Those Glaring Issues

It can be tough to maintain focus and priorities. Use whatever works to keep yourself "up" on vision program safety so it stays in the forefront of your efforts.

They aren't pretty. A scratched, cracked, pitted set of safety glasses I wore years ago that were exposed to all types of occupational vision hazards, from wood to metal shavings, are a constant reminder of what safety means to me. (I also have a matching splattered faceshield). I consider every scratch a missed injury to me, saved work time, saved dollars to my employer, and my ability to tell others with surety you can protect yourself from vision injuries. Not just great teaching tools and conversation pieces, they are reminders of what a difference safety makes in my life.

Vision protection seems so easy. We've all seen the horrible injuries from flying debris shattering an employee's life, the burns from chemicals or radiation exposure, or scars and blindness. We have had injuries or near-misses ourselves. Most injuries are preventable with the right equipment and ensuring the employee actually wears it. Now, consider the best vision protection program elements to surpass the fundamentals.

Vision protection includes the invisible hazards that you must educate your managers to detect and control. Anyone can put into place the physical elements of a vision protection program: correct PPE, eyewash/drench facilities, education of the workforce, unsurpassed first aid. All are standard program elements and readily available. (PPE delivered within 24 hours of your order, vendors thrilled to assist you in product selection and use, from the simple to the truly strange requests.) What about the issues that are not as readily apparent? Your attitude? Employee/manager apathy? Comfort, glare, exchanges of PPE? Education/design processes that do not work? How about the level of interest from your upper management and financing for the program? And, by the way, improving all of this with less funding and no help while departments are being slashed?

What can I as the main safety person do to improve my vision protection efforts? A lot! Consider the following:

  • Unseen hazards. Start from scratch. Review all of the duties of your workforce and the activities being performed. What have you missed? Possibly workplace task lighting and glare from workstations, computers, surfaces, or other processes? Have you considered your outside employees who work around expanses of water, snow, or large shiny items such as stainless steel tanks or huge glass windows? Glare contributes to many injuries not thought of, such as warehouse workers entering or exiting a dark area into bright sunlight that blinds the worker operating a forklift, for example. Have you asked employees about unique hazards? Chances are, you may be surprised!
  • Comfort issues. Is the vision PPE actually being worn? Reordered? Is it comfortable? Hot and heavy to wear? Does it fit properly? When and why is it fogging? Is it hazed over from cleaning? In use, does it create other problems for the worker, such as interfering with his hard hat? Is it the last item ever selected in inventory, or is it a fast reorder item? If the latter, ask your employees why.
  • Designs affecting the end user. Are you as safety leadership involved in all new project designs and construction to provide sage advice on surface glare, flooring surfaces, shades, tints, and workstation location? Too often, safety is brought in long after the design team is paid and gone, to clean up the hazards they create. Something as simple as super-shiny wall treatments or misplaced office lighting can affect the end user every shift, and often designers do not have the safety sixth sense to make workplace choices that help. Pretty/shiny is not always the best safety choice!
  • Attitude. How do we as safety leadership stay positive and motivated and in tune to the needs of workers' vision protection? I admit it is tough to stay focused on the end goal and not allow all of the tragic budget woes to wear me down. I highly advise "taking a step back" from the daily roar of your workplace safety program to regain focus and maintain priorities. I keep a short list of critical items on my computer screen scribbled on an index card, set reminders on my calendar, make notes, etc. Use whatever works to keep yourself "up" on vision program safety so that it stays in the forefront of your efforts. Keep connected with others in the safety world to keep one another motivated and share any success you have. And if you cannot keep positive, keep quiet! Negative does not help safety efforts.

Times are as dire in the safety workforce as many of us have ever experienced. Budgets have been slashed or completely taken away. There are fewer choices for PPE on site, and massive reductions in workforce have hit some of us. We may be working with more temps or contract workers instead of fully vested, long-term employees.

Managers have a critical eye on the bottom line every day, even on safety efforts and all of the associated costs. As functional safety leadership, how do we help both sides -- that is, improve workplace safety and help the managers meet budget shortfalls? We have to bring the invisible assets and advantages of safety to the table daily for management to value before we are the ones cut from the budget!

Leading By Example
We are the safety leadership of our workplace. It is imperative we keep a positive "yes I can" attitude about safety, or we will lose our credibility with management. Then, to reach the rank and file employee, we have to take the "yes I can" and translate that into easy-to-follow safety guidance. (It may sound easy but will be the toughest challenge you'll ever have.)

Think outside the box here for a moment and consider how you can help to promote better vision protection at the workplace through promotion, training, and effective leadership.

Focus on the real goal (workplace safety, vision protection, etc.) and let the politics slide. Don't get pulled into other managers' petty wars. Overcome the whining self-pity and buck up for more work with no additional assistance and be grateful for the position. Make a positive difference every day by attitude and example in your work ethic. You may be surprised who is watching.

Bring up safety and the importance of vision protection at every opportunity, at meetings, conversations, investigations, and inspections. Quiz management on their knowledge about and use of correct PPE. Compliment those wearing it and tell upper management of the leadership displayed. Support, encourage, and assist. Keep it positive and help them achieve the result you want.

Reinforce the basics. In lean economic times, you need to focus on the basics and let the need guide the purchases. Evaluate and review prior purchases and inventory turnover. Ask employees who actually wear the items what works and what items are missing, then try to obtain them. Develop a good working relationship with a qualified vendor for selection samples.

