Don't Lose Sight of Eye Safety

Sept. 11, 2002
By following these steps, experts say, you can all but eliminate workplace eye injuries.

Despite the best efforts of eye protection manufacturers to provide stylish, effective eyewear and safety professionals to ensure employees are protected, workplace eye injuries still occur at a rate of an estimated 2,000 per day.

Ninety percent of those injuries could have been prevented with the use of proper safety eyewear, contends John B. Jeffers, M.D., a member of the eye safety advisory committee for Prevent Blindness America, a volunteer eye health and safety organization. "If eye protection is appropriate for the task and is well-fitting, the 90 percent figure goes even higher," he says.

Yet, too many eye injuries are not prevented, which Jeffers can attest to as director of resident education and emergency services at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. Could it be that companies have lost sight of whether their eye protection programs are complete?

Give your program a checkup by seeing how many of the items in the following list of 10 ways to prevent eye injuries at work, provided by Prevent Blindness America, are included.

1. Assess

Conduct a thorough analysis of plant operations. Inspect work areas, access routes and equipment. Examine eye accident and injury reports. Identify operations and areas that present eye hazards. A hazard assessment should determine the risk of exposure to eye and face hazards, including those that may be encountered in an emergency.

An eye hazard assessment should result in a safe work environment by identifying and minimizing hazards from falling or unstable debris, making sure that tools work and safety features (machine guards) are in place, ensuring that workers know how to use tools properly and keeping bystanders out of the hazard area. Primary eye hazards include dust, concrete, metal particles, chemicals, welding light and electrical arcs, thermal hazards and fires, and bloodborne pathogens.

Marcy Thompson, CSP, RN, COHN-S, safety engineer for ON Semiconductor in East Greenwich, R.I., uses a "triangle" approach to assess eye hazards by looking at the work process, equipment and tasks. Assessing the process, such as working with chemicals, helps her determine whether eye protection will be mandatory for an entire work area. She also may require eye protection because of equipment, such as when using sharp tools.

Each work task also is assessed to determine the need for eye protection. A specific task may require protection in an area where safety glasses are not mandatory.

Include eye protection requirements when planning for a new process or equipment. With any new operation at ATK Thiokol Propulsion in Corinne, Utah, for example, manufacturing engineers design out as many hazards as possible before including eye protection in procedures, says safety engineer E.L. "Brownie" Peterson, MA, CSHM. Thiokol's safety department must sign off on the plans before the new operation begins.

2. Test

Uncorrected vision problems contribute to accidents. Incorporate vision testing in your pre-placement and routine physical examinations of employees.

Companies should have guidelines for each job to specify physical capabilities required, including vision, says Edwin P. Granberry Jr., president and principal EHS consultant for Granberry & Associates in Winter Park, Fla. List whether the job requires 20/20 or corrected vision. Some tasks, such as driving a forklift, should require vision in both eyes, Granberry adds.

3. Protect

Select protective eyewear designed for a specific operation or hazard. Protective eyewear - glasses, goggles, face shields and welding helmets - must meet OSHA standards 1910.133 for general industry and 1026.102 for construction, both of which reference the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI) Z87.1 standard.

Too often, incorrect protection is worn. At Wills Eye Hospital, about 75 percent of its patients were wearing protective eyewear, Jeffers says, but still were injured from tiny, foreign bodies because they weren't using side protection or goggles.

Safety glasses with side protection is a minimum requirement by OSHA in 1910.133(a)(2) when there is a hazard from flying objects. Winston Wolfe, president of Olympic Optical, says there is more than one way to achieve side protection. Two are wraparound styles (with a 7 or 8 base curve) that provide a stylish look and flatter glasses (with a 4 or 5 base curve) with defined edges that form side shields.

Companies need to ensure that all parts of their workers' eyewear are compliant. A recent safety audit at ATK Thiokol Propulsion, which manufactures and refurbishes reusable solid rocket motors, revealed that "transient" workers, those not assigned to permanently work in a specific area, had been using removable side shields that were not ANSI Z87.1-certified.

4. Participate

For maximum protection against eye injuries, consider establishing a 100 percent mandatory program that requires eye protection throughout all operations areas of the plant. This policy is in place at ATK Thiokol, which requires a minimum of safety glasses with side shields. The vice president of operations instituted the policy so there is no question of whether workers are exposed to eye hazards.

