Envision an Injury-Free Workforce

You'll achieve success by sprucing up your inspections and letting workers choose their PPE.

SHOWERS of falling ash and cinders blow onto TV crews reporting a fire. The next day, an arson investigator digs in the charred remains of that fire. A crime scene investigator takes blood samples and fingerprints for analysis from a brutal murder, while demolition crews work amid clouds of dust, concrete, and metal particles. In a blinding glare, a rescue helicopter pilot transports critically injured motorists at sunset. If you think vision safety is only for factory workers, perhaps it is time to rethink vision protection.

Today's workplace has indeed changed. Mobile, constantly changing environmental conditions, as well as 24-hour operations and longer work shifts, mean updating your vision protection program.

The hazards are the same: smoke, chemicals, thermal hazards, and bloodborne pathogen exposure potential; glare; particles; even slung shavings or other production process debris. Is your workforce adequately prepared for vision protection? In the event of an emergency, do you have on hand those items needed at a moment's notice? Have you considered changes in time of day or seasonal protection?

All too often, we think only of shop safety for vision protection. And, unfortunately, managers order only one type of vision protection, once a year. This can give a false sense of security and also allow employees to slide by, not wearing vision protection as needed because it has been lost or damaged.

If you order vision protection products such as safety glasses with sideshields just once a year, your program already has failed. Update your program and increase your employees' safety by having on hand a well-thought-out arsenal against vision injuries. When an item is needed is not time to wonder where to buy it and how quickly to obtain it. This is especially true for emergency and rescue operations.

Meet with employees or department/process supervisors and discuss the hazards and changing workplaces your employees encounter. Obtain a wide selection of vision protection items for various needs and allow these folk to handle and evaluate each item for their own work areas. Be honest in your evaluation of who needs vision protection depending on their jobs. Every item does not have to be the best money can buy; for example, visitors' safety glasses or the payroll clerk delivering checks can get by with a less-adjustable item. But for those in your workforce who are in daily contact with potential eye hazards, select the best and have on hand enough to provide protection constantly. Ensure their acceptance and comfort with the vision protection, and they will wear it.

Managers' Checklist for Vision Protection

  • Some of the following items will help your program succeed:* Make the PPE available without scolding or negative comments from supervisors.
  • Use what works at your job site.
  • Reinforce the need for vision protection by example and education from all levels of management.
  • Do away with snarling penalties for non-compliance; be reasonable, educating for the first offense and then getting tougher as needed.
  • Make sure your supervisors are following policy and providing the leadership needed to ensure the program works.
  • Educate, educate, educate. Awareness, education in the form of team meetings, and hands-on training for lens replacement are critical to your program's longevity.
  • Make your program an asset, not a pain for employees to follow. Keep it simple.
  • Be consistent in your requirements for vision protection.
  • Document, document, document.

Tips for Hands-On Inspections
Inspect, detect, dispose. On your walk-around surveys, select a worker at random and inspect his or her safety eyewear. Ask questions about comfort and replacement, etc. Look closely for nicks, distortions, scratches, or other sign of wear. Remember, these are a sign of success!

Compliment the employee on saving his or her vision. Explain how to inspect the protective item, then immediately replace it with a new set. Don't forget to dispose of the old set that is no longer useful for workplace protection. Some companies label with a tag or permanent marker the date a product is distributed to the employee on the ear piece and routinely replace the item, to better assure good-quality protection is on the employee's face. Others inspect everyone's vision protection during toolbox safety meetings or other training events.

Are you afflicted by budget woes? Cut somewhere else. Vision protection gives a powerful "bang for the buck." Your company will save expensive worker's compensation dollars and the lost time of skilled employees. One serious eye injury will consume a banquet of your company's profits, when for less than the cost of a burger and fries you can prevent serious and permanent blindness.

Keep available--not locked up in a back storage cabinet--any vision protection item your employees may conceivably need in the course of their work. If PPE is out of sight, it will be forgotten until an injury occurs.

Ordering and Replacement Strategies
Lightweight materials and high-fashion designs have turned vision protection from abysmal drudgery to a positive, something sought after by all levels of employees. Comfort has a new home in vision protection for today's worker.

One of the greatest compliments for protective eyewear is when it is so comfortable an employee forgets to take it off at the end of shift and wears it home. Then you know you have purchased a wearable piece of safety equipment that is being used and enjoyed. You may need the policy that the employee must replace the items for loss, but never do this when they turn in a damaged set for a new set. And you will have to replace items if they are being worn, so plan ahead when ordering.

Durability has improved. Weight of the items has decreased. Comfort is consistent throughout the work shift. Most employees do not dread wearing vision protection any more. Lens tints, changeable lenses, adjustability, special coatings, fog prevention, and anti-fog revitalizers are available to extend the usefulness of vision protection.

Do you need added support for a program? Check your MSDS sheets. Survey your operations for those activities requiring vision protection. Talk candidly with your workers' comp person or insurance carrier. Have a selection suitable for any anticipated event: confined spaces, or glare, or sewer work. Make sure your vision protection is usable in hot-work environments and appropriately tinted (no sunglasses for darker locations). Ensure your mobile workers take their vision protection with them to the job site. Have on hand a "what if" set of eye and face protection. In the middle of a job is the worst possible time to stop and search for a piece of equipment.

Vision protection is one of the easiest programs to monitor from a distance. They are either wearing the protection or not. How you deal with non-compliance depends on your policy; the level of hazard; and previous training, education, and awareness of your staff.

Injury-free vision protection is absolutely achievable and is one of the lower cost-per-employee items in the safety toolbox. It is an easily justified and supportable program. The stakes are high and worthwhile. Vision injuries usually happen so fast there is no second chance. A good vision protection program is safety management in the most shining hour.

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

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