Ten years ago eye injuries were a common occurrence at the railroad industry's research and testing facility in Pueblo, Colo.
About nine times a year, workers at The Transportation Technology Center Inc. (TTCI), a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads, suffered eye injuries, some seriously enough to lose time at work.
Today, TTCI has some different statistics to talk about. In 1999, not one of its nearly 300-member workforce suffered an eye injury.
Since 1995, not one eye injury resulted in lost time from work. Moreover, from October 1998 to December 1999, the test facility posted an enviable workplace safety record of zero lost-time injuries.
TTCI accomplished this despite logging 642,000 work hours developing and testing rail vehicles, tracks and components.
In recognition of TTCI's exemplary achievement in occupational safety, The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. has awarded TTCI The Hartford Industrial Eye Safety Award for Excellence.
The award is part of The Hartford's efforts to prevent the 400,000 workplace eye injuries that occur each year that cost the nation more than $500 million.
In 1993, TCCI enhanced its safety program to cover a broad range of workplace safety issues, placing a special emphasis on eye safety.
All new employees participate in the program, and the visitors entering the testing facility are first given a talk on eye safety.
Protective headgear and eyewear are issued before anyone can travel over the 52-square mile test facility.
Employees are provided with eyewear that is designed for their particular job functions and prescription safety glasses to those needing corrective lenses.
"We believe the cost of eye protection for our employees, customers and visitors is insignificant to the cost of a serious eye injury and their overall health and safety," said Terrence Terrill, TTCI's manager of site safety.
Richard J. Quagliaroli, The Hartford's president, Commercial Lines, emphasized that nearly all occupational eye injuries are preventable.
"Prevent Blindness America and other experts on ocular safety have found that from 90 to 95 percent of all workplace eye injuries can be prevented if proper eye protection is worn," said Quagliaroli. "But too often workers don't wear eye protection at all or wear the wrong kind for the task they're doing."
A good eye program, says The Hartford, demands the following attributes:
- company-wide commitment to wearing eye protection;
- safety eyewear that conforms to industry standards;
- safety eyewear that is appropriate for the task, such as polycarbonate eyewear for those who work with lasers;
- employee training, including proper fit and use of eyewear; and
- installation of eyewash stations.
Last year, The Hartford saw a slight drop in the number and severity of eye injuries among its workers' compensation claims.
Industry-wide, eye injuries typically account for between 5 and 8 percent of workplace injuries.
"If we're committed to eye safety, we can prevent about 100,000 cases of temporary or permanent vision loss each year," said Quagliaroli, citing a Prevent Blindness America report. "The personal and financial costs are too high."