Work-related eye injuries treated in emergency rooms exceeded 800,000 in 2008; men having a rate four times higher than women.1 In 70 percent of cases, injury was from an object or equipment, and 26 percent from exposure to harmful substances or environments. Sources included scrap, waste and debris (34 percent) and chemicals (14 percent).2
Environmental work by definition includes hazardous materials and/or environments. Ninety percent of all eye injuries can be prevented by wearing protective eyewear.3 So why do workers disregard this critical personal protective equipment (PPE) need?
The big picture
The National Research Council reports that eye injury is probably the most under-recognized major health problem. Eye protection is the number-one risk category, per OSHA, and their regulations are in place (OSHA 1910.132(a) - 1910.132(f)4. Loss of sight in just one eye, per the American Medical Association, is assessed as “25% Impairment of Visual System, and 24% Impairment of Whole Man.”5
Those not in safety might assume that eye protection is demanded by workers. But consistently at environmental jobsites, some workers ignore the hazards of airborne material and chemical splash.
Sourcing is critical
ANSI standards only address the impact protection of lenses and frames, sideshield coverage and lens thickness. It is the features, and design, of glasses that most affect wearability, including:
- lens shape and range of vision
- indoor/outdoor/low light tinted lenses
- fog resistance
- earpiece shape (straight or “hook”)
- scratch resistance
- slip resistance
- UV protection
- helmet clearance
- degree of padding/sealing
It is critical that whomever is sourcing eyewear understand the aspects of every job and determine exactly what features are needed.
What you don’t see
Comfort complaints such as “too tight,” “they rub my head,” “earpieces pinch,” “they slide off,” and “they give me a headache” are often dismissed as whining. The worker is expected to cope. But annoyances are real. From a humanistic point of view, stopping anything irritating or annoying is a natural reaction, just as you would swat a mosquito. Pulling glasses off might not be intentional non-compliance, but a reaction to an irritation — when getting the job done is more important than a pinch on the head.
Beyond irritations are impeded peripheral vision, fogging, scratching and blurry lenses. Issues hampering vision are serious and valid; all of the above can be addressed with products that answer both the needs presented by the jobsite and employee concerns.
Defining ‘the Man’
According to Marek Zuchniak, operations manager with Alliance Environmental in West Chester, Pa., “not wanting to look like a geek” is a consistent rationale. This seems sheer vanity, but safety officers should consider when training that individuals vary physically and mentally. “Being a man” is defined by taking risks with confidence.5 Choosing to not wear protection, as well as flouting authority, is a statement the worker is likely not aware he’s making.
In a world where many perceive wearing glasses as an admittance of weakness, not wearing them is like going into battle “without a shield”. The worker doesn’t realize it shows immaturity; he is simply behaving in a way that seems natural, to him.
While training, encouragement, rewards/punishment are standard, getting the right type of safety eyewear for the job is paramount. Effectiveness of the glasses can affect the overall expense of the project. When a worker stops repeatedly to wipe off fog, pauses frequently to adjust slippage, is slower because he can’t see well, or frequently replaces glasses due to scratching, it diminishes the speed and overall quality of the work and adds to the consumable costs of the job.
The person in charge of PPE procurement can combine job site requirements with worker issues, and offer options. The simplest solution includes ensuring that all eyewear on any jobsite provides:
- correct sizing options
- suitability for job conditions
- a fair combination of protection and comfort
“Geek” answers include ensuring that the most respected team member(s) wear glasses, and talk about why. They can make it clear that not wearing eyewear declares a lack of self-confidence.
Another solid approach is allowing workers to choose between a few models. According to Joe Wicker with Solvay Solexis in West Deptford, N.J., this gives a sense of control that can obviate resistance.
And another alternative is to allow workers to source their own eye protection. This generally increases wear, but requires a degree of “policing” to ensure the glasses meet the standards given for any job.
The right equipment and training
Having the right safety eyewear for the job is critical. Effective long-term training will include not just how, when and where to wear safety glasses, but “why” and also address overall conduct. Senya Isayeff, a principal at Alliance Environmental, offers that training should include encouragement to think of the job in a larger context, and what could happen next, rather than what is happening at any given phase of work, with a goal of getting workers to recognize that they “own” responsibility for their own safety.
Training, rewards, and disincentives are tools, but firm, consistent leadership and role models for behavior and attitude will benefit each individual and the employer.
In closing, eye safety is critical. A wide range of styles and job-specific designs are available at varying costs to meet the needs of almost all projects, and it is in the employer’s interest to ensure that each employee is able to work safely, and at full efficiency, while adhering to the best standards of PPE.
1 Statistical Brief #112, Emergency Department Visits Related to Eye Injuries, 2008, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Pamela L. Owens, Ph.D., Ryan Miller, Ph.D. 2008