Reduce Vision Risks With Safety Eyewear

Saving employees' sight also means saving a bundle in expenses.

Four or five times a year, people bring safety glasses to me that were damaged in an accident that would have resulted in an eye injury. Lots of glasses that have come to me are damaged from something unexpected like an incorrectly cut metal band that snapped with a razor sharp edge. I save those glasses and use them for show and tell," says Bruce Kapfer, safety director for Revere Copper Products Inc. in Rome, N.Y. "We have not had any serious eye injuries in the six years

I've been here -- nothing more serious than dust in the eye."

That is due to the company's sophisticated eye safety program, which has been in place for several years. Protective eyewear is required everywhere in the mill except office areas. In the cast shop, where copper is melted, employees must don safety eyewear with glass lenses (because a splash of molten metal would burn through plastic) and face shields to double their protection. In Revere Copper's other production areas, workers can choose between polycarbonate or glass lenses for their safety eyewear.

Like Kapfer's colleagues, in many work environments today, employers need to be cognizant of all potential risks and hazards to their employees' eyesight. A variety of flying debris causes thousands of on-the-job eye injuries every year, some of which can rob employees of their sight permanently. The majority of these accidents can be prevented by providing employees with the correct type of safety eyeglasses and making sure they are worn.

Maximizing Safety and Productivity

Companies should take every precaution possible to protect employees' eyes and prevent the emotional and financial hardships associated with serious eye injuries. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than 400,000 occupationally related eye injuries occur annually. According to Prevent Blindness America, approximately 100,000 of these cause temporary or permanent vision loss. That translates to a financial impact for employers of more than $500 million in medical expenses, workers' compensation claims and lost productivity, as well as the employees' physical and emotional suffering. Everyone loses.

A safety eyewear program not only prevents the loss of an employee's sight, it is the law. OSHA estimates that 90 percent of all occupationally related eye injuries could have been avoided through the use of proper protective eyewear, heightened safety awareness and loss prevention programs in the workplace.

Providing the Right Eyewear

The right safety eyewear depends upon the type of job being performed. Those who operate machines for a living need protection from flying particles and dust, welders need protection from sparks, and chemical handlers need protection from splashes. Potential hazards to the eyes arise in almost every industry, but those employees at the highest risk are mechanics, carpenters, plumbers, machine operators and other manufacturers. Most problems result when the damaging object gets around and under the eyewear. This can be largely avoided by employees wearing the appropriate style of safety eyewear for their type of work.

All employers should provide proper eyewear. Because different tasks call for different types of protection, employees may be required to wear a variety of these styles:

  • Safety glasses look just like regular ophthalmic eyewear, but have special impact-resistant frames and lenses and may or may not have transparent side shields blocking access to the outer perimeter of the eyes.
  • Goggles provide eye protection from hazards coming from above, below and the sides.
  • Face shields offer full frontal protection, but should only be used in conjunction with safety glasses because they don't sit close enough to the eyes to act as an adequate safeguard on their own.
  • Helmets, primarily used for welding, provide extra head and eye protection from errant sparks.
  • Hoods are worn in conjunction with goggles to provide a better barrier against chemical splashes and flying debris.

Whichever style of protective eyewear is required, management must train all workers to always wear them at potentially hazardous sites, even if they are just a bystander at the moment. In only an instant, a person not using protective eyewear can lose his sight forever.

Good Looks, Great Protection

All safety eyeglasses are designed to withstand impact. In fact, they are required by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to pass two important tests:

The High-Velocity Impact Test. The frames must be proven to resist the force of a quarter-inch steel ball moving at 150 feet per second toward its front and side.

The High-Mass Impact Test. A pointed projectile that weighs 17.6 ounces is dropped 51.2 inches onto the front of a frame.

Other requirements stipulate that the lenses must be 3 millimeters thick, and the lenses and frames must be stamped with ANSI Z.87.1 to set them apart from regular eyewear, which sometimes looks identical to safety glasses. In fact, protective eyewear designers have dramatically improved the styles and colors they manufacture to make their product more in sync with fashion trends. This has the added bonus of enhancing safety eyewear's appeal for those who need to wear it.

If employees wear contact lenses or eyeglasses, they can wear their protective goggles over the prescription eyewear or order safety eyeglasses with corrective lenses from a safety supply company. The lenses can be made from glass, plastic or polycarbonate.

  • Glass is very resistant to scratching, but it is heavy and fogs easily.
  • Plastics are lighter in weight, but aren't as scratch resistant unless they've been treated with a special coating.
  • Polycarbonate lenses are made of a lightweight plastic material originally developed by NASA and used in the canopies of jet aircraft. These lenses have a high-impact resistance, with ultraviolet absorption, good optical qualities and a scratch-resistant coating, and are much safer than regular plastic or glass lenses.

Improving Your Safety Odds

You and your employees will benefit greatly if you provide education on all of the possibly harmful situations at your workplace. Explain to workers that their regular eyeglasses can't protect their eyes. Instead, they must use appropriate safety eyeglasses and take care of them. In addition to the Z.87.1 stamp on the frames and lenses, look for the manufacturer's logo when purchasing protective eyewear to ensure that all of the components have passed safety inspections.

Then have the eyewear fitted for each employee by an eyecare professional.

It's essential for workers to always keep their safety eyeglasses clean and inspect them regularly for any signs of damage (flawed eyewear loses its ability to withstand high impact). They should follow all safety guidelines for your industry at all times. Finally, just in case an accident occurs, make sure employees learn first aid for the eyes and have emergency equipment, such as eyewashes, readily accessible.

Getting medical attention is imperative, but every minute before the professionals take over counts toward saving vision.

Many companies provide plenty of information on what type of eyewear is necessary for which tasks. This attempt to decrease the number of workplace eye injuries has, so far, been extremely successful. But all of the information in the world won't do any good if your employees aren't persuaded to read it and follow the instructions. By implementing a vision protection plan, your company will prove its commitment to its workers and their safety, and reap multiple rewards with lower medical expenses, fewer workers' compensation claims and higher productivity.

Robert Elsas is vice president of Marketing Support for Davis Vision. For more than 35 years, Davis Vision, an award-winning specialty vision health plan, has provided custom-designed vision and eye care programs to corporations, union trust funds and managed care organizations across the country. Davis Vision serves more than 12 million members nationwide.

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