October in Safety: Protecting the Eyes + Ears

October is both Eye Injury Prevention Month and National Protect Your Hearing Month! This is a great time to evaluate your personal protective equipment (PPE) program, replace ill-fitting or damaged equipment, and make sure employees’ hearing + vision is adequately protected.

Eye Injury Prevention Month

Did you know more than a million people per year are affected by an eye injury that probably could have been avoided? It’s estimated 90% of these injuries could have been prevented had the individual been wearing the right protective eyewear. During Eye Injury Prevention Month, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Eye Doctors (AAO) encourage everyone to project their eyes from accidental injury, both in and out of the workplace.

OSHA reports that workplace eye injuries cost approximately $300 million a year in lost productivity, medical treatment, and worker compensation. Working in an industrial setting or outdoor jobsite can expose the eyes to a number of hazards: sun exposure, extreme heat, chemicals, foreign objects, lasers, and much more.

ANSI-approved protective eyewear, marked with a Z87+ rating, is necessary for preventing accidental eye injuries and visual impairment. Safety goggles, safety glasses, and face shields must be provided to workers whenever their eyes may be exposed to hazards such as:

  • Industrial chemicals (acids, bases, fuels, solvents, etc.) or cleaning products
  • Dust, metal slivers, wood chips, and other foreign objects
  • Welding light + electrical arcs; harmful light radiation
  • Smoke and noxious or poisonous gases
  • Bloodborne pathogens
  • Respiratory droplets (from coughing or sneezing)

In addition to supplying employees with the right eye protection, workplaces also need to have emergency eyewash stations so that in the case of a chemical burn, for example, workers can quickly flush out their eyes.

National Protect Your Hearing Month

This month also observes National Protect Your Hearing Month (#PYHK), sponsored by the CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Observed every October, National Protect Your Hearing Month urges everyone to prevent permanent noise-induced hearing loss.

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States, according to the CDC, and occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses. According to NIOSH, it’s estimated that 22 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to occupational noise each year. Hearing loss is permanent and can’t be cured—but it can be prevented.

The earlier loud noises are identified, the sooner you can protect your workers from irreversible hearing damage. First, you must know if the noise in your workplace is hazardous—it’s important to remember workers in any industry are at risk for work-related hearing loss. Noise levels typically aren’t consistent throughout the facility, so it is imperative to measure noise levels in multiple areas to ensure levels are below 80dBA.

Repeated and long-term exposure to loud noises can cause permanent hearing damage even after exposure has stopped. Make sure employees are taking frequent breaks from noisy activity and have a quieter space to go to, use quieter equipment, or isolate the source of the noise behind a barrier or at a distance. In addition to noise controls, workers exposed to loud noises should also be outfitted with the appropriate hearing protection: a pair of earmuffs or ear plugs. Employers should also develop a hearing loss prevention program to monitor noise exposure, implement hazard controls, educate and train workers, select PPE, and support a safe workplace.

Encouraging PPE Compliance

While it’s important to raise awareness about protecting your hearing and preventing eye injuries, this concern should continue to extend past the end of the month. Encouraging employees to use hearing and vision protection can be difficult, but selecting protection that not only meets standards, but also fits comfortably is a good start. To further encourage everyone to don their eye protection or hearing protection, reinforce safety training and put up reminders using safety signs. Do your part in contributing to employee safety by working to prevent such injuries through compliance and encouragement starting this month!

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