership is lowered.

Some hazards need more
According to OSHA, one of the primary reasons eye injuries occur is from not wearing any eye protection. Workers at the poultry company are subjected to projectiles that include bone fragments and other biological matter from manual handling or from operating machinery. Protective eyewear must meet the ANSI Z87.1 industrial standard and be marked with the manufacturer’s logo on each lens and with “Z87” or “Z87+” on all component parts including frames and temples. The Z87+ marking indicates it has passed the ANSI high-velocity impact standard, which means the eyewear can withstand an impact from a projectile traveling 150 feet per second.

For companies that want additional impact protection, some brands offer safety eyewear designed to pass the Pentagon’s MIL V0 ballistic test for impact. The test requires that certified products withstand the impact of high-caliber, misshapen projectiles moving at the rate of 650 feet per second. Eyewear that passes MIL V0 protects against impact energies seven times higher than ANSI standards require. “Although it’s not a requirement, it’s comforting to know that users across all industries can enjoy the same level of protection as prescribed by the U.S. military for our armed forces,” says Johnson.

Using the right tint
“Making the wrong choice in eyewear protection can lead to a situation where the glasses are as much a hazard as the work itself,” says Reed. Here’s a case in point: A worker in a dimly lit industrial work area is wearing glasses with a gray tint more suited for bright outdoor lighting. He’s navigating a catwalk and places his safety in jeopardy by having his clear vision severely restricted. In this situation, specialized tints will provide the answer.

In these situations, it is important to look for eyewear with specially tinted lenses that match up with specific tasks and work environments. Clear and amber-tinted lenses are best suited for most indoor and low-light work conditions where enhancement of contrast may be needed. Gray or mirrored lenses are most often used outdoors to reduce glare and eye fatigue.

Specialized tints can also be used to solve specific lighting challenges. When intense yellow or sodium vapor lighting is present, a light blue lens filter can be used to overcome the effects. Vermillion, or pink-colored lenses, can reduce glare from fluorescent and halogen lighting and will also increase contrast for inspection processes.

“Every night, our sanitation crew moves through the plant with high speed, hot water power washers,” says Reed. “In our business, it is essential that all biological materials are effectively and safely removed from the premises.” This is the type of operation that would require protective lenses with special coatings and tints: anti-fog for clear vision, a hard coating to protect the lens surface and a specialized tint to enhance visibility in unique lighting situations.

More than functional
There is one more aspect of eye protection that is essential to having workers comply with safety regulations. “If it’s not comfortable and doesn’t look good, it won’t be worn,” says Johnson. To help ensure compliance, a company must offer protective eyewear that is specifically designed for comfort and adjustability. Gone are the days when protective eyewear was functional, but nothing else. Today’s products combine protection, style and comfort all in safety eyewear that solve specific problems, can be worn for hours on end without fatigue, and that look great.

Workers today need eyewear that protects, improves visibility and increases productivity for every occupation while maintaining fit, comfort and style. Evolving technology creates new situations and environments where products that do just that are absolutely essential.

SIDEBAR: Eye Injury Prevention Month

July has been officially recognized as Eye Injury Prevention Month. For this reason, place special focus on protecting eyes in the workplace. Eye injuries of all types occur at a rate of more than 2,000 per day. In particular, an estimated 1,000 eye injuries occur in American workplaces alone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that almost 70 percent of the eye injuries studied occur from falling or flying objects, or sparks striking the eye. The best way to prevent injury to the eye is to always wear the appropriate eye protection.

Source: Federal Occupational Health

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