Workplace eye wellness adds up to more than just grabbing a pair of safety glasses. From adjusting office lighting to maintaining protective equipment to properly flushing eyes after encountering a hazard, safety professionals and workers should take a comprehensive approach to eye wellness. After all, when it comes to protecting our vision, the stakes are high.
“Without your eyes, you can't do anything,” said Mike O'Hearn, V.P. of sales and marketing at H.L. Bouton. “So that should be a top priority — to protect the vision of the worker. There's no question about that.”
Promoting eye wellness in the workplace not only protects workers' eyes from serious injury, but also makes workers comfortable and more productive. Plus, it saves money. As O'Hearn points out, eye injuries are costly, so employers can reduce health care expenses simply by encouraging workplace eye wellness.
“I'm afraid sometimes in today's environment, employers don't really realize how important that is or how costly it is,” O'Hearn says.
According to Prevent Blindness America, a volunteer eye health and safety organization, half of all blindness is preventable through early detection and treatment by an eye care professional. That means that by keeping their eye on workers' eye wellness, employers can guarantee not only a healthier bottom line, but also a healthier work force.
RISKS AND TRAINING
Mike Myrick, product trainer and analyst for MCR Safety, says education is the first step toward workplace eye wellness.
“Training is first — educating [workers] on what the hazards are,” Myrick says. “In any work environment, whether it's an office or a warehouse or a chemical plant, if people understand what the hazards are around them, then they can start looking at how to improve.”
At MCR Safety, for example, Myrick noticed that the employees who spent upwards of 5 hours a day for 3 weeks in the training room were developing eye fatigue from the room's fluorescent lighting. MCR switched to a cooler, softer light, which helped relieve eye fatigue and allowed employees to continue training more comfortably.
More obvious and threatening hazards to eyes include flying particles or chemical splashes. According to Myrick, commonly overlooked hazards in warehouses include falling boxes, box corners that could strike the eye area, battery acid and more. Aside from injuries resulting from chemicals or objects, the eye also is vulnerable to disease.
For many workplaces, the first step toward eye wellness is obtaining eye protection. But workers need to do more than simply don a pair of safety glasses. They also have to keep them clean and in good repair.
FIT AND CARE
“What you see at work is very important,” says Roland Westerdal, president of Elvex. “If the lens is dirty, you may not be as observant of the things around you as you would with a pair of clean glasses.”
Westerdal suggests cleaning the glasses every day, either with a specially formulated lens-cleaning solution or with soap and water. Dry the glasses with a soft paper towel or lens-cleaning cloth. To extend the life of the glasses, he suggests storing them in special eyeglass storage bags.
O'Hearn adds that sometimes, workers make the mistake of cleaning their glasses on a shirt or with a rag from the toolbox.
“It's good that they're thinking about cleaning the lens, but grit or grime will damage the lens,” he says. “So it's important that they clean the lens with proper lens-cleaning equipment or tissues.”
Myrick cautions against using ammonia products, such as Windex, to clean glasses. By doing so, workers effectively place a chemical right by their eyes, which can cause burning and discomfort. Rubbing alcohol, meanwhile, breaks down polycarbonate, so glasses cleaned regularly with rubbing alcohol may become brittle or lose their anti-fog coatings. Anything that obstructs the vision in the slightest can be dangerous.
“Injuries occur when someone lifts the glasses up to see just a little better or clearer,” O'Hearn says. “This is result of obstruction of vision with product that hasn't been cleaned. Or it may not fit. Employees need to be cognizant of the fit factor and cleanliness of the product.”
In particular, women or workers with smaller faces must wear glasses specially sized to fit them. “That's not only a matter of cosmetics — if you have a glass designed for a larger face, you will have some gaps in coverage,” Westerdal explained.
It also is important for safety managers to take workers' PPE preferences into consideration, and to remember that workers may have to wear these glasses all day, every day. Comfort is key. Finally, workers and safety managers regularly should inspect the glasses to make sure their hinges are working well and that there are no large scratches that can obscure vision. When in doubt, it's probably best to replace the glasses.
“Safety glasses today usually cost the end user less than $5, so there is no reason not to replace them when something has happened to them,” Westerdal explains.
DILUTION IS THE SOLUTION
Part of workplace eye wellness is taking quick action should something dangerous enter a worker's eyes. Heather Koehn, associate product manager at Bradley Corp., says that in the eyewash industry, the phrase “Dilution is the solution” often is used to express the importance of emergency eyewashes or drench showers and the impact they have on worker safety.
The ANSI Z358 standard for emergency eyewash devices dictates that eyewashes should be located within 10 seconds of the potential hazard, and the worker must flush his eyes for 15 minutes. The employee must be able to activate the eyewash in one step, and the water must be tepid — if water is too cold or too hot, workers won't be able to endure 15 minutes of constant flushing.
“The ideal scenario is that if someone is exposed to a chemical of some nature, they already have been trained and know where to locate the actual station,” explains Koehn. “It's important that that station be very well lit, it's important that it be clean and completely free of any hazards as that person approaches it, and it's important that it's on the same level of travel as the worker's on.”
O'Hearn stresses that workers who have been splashed must wash out their eyes as soon as possible and continue flushing for the full 15 minutes.
“Fifteen minutes of water really flushes the eyes well, it removes the chemicals or contaminants. The 15 minutes is the recommended flushing time according to the ANSI Z358.1 standard. Not 3 minutes or 5 minutes, but 15 minutes,” he stresses. “After that, if they've been subjected to a hazard, they should immediately go to an emergency facility and have a physician examine their eyes and receive medical care.”
Koehn adds that the effectiveness of eyewash depends not only on how quickly workers can access it, but also whether the hazard affected only the eyes or the entire face. When purchasing emergency eyewashes, safety professionals therefore must consider the amount of coverage their eyewash stations provide.
Eyewash equipment also must be maintained properly and workers trained in its use. Koehn suggests leading all employees through regular training schedules and allowing them to try out the eyewash systems. “That discourages employees from tampering with or vandalizing the systems, because they understand that it's for the collective well-being [of the employees],” she says.
Eye wellness is so important because in the end, we each only have one pair of eyes. Or as Myrick says, “You're protecting your vision. Let's air on the side of ‘just in case.’”