Most people grab their tools and start to work when they are ready to do a job. This is fine if your job does not have any dangerous aspects or tools. If we are hammering or grinding, then we need to remember our PPE (personal protective equipment) to protect our eyes.

A job may seem safe enough…
In my career in a food manufacturing plant, I supervised over 37 hourly employees who for the most part wanted to do the job safely. They worked in a wet and dangerous environment each night shift. Fatigue was another item to be factored into the safety equation because everyone was tired in the early mornings hours. Time constraints also were a concern because my crew was usually pressured to get the equipment clean and ready for the production crew coming in on the next shift.

In order to get their jobs done properly, the crew had to prepare the equipment for cleaning, which means emptying catch pans and sweeping. The job may sound safe enough, but a lot of the material in the catch pan was dry flour, which would occasionally dust back up into the workers’ eyes when they dumped it into the trash container. Wearing properly maintained goggles or a face shield would prevent this from happening.

Once the equipment was precleaned, the crew rinsed it off with hot water, usually at normal pressures. This presented another possibility for eye injuries if the crew were not wearing the proper PPE (goggles and/or face shields).

With using hot water, the room would heat up and the goggles would fog up, so some employees would remove the small vent covers on the goggles to allow more circulation inside the goggles. With the vent covers removed, the goggles were not “properly maintained.” Plus, having no vent covers would sometimes allow a drop or two of the cleaning chemicals the crew were using to bounce into the goggles and ultimately into the eyes.

More than one solution
To solve this, I made sure employees didn’t remove the vent covers by conducting regular equipment inspections.

Plus, employees were furnished anti-fog goggles to help with the fogging from hot-water cleaning.

Another way to prevent eye or face injuries is to wear a face shield along with the goggles. Occasionally an employee wanted to wear just a face shield, but we found this was not sufficient protection. In one instance, chemicals splashed and bounced off the face and got into the employee’s eyes.

Improvised hazards
During cleaning, some employees would need to use air nozzles. Even though they were supplied with OSHA-approved nozzles with limited pressure, some employees thought they needed more pressure to clean properly, so they would make their own nozzles by using a quick disconnect fitting and solder onto it a piece of copper tubing for an extension. This was straight unregulated air pressure that would definitely cause eye injury by blowing a particle into the eyes. We tried to stop this with the regular equipment inspections along with regular locker inspections because sometimes employees hid their “illegal” or unapproved tools in their lockers.

Proper equipment = better safety
Overall, our defenses against eye injuries were to make sure the employees used proper and well-maintained safety equipment.

To that end, we had regular equipment inspections with a checklist and employee signatures on the form when the inspection was finished. The locker inspections helped to make sure an employee did not have a makeshift or improper safety tool that he didn’t want his supervisor to see. If an employee was found to have modified or fashioned his own improper tools, the employee was taken through all the disciplinary steps according to company policy.

Another excellent tool — supervisors walking the floor to observe employee practices and the tools used by the employees.

Also, management relied on other employees to report unsafe conditions, tools or practices to their supervisors.

Outside independent or even company auditors were a way to find unsafe practices and tools. Generally these were not quite as successful because the employees were on their “best behavior” during these types of audits.

Ultimately management had to educate the employees as to why they could not do certain things or modify their safety equipment.

“Safety Minutes”
We, as management, relied upon continuous employee training both formal, in group settings, and informal, quick one-on-one sessions, which we called “Safety Minutes.” These had a certain topic and were performed every month. The formal group training took place not as often, but often enough to meet OSHA guidelines and keep the employees aware of their workplace hazards and proper procedures.

And of course, all training was documented by requiring the employee to sign the training form that stated the topic, the trainer, the time spent and the date.

Remember that sometimes one form of PPE is not sufficient protection, so you might need to combine two or more for complete protection, such as goggles and a face shield.

Overall, eye safety and safety in general is a continuous endeavor to make sure the employees do not inadvertently endanger themselves or coworkers by taking shortcuts or modifying their safety equipment or by hurrying too much to do their jobs.