According to the American Optometric Association, thousands of eye injuries each and every year could be prevented by the simple use of personal protection equipment on the job. Chemicals, foreign objects, dust, wood and metal scraps, and hot substances, such as oil or grease, can cause eye abrasions, sometimes resulting in permanent injury and vision loss. An article by the association even goes on to cite the Department of Labor’s report that noted a whopping 3 out of 5 recipients of eye injuries in the U.S. workforce were not wearing any kind of eye protection at the time of their injuries. To address these concerns, OSHA has an extensive guide on the use of personal protection equipment, with particular attention to the eyes, along with the steps employers need to take to keep their workers safe from these types of injuries. Let’s take a look at those steps now.
1. Hazard Assessments
One of the first responsibilities in the safety chain depends upon employers auditing their employees’ work environment for potential hazards. For the purposes of this blog post, let’s focus on hazards that pose a threat to eye health and vision. Some of them are obvious, while others are industry-specific and may require some additional investigation to properly evaluate.
- Projectiles: Projectiles, which can be small bits of metal, wood, dust, concrete, rubber, or other particles that are created within the work space. Stations which involve sanding or smoothing, cutting or sawing, or the breaking down of materials in any way are usually the most at risk to present this hazard.
- Heated substances: While not inherently great for your eyes, some substances, such as oil and grease, pose a much greater threat for ocular injury if heated. From restaurants to metal factories, heated substances can splash onto the face and into the eyes if not adequately protected.
- Chemicals: Now we’re starting to get a little more industry/business specific, as not all businesses deal with intrinsically harmful chemicals on a regular basis, but when they are involved, eyewear is crucial. Most dangerous chemicals can be absorbed directly through the eye’s cornea, or lens, causing immediate pain and damage.
- Radiation: In businesses making use of extremely bright, ultraviolet, or infrared lights employees are at huge risk for vision degeneration if their eyes are not properly shielded.
- Bloodborne pathogens: While these factors, such as HIV and hepatitis, are not commonly transmitted in workplaces, certain professions are at increased risk. These include paramedics and medical workers, and janitorial staff.
2. Identify and Provide PPE
After auditing your business for the types of eye risks your employees are exposed to, grab them the right kind of PPE for their eyes. The “right kind” of eyewear will depend on the task at hand. If you only need to protect from flying debris and particles, safety glasses with side shields will likely be sufficient; though for extremely small things like sawdust, goggles may be preferred. For dealing with chemicals of any kind, goggles must be worn at all times. For heater particles, radiation, and higher grade tasks, full face masks appropriate for the task must be worn. “Appropriate for the task,” meaning that while welding might not require an airtight seal to protect one’s eyes, working with chemicals or radiation can necessitate the need for a full and sealed off mask.
Of course, all of that new equipment won’t do you any good if your employees don’t know how to wear it! Training and policy is key to high rates of compliance with wearing PPE. There are many PPE training materials out their including training DVDs (like this PPE training DVD) that can help assist in your training. In many cases, preventable injuries from a lack of PPE do not occur because none was provided, but because an employee simply wasn’t wearing what he or she was given. Especially if you are introducing new PPE, or are experiencing a problem with compliance rates, you need to train on the proper times and manners in which each piece of gear is to be worn. It’s not optional, and your employees should understand this.
Not only should you check up with your employees on a regular basis to ensure that PPE is being worn when necessary, but you should check on your gear itself at regular intervals (once per month is often a good benchmark for mid-range equipment). If any of your eyewear is starting to crack, or elastic bands are frayed, consider ordering replacements as soon as possible. If you all of a sudden find yourself short on gear count, you could have some employees unable to work their regular stations.
Over time, as tasks change or technology is updated, you may find that the type of PPE you’re using is no longer the most effective option in its field; or it may even be completely worthless if the risks and tasks your workers are undertaking on the job have changed. Make sure to evaluate your eyewear, as you should with all safety protocols, once per year to ensure that they are still effectively protecting your employees.
Safety is an ever-changing game in the workplace, but you can easily stay ahead of the curb by following these suggestions. Similar principles can be applied to all kinds of other PPE, such as boots for foot or slip and fall protection, or gloves for cut and abrasion protection. Simply identify your risks, figure out what PPE will effectively mitigate those risks/protect against them, train your employees on whatever you buy, and monitor both your workers and your equipment as time goes by to ensure continued effectiveness.
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