"It's a culture that you develop," Peterson says. "Workers understand that it is part of their daily job requirements."

Even if required to wear eye protection, employees have many reasons for not complying, according to Doug Williams, safety products brand manager for Hagemeyer North America Marketing Co., a maker of Encon Safety eye protection and emergency eyewashes. Three reasons Williams listed are lack of hazard training on the importance of using eye protection, improper- or uncomfortable-fitting protective eyewear and lack of enforcement by management.

Another reason is aging workers who need, but do not have, safety glasses with prescription or magnified lenses. "I've heard of situations where a worker is trying to focus on close-up work and can't wearing safety glasses," Olympic Optical's Wolfe says. "He takes them off so he can do his work and suffers an eye injury."

Magnified lens inserts are similar to reading glasses or bifocals. Ensure that the insert is placed in an optically ideal location and is at the proper magnification strength for each user.

5. Fit

Workers cannot be expected to use their protective eyewear unless it fits properly and comfortably. Availability of stylish, comfortable glasses are not a problem in today's marketplace. "With an ethnically diverse population in today's work force, a little variety in styles, sizes and shapes of protective eyewear will go a long way in helping to ensure proper use," Hagemeyer's Williams says.

To ensure that eyewear is satisfactory, have it fitted by an eye care professional or someone trained to do this. Eyewear should fit snugly and not unduly interfere with movements of the wearer. Devices with adjustable features should be fitted on an individual basis to provide a comfortable fit that maintains the device in the proper position.

Eye protection from dust and chemical splash should form a protective seal when fitted properly. Welding helmets and face shields must be properly fitted to ensure that they will not fall off during work operations.

6. Plan for an Emergency

Make eyewash stations accessible, particularly where chemicals are used, within the work area. Train employees in basic first aid and identify those with more advanced first-aid training who can render aid during an eye emergency.

If an eye injury occurs, quick action can prevent a permanent disability. For this reason:

  • Post first-aid instructions close to potential danger spots.
  • Instruct employees on where the closest eyewash station is and how to get there with restricted vision.
  • Place emergency eyewashes in all hazardous areas in a well-lit location, marked by a visible sign and no farther than 10 seconds from the hazard.

7. Educate

Conduct ongoing educational programs to establish, maintain and reinforce the need for protective eyewear. Add eye safety to your regular employee education/training programs and include it as a large part of new employee orientation.

Train each employee to at least know when and what eye protection is necessary, how to properly don, doff, adjust and wear eye protection, and proper care, maintenance, useful life and disposal of the product.

Each employee should demonstrate an understanding of training specified and the ability to use eye protection properly before being allowed to perform work requiring use of the product. Too often, Willis Eye Hospital's Jeffers says, workers mistakenly believe that safety glasses provide adequate protection for most any eye hazard, when the situation may call for goggles and/or a face shield.

8. Support

Management support is a key ingredient in successful eye safety programs. All management personnel should set an example by wearing protective eyewear wherever required.

When a new style or design of safety glasses comes on the market that Thompson wants to try, top managers at ON Semiconductor act as models in a "fashion show," which motivates employees to consider new products and also emphasizes the need for eye protection. "It's visible support of the program," she says.

9. Review

Continually review and, when necessary, revise your eye accident prevention strategies. Aim for the elimination of all accidents and injuries.

"Periodically, you have to go back and challenge your assumptions," Thompson says. "What you did in the beginning may have changed by virtue of personnel, job title or the process." She reassesses eye hazards at least annually and whenever a process changes.

When the employer has reason to believe that any affected employee who has already been trained does not have the understanding and skill required, the employer should retrain that employee. Circumstances where retraining is required include situations where:

  • Changes in the workplace render previous training obsolete,
  • Changes in types of eye protection render previous training obsolete, and
  • Inadequacies in an employee's knowledge or use of eye protection indicate that the employee has not retained the requisite understanding or skill.

10. Put It in Writing

When all elements of your eye safety program have been established, put them in writing. Include the program in new employee orientation, and display a copy of the program in areas frequented by employees.

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