Refresh the message when you can. Keep it simple; if there's no budget, what free or nearly free items can you manage? Hire a university safety intern for a few weeks in exchange for credit and a letter of reference. (It never hurts to ask!) Search the web for motivational safety items and develop paycheck inserts focusing on vision protection. Talk often with your worker's compensation manager to track the costs of eye injuries and pinpoint what went wrong. Use your light-duty program or start one to save lost work days.

Be adaptable. Borrow or develop your own training items from PowerPoint presentations, show and tell, or hey, just talk to employees and managers. Revive tailgate meetings and ask for input. Keep discussions as positive as possible. Ask for space on the corporate intranet web page to post information; you'll be amazed at how many read it if you keep it current. Request feedback, and follow up on it. Be seen daily.

Track success and report it back to management, listing out the comments and feedback and providing possible solutions. Graph the injury statistics and the measures you're using.

The most important safeguard in your vision protection program is management's attitude and willingness not just to support the program elements, but also to exceed them. Your ability and enthusiasm will improve your program and increase the feedback, making your programs stronger. Yes, there will be "poor me" days. Keep them to yourself, focus on the task at hand, and move toward a safer workplace. Improved attitude will follow.

2011 Vision Protection Program Success Checklist

True False Your safety leadership have been trained in vision protection issues that may affect your workers (on the primary job site, remote crews, and those traveling). They share this knowledge with upper management and advise workers through education about potential problems as needed.
True False Targeted vision protection issues are identified and discussed at safety meetings and upper management meetings to determine the best corrective actions for recognized hazards of chemical exposure, glare, flying debris, etc.
True False Regular updates to management are provided on the status of the program in an easily understandable format. Costs of the program elements are shared.
True False Safety has active input into new projects that may affect vision protection efforts, such as finishes, light sources, and glare.
True False Regular training/awareness items are provided for upper management and finance officials so they will understand need for the program and have an understanding of its elements.
True False Regular awareness/education items are provided for employees to keep the focus and priority on successful reduction of eye/vision accidents in the workplace.
True False Employees are advised how to get additional information on the topic and additional explanation or technical assistance as needed without fear of supervisors/manager retaliation.
True False Each supervisor/manager is held accountable for continued education and appropriate use of all vision protection items.
True False Supervisors/managers use appropriate vision/face PPE when in areas where it is required. They use the same PPE that is provided to employees as a way of supporting the program.
True False Supervisors/managers ensure all first aid items are in place and maintained, including first aid kits, drenching and eyewash stations and portable solutions, and emergency response measures.
True False Supervisors/managers assist with walk-through inspections so they are aware of problem areas and can make needed changes immediately.
True False Your hazard evaluation is documented and shared with safety committee and upper management regularly in order to emphasize the importance of consistent vision protection.
True False Supervisor/management performance reviews indicate support of key safety program initiatives such as vision protection, including all elements of implementation.

True False Your company has an established vision protection policy and evaluation program for all aspects of work being done on site and for remote workers.
True False This program is in writing, including its goals and corrective measures. It is updated regularly.
True False Specific hazards affecting vision protection from processes and surfaces, as well as poor lighting, are evaluated and followed up toward resolution in a timely manner.
True False There is a method of reporting vision protection program issues/problems by employees without fear of negative pushback by managers. Complaints are followed up for changes or needed PPE for the task.
True False All hazard potential has been evaluated, and employees have been asked for input into the program.
True False A background survey of accidents/near-misses has been accomplished to determine vision protection issues at your workplace.
True False Hazards are identified, updated regularly, and documented for any potential vision protection hazards. Reviews of workspaces are included for uncommon items, such as surface glare or excessive daylight reflection.
True False Corrective actions are documented and revisited as needed to continue improvement.
True False Vision protection is part of the comprehensive safety policy and program efforts, is a priority for all managers and supervisors, and is documented on their performance reviews.
True False There is an established selection process for all vision PPE. Items used are reviewed and upgraded as needed, including safety glasses, goggles, faceshields, radiation protection, full-face respirators, etc.
True False A variety of safety measures are utilized at your facility to ensure consistent vision protection, including education, PPE, inspection, and first aid measures for all shifts and workers.
True False There is a written policy on your vision protection program elements, and it is reviewed and updated regularly or as needed by a skilled safety professional.
True False PPE items are reviewed and selected based on need, application, and appropriateness for your industry hazards (not just cost).
True False Employees are trained in use, correct disposal/replacement, and fit of all PPE items in use at your facility.
True False Extra PPE items are available in the event they are needed for replacement of broken, worn, or lost PPE.
True False Post-injury safety items are in place, such as drenching facilities, eyewash stations, and portable eyewash solutions for remote operations. They are maintained and inspected/restocked as required.
True False Consistent medical and worker's compensation follow-up is provided to injured employees in a timely manner.
True False Every employee is advised of the requirement to wear vision/face protection on the job when required. This is documented, whether in initial orientation, on-the-job training, etc.
True False Your training program explains to non-English-speaking, hearing impaired, or illiterate employees how to use PPE, when to use it, and how to request replacement items.
True False The program success is reviewed and changes are made as needed to keep elements progressing toward less eye/vision injuries at your workplace. Employees are advised of the status of all program elements.

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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