The most memorable experience of my life was the moment my son was born. The emotions, the sentiment and the feelings of love and belonging were overwhelming. What set the birth event above all else is that he looked right into my eyes as he entered this world. The look in his eyes was so piercing, so wise and so touching. The image appears to me often, involuntarily, and gives me warmth and solace.

Since that unforgettable time 14 years ago, I have enjoyed seeing him grow in many ways - smearing cake on his face on his first birthday; seeing his first steps; seeing his preschool, grade school and middle school graduations; seeing his ballgames; seeing him fumble with his first guitar chords; and now seeing him touch the strings like they are extensions of his fingers. I now look forward to seeing him mature into a tall, handsome man.

Why risk it?

Although all of the senses are important to us, I believe sight lends itself to the fullest enjoyment of living. Given the choice of having four of the five senses, no worker that I've ever discussed this with would be willing to part with their eyesight.

So the question becomes: "Why would you risk your sight for the sake of saving a minute, or the hassle of using eye protection appropriate for the task at hand?"

I am sure you have heard (or even used) many of the incredible excuses, justifications and insane rationalizations for not protecting one's sight when it is at risk. None of them makes any sense. Does this bewilder you as much as it does me? Should you take it personally? As a challenge? As an indicator of your effectiveness as an educator? Unless you do little other than reading with your feet up on your desk, drinking bad coffee and just putting in time, then your sincere answer should be a resounding "Yes."

Eye injury facts

Here are the disturbing facts, condensed from OSHA Fact Sheet No. 93-03 (a 1993 Fact Sheet partly based on a 1980 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics):

  • Every day an estimated 1,000 eye injuries occur in American workplaces.

  • More than $300 million per year is lost in production time, medical expenses and workers' compensation due to eye injuries.

  • Nearly 75 percent of workers injured were not wearing eye protection.

  • 40 percent of the injured workers were wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job, most likely with no side shields.
  • Almost 70 percent of the incidents studied resulted from flying or falling particles or objects, or sparks striking the eye; nearly 60 percent of the objects were smaller than a pinhead.

  • Contact with chemicals caused 20 percent of the injuries.

  • Other injuries resulted from objects swinging from a fixed or attached position, ropes, chains or tools, which were pulled into the eye while the worker was using them.

Providing protection

The OSHA fact sheet also stated the obvious: Eye injuries can best be prevented by wearing effective eye protection. It's therefore up to you, safety professional, to guide, direct and manage the protection of those working amongst us. To do this, many aspects, including technical, scientific, psychological, sociological, interpersonal, business management and financial, must be integrated into a daily working strategy that must be nurtured and maintained.

So, in case you don't already know it, let's review what is necessary for maintaining eyesight.

1) Education and training. Workers often bring many bad habits with them when they walk through your doors. Pleading ignorance of the requirement or need for protective eyewear is a standard excuse, so eliminate this excuse through education and training. Remember, the education and training process should start with management and supervision.

2) Assess work activities. Every activity, regardless of how simple it may appear, requires examination. Again, it isn't so much the activity that's important, but rather what the workers were told when they first learned how to repair machinery, frame out a structure, machine a piece or use a tool. Old habits die hard.

3) Provide suitable eye and face protection. This must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Adequate protection against the particular hazards for which they are designed;
  • Comfort when worn under the designated conditions;
  • Snug fit without interfering with the movements or vision of the wearer;
  • Durability;
  • Capable of being disinfected;
  • Easily cleanable; and
  • Clean and in good repair.

Eye protection does not last forever. Establish regular checks of PPE to ensure that it is in usable condition.

4) Enforce usage requirements. It's ineffective to use the safety professional as the enforcement arm of the process. This is best carried out by those who are responsible for the daily activities of the workers, i.e. supervisors. A mandatory (zero tolerance for noncompliance) requirement for appropriate eye protection in specific areas must be established for all non-salaried and salaried members of the organization, as well as contractors, vendors and visitors.

5) Minimize eye injuries when incidents occur. Emergency eyewashes should be strategically located where required, according to the hazard. Workers must be trained in their use. Let them open the eyewash and see how it works. Establish and post eye injury first-aid response actions.

6) Recognize compliance. It is easy to find something wrong or someone doing what they should not be doing. Make a conscious effort to tell workers, individually, that you appreciate their assistance in making your job easier.

Easy? Not really. Impossible? Hardly. It takes a conscious, professional effort that all of us are capable of.