Backing the Brands

Branded eyewear and other branded products are raising worker acceptance and encouraging greater use of PPE.

WITH an estimated 1,000 eye injuries in U.S. workplaces every day, and with many of those injuries resulting from a failure to wear eye protection, obviously we have to do everything we can to get workers to wear safety spectacles and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

According to George Popovici, a nationally recognized safety professional and advisor to the New England construction industry, getting workers to wear PPE can be challenging. However, he said reports indicate that voluntary compliance among construction workers is increasing: "Their attitude is changing."

One big reason for increasing worker acceptance is safety products that workers find more comfortable and, importantly, more stylish, allowing them to express their individuality and personal taste. Popovici has observed that workers seem to be particularly fond of branded items, especially when it comes to safety eyewear.

"Why? Human beings identify with brands. We want to experience them; we feel more comfortable with them; and most importantly, we use brands to show our individuality and personal taste. The car we drive, clothes we wear, and food we eat all define our 'attitude'. Safety glasses, for example, have become highly sophisticated in design and appeal," he said. "I personally have seen newly designed safety glasses being worn by workers in just about every public venue outside of the occupational setting, such as sporting events, shopping malls, and many recreational activities."

'They Need to Wear It Constantly'
These products include Harley-Davidson® and NASCAR® branded protective eyewear and protective helmets bearing the colors and logos of National Football League teams. Construction workers have found some of them to be particularly appealing.

The key issue with eye protection, as well as other PPE, is to get people to wear it. "They need to wear it constantly, too, because you never know where a threat of an accident is coming from," Popovici said. "The essence of any employer PPE program is to ensure that an employee is wearing PPE during an unplanned event to avoid injury.

Vision Problems of Older Drivers

"And even though the newer protective eyewear costs slightly more, safety professionals agree that it is insignificant compared to the cost of a lost-time injury or, worse, the loss of sight. Consumer behavior has a direct relevance to compliance behavior. The PPE wearer perceives that the product looks good and works well, therefore, that individual wants to use it," he said.

Popovici also recommends that employers include employee teams in the PPE selection process. "People are more likely to accept PPE when they are involved in making choices as opposed to being told to wear it," he said.

Dr. Noell Woolley, medical program director of the New England Laborers' Health and Safety Fund (NELHSF), confirms Popovici's findings.

"A lot of our contractors are using more contemporary models of protective eyewear. Their workers prefer the sportier look and they report better compliance. It is obvious the safety spectacles of the past with a more 'industrial' look are not popular any more," she said, adding that she attributes a recent decline in eye injuries among NELHSF members to increased wear.

The Harley-Davidson eyewear line launched in June 2002. Plans include new styles and a selection of accessories. The brand has benefited from the fierce loyalty of the Harley-Davidson customer, many of whom are customers for safety eyewear.

"Workers will stand in line to wear it," said Anne Chambers, the manufacturer's brand manager for eye protection. "That translates into increased compliance and, ultimately, bottom-line cost savings for construction companies."

Vision Problems of Older Drivers
As the average age of U.S. workers rises, safety professionals are watching for vision, hearing, and physical problems typical of an older population. Driving is one task made more difficult for older people because of normal changes in their vision, according to Lighthouse International, a New York-based not-for-profit organization that has focused on vision impairment and vision rehabilitation since its founding in 1905.

Older adults typically have difficulty focusing on near tasks and difficulty distinguishing colors and contrast. Lighthouse provides tips for older drivers with vision problems, based on research by its Arlene R. Gordon Research Institute:

For More Information

American Academy of Ophthalmology
655 Beach St., P.O. Box 7424
San Francisco, CA 94109-7424

American Optometric Association
243 Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63141

Lighthouse International
111 E. 59th St.
New York, NY 10022

National Eye Institute
2020 Vision Place
Bethesda, MD 20892-3655

National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson St.
Baltimore, MD 21230

Prevent Blindness America
500 East Remington Road
Schaumburg, IL 60173

This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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