NSC: Focus on Eye Injury Prevention

When it comes to preventing industrial eye injuries, occupational safety expert Greg Green asserts that PPE, while important, should be the "last line of defense against injury."

"PPE should not be your only protection against eye hazards," said Green, an associate professor at Grand Valley State University. "It should be used with other types of controls and practices."

Green, who offered a technical session on industrial eye injury prevention during the National Safety Council's 2006 Congress and Expo in San Diego, emphasized that failing to wear or have PPE is just one cause of eye injuries. Many eye injuries also are caused by failing to follow safety procedures and by receiving inadequate training.

Accident Shows the Importance of Procedures

Green detailed one case in which a 24-year-old warehouse worker was hit in the face by a pallet when a co-worker swung the object around while stacking it up. The warehouse worker lost his left eye as a result and had a total 51 internal and external stitches.

Green noted that the worker wasn't wearing PPE at the time, but in this case, safety glasses would have served little purpose, as the force of the pallet would have knocked the glasses off his face.

What is clear here is that the co-worker was not following safety procedures, as he should have been more careful when stacking the pallets, Green said.

The moral of this particular story, Green said, is that just having PPE available is not enough. Proper training, following procedures and taking steps to eliminate hazards are the best ways to avoid eye injuries in the first place, he noted.

Don't Forget PPE

Instituting a culture of safety and best practices in the workplace is essential, but Green cautioned that this does not mean that PPE is irrelevant. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 36,680 eye injuries in 2004 and 90 percent of those injuries could have been prevented by PPE.

Statistics also show that 50 percent of injured employees said they thought that using PPE reduced the severity of the injuries.

"Having PPE is important because there isn't anything between the eyeball and the hazard," Green said.

According to Green, 80 to 90 percent of workplace accidents are attributable to human error, which involves failing to wear protective eyewear, being careless and working in unsafe conditions.

He offers the following steps for safety managers and supervisors to follow to ensure workplace eye safety:

  • Perform a facility eye safety analysis.
  • Test for employee vision problems.
  • Choose light, well-fitting glasses.
  • Establish a 100 percent mandatory eye protection program throughout the entire plant.
  • Plan for emergencies by having first aid procedures, eyewash stations and trained personnel.
  • Train and educate on an ongoing basis.
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