You walk through the plant and pass a worker whose eyes are focused on the task at hand, using a grinder, a saw, or pouring chemicals. But where’s his safety eyewear? Pushed up on his forehead, or hanging around his neck. Sound familiar? Well, many Industrial Safety & Hygiene News readers constantly wrestle with this age-old compliance problem, and this article discusses several solutions.

Workers' choice

Some Decordova plant employees wear their safety glasses even after a hard day’s work at this Texas utility. Just south of Fort Worth along the Brazos River, on Walker’s Bend, some employees of the T.U.

Electric Company can be seen going home with safety glasses still resting comfortably on their noses.

All around the plant’s hometown of Granbury, Tex., Decordova workers wear protective eyewear while cutting lawns or even running errands and driving around town, says Norman Henderson, plant safety representative. From 1984 to 1992, safety glasses were mandatory at the plant, with only one kind allowed. The style met specific guidelines laid down by corporate safety, or the "old die-hards," as Henderson calls them. But the eyewear was thick, heavy, and didn’t adjust to individual workers’ faces.

Employees complained and safety staffers passed on the word to corporate management. The rules remained. Henderson continued to communicate complaints, hoping to add variety. But the old die-hards wouldn’t budge, he says.

When corporate management turned over in 1992, Henderson got his chance. He went out to find Decordova plant workers comfortable eye and face protection. Henderson collected samples and asked workers on the safety committee to try them out to see how they fit. Involved in the decision process, workers bought into the program.

Now the plant has two different types of safety glasses and 12 styles of prescription safety glasses. Eye injuries are mostly remedied by a first-aid eyewash. The accident rate in the mechanics division, where there are cutting and welding hazards, has improved to about one accident requiring medical attention per year for the past five years.

Discipline, no exceptions

It’s simple at State Chemical’s main plant in Cleveland: No protective goggles, no job. The rules are plain, clear, and openly communicated. All 33 employees in the manufacturing department have one specific type of ANSI.Z87-approved goggles they are permitted to wear. Ten out of the 18 employees in shipping and receiving wear them voluntarily.

Discipline follows two paths at State. A supervisor can give an employee a first-warning break if they’re not wearing goggles; or more typically the goggles are placed uselessly on top of their head. But Jim Dufala, warehouse operations and safety manager, makes sure the warning is one they remember.

He’s even got a practiced technique. The superintendent sends the employee to the safety office, where Dufala instructs him or her to sit down. Dufala then returns to the floor to get the supervisor, leaving the employee alone for a few minutes to sweat the consequences of non-compliance. The worker, supervisor and Dufala then discuss eye protection rules and why they are instituted. That’s usually all it takes to fine-tune an employee’s hazard awareness, says Dufala.

The safety manager himself takes a harder line. "If I personally catch them, I’ll fire them, no warning," Dufala says without hesitation. The rules need to be set up then strictly enforced. With the ability of chemicals to injure an eye, there’s no room for exceptions, he says.

How does Dufala keep the employee turnover down to about two a year using the "firing" method? He’s not trying to be Mr. Macho. Employees need to be keenly aware that one chemical splash could make them lose their eyesight.

Some don’t realize the hazards. "There’s just no allowance for risk-taking," he says.

Tried that? Here’s more:

So you already have an assortment of styles and have tried discipline. What else can you do to cut down on eye injuries each year?

Maybe combine the strategies of State Chemical and the Decordova plant, says Stewart Young , principal environmental, health, and safety consultant for Arthur D. Little. He gives two rules to a successful eye protection program:

First, develop a shared vision between management and workers of how best to protect eyes in the workplace. It’s short-sighted to leave out worker comfort, fashion, and personal taste in favor of protection alone, says Young. To improve, a program should take into account what every worker perceives as a problem or obstacle. With these bases covered, enforcement might not enter the picture.

Second, after protection is in place, follow up and verify that it works. Observe workers in an informal manner, says Young. Check to see if they are wearing the right eyewear whenever at risk. If not, go back to employees and ask what the problem is. Make them part of the solution. If that doesn’t work, enforcement is the only option left.

Another consultant, Phil Goldsmith, president of Comprehensive Risk Management in Peabody, Mass., points out three keys to an effective safety program: ·

  • Allow employees to pick their own eyewear frame out of a choice of about six styles already approved by the safety staff. At Decordova, Henderson went through dozens of styles before the workers found the 14 pairs they were comfortable with. ·
  • If you have 200 workers in your facility and only 40 need to wear protective glasses, focus on the 40. "If you make the whole 200 wear them, you’ll have 160 unhappy workers," says Goldsmith. ·
  • Every company needs a prescription protective eyewear program that funds both the glasses and the exams.

Goldsmith also points out advantages of sideshields that extend protection against debris and flying particles. Also, make sure workers realize that streetwear spectacles don’t afford the protection of polycarbonate safety lenses.

Certain workers do realize the risks and have more to complain about than cosmetics or comfort. When they talk to Richard Uhler, an industrial hygienist for the International Chemical Workers Union, they often have problems with dingy, scratched eye equipment. No one wants to wear banged-up, dirty protective glasses that cut-down on vision, he says.

Uhler offers this reminder: OSHA requires employers to maintain clean and properly functioning safety eyewear.

In general, OSHA’s eye and face protection standard (1910.133) requires employers to protect employees with appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acid and caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.

Non-mandatory guidelines issued by OSHA recommend sideshields, detachable or permanent, when flying object hazards are present. OSHA does not require employers to pay for prescription lenses. But they must ensure that wearing regular specs under safety glasses does not disturb the proper fit of either pair, and that prescription lenses fit into the chosen style of protective eyewear frames correctly.

Uhler says sideshields are fine, but he recommends playing it safe and using goggles in many applications. He’s concerned about chemicals, debris, and dust getting through open frames and causing injury.