Most safety professionals acknowledge difficulties in getting people to use personal protective equipment, including eye protection. Yet, according to OSHA, “thousands” of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries.
In addition to the suffering caused to victims and their families, the monetary cost of these injuries to employers is more than $300 million annually, spread across lost work time, medical expenses, and workers’ compensation.
Meeting regulatory standards
The greatest cause of eye injuries is workers’ failure to wear protective equipment. Much of the blame for this situation rests with employers who fail to conduct job hazard analyses to identify the need for appropriate PPE, even though a formal personal protective program is required by regulatory standards. These standards mandate that you not only identify eye injury hazards, but also that you address all other hazards and their requisite control measures concurrently.
If you already have a PPE/eye protection program in place, take some time to review it. Make sure no new or additional hazards have presented themselves since you first implemented your plan. If they have, revise your procedures accordingly.
If you are just starting out, the OSHA website (http://www.osha.gov) offers excellent guidance. In addition, here are a few things to consider for a program that is, according to regulatory-speak, “effective in practice:”
- Conduct a job hazard analysis.
- Document the results.
- Engineer or administrate out as many hazards as practicable.
- Institute an eye protection policy to guard against the remaining hazards.
- Train to the policy and have the workers sign documentation certifying that they have been advised of the policy requirements, as well as given an opportunity to ask questions.
- Issue the appropriate eye protection.
- Ensure eye protection fits comfortably.
- Use disciplinary action for infractions to the requirements, and deliver it in a consistent manner.
- Monitor your program for effectiveness at least annually and more often for processes and tasks that change frequently.
Your job hazard analysis should address the kind of eyewear needed for a certain task. In an occupational setting, the following should be considered:
- According to OSHA, hazards from flying or falling objects are the number one cause of workplace eye injuries. If you have identified these hazards, use ANSI-approved safety glasses or goggles. To protect the entire face, choose faceshields (and maybe safety glasses also, depending on the nature of the potential injury).
- To protect against heat, choose ANSI-approved safety glasses, goggles, or faceshields.
- If your hazard is from splashing chemicals, chemical-resistant goggles and faceshields are appropriate; safety glasses are not generally acceptable for use against chemical splash hazards.
- If dust is a hazard, use goggles; open eyewear such as glasses and faceshields will not protect the eyes in dusty environments.
- If the hazard involves optical radiation, special lenses must be used. Check the regulations and remind your workers that sunglasses, even ANSI-approved sunglasses, will not protect them from optical radiation from welding, torching, or lasers.
While there is value in real-time interaction with workers as they perform their tasks, one of the best ways to communicate your PPE policies is through classroom training. This allows you to get your message out in its entirety instead of in a piecemeal fashion, thus avoiding a trail of misinformation. Some of the greatest advantages of classroom training are:
- Everyone’s attention can be focused on the topic at hand.
- Interaction can take place between the trainer and the audience.
- The level of understanding and proficiency can be tested either before or after (or both).
- Misunderstanding and rumors can be dispelled and clarified.
- There are opportunities for peer-to-peer recognition.
- There are opportunities for individuals to show leadership.
Videos that include real-life testimonials by people whose lives have been affected by workplace eye injuries (or any other injuries for that matter) are quite effective in delivering a lasting message. If your audience isn’t too squeamish, “high impact” safety training videos are available that graphically depict realistic re-enactments of catastrophic injury events. These kinds of images can leave an indelible mark on even the most resistant employee.
Don’t forget to include a little show and tell during your training sessions. Bring examples of the eyewear you expect your workers to wear. Don’t be afraid to spend the extra dollar or two for those Harley-Davidson or Winchester brand safety glasses, as name recognition and style can be a secret weapon in getting your workers to comply.
Home is where the danger is
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, about one million eye injuries occur in the United States each year. The top ten causes of eye injuries are:
- Household chemicals
- Home workshop and yard debris
- Acid splash from car batteries
- Sports accidents
- Overexposure to Ultraviolet (UV) light
- Toys and games
- Furniture corners
- Work-related injuries
- Vehicle airbags
I like to mention this fact during an eyewear campaign in order to foster a holistic safety culture. If employees know the importance of protecting their vision at home when it’s not required, you may have an easier time getting them to use eye protection for the same reasons at work, when it is required. After all, saving even one person’s vision makes all your efforts worthwhile.