Detail every process that could possibly create the situation where an eye injury could occur—not just high-hazard items such as grinding or welding.

Hidden Benefits of Vision Protection Programs

This is an essential PPE category, of course. Leadership from the top and from the employee ranks is vital for maintaining a successful program.

"What is the role of safety in your vision protection program?"

Before you answer, consider a few areas to help assess your involvement in the planning/implementation of personal protective equipment and how it translates into loss prevention. Whether your position is directly safety or in some other associated link in the chain, such as human resources, worker bee, maintenance, training and education, medical, insurance, line supervision, upper management—every position at a facility that utilizes any type of vision protection is directly involved and accountable in some way.

What you do with this knowledge, how you expose everyone at the facility, and the method/tone you use will make or break your program. Consider the following to help ensure you are promoting a positive, benefit-driven image of your vision protection program:

  • Leadership from the top: Every worker at your facility knows within three minutes of talk whether the manager he or she is conversing with has a clue about the process they are looking at. Your top leaders have to understand and be candid about their strengths and backgrounds. No one is an expert at everything, and your employees accept willingly when leaders admit this and ask questions. Great leaders know when to give advice and apply it to the process at hand and when to keep their mouths shut.
  • Leadership from the ranks: Do you and your upper managers listen to the workers with experience who actually use the equipment and do the work for an entire shift? Often they have excellent ideas and can save time, money, and make simple process changes that improve morale while reducing the potential for injuries. Your employees know when you treat them like "little children" (or, worse yet, like "drones"). Involving them in the simplest of your safety programs gains their respect and opens the door to solid problem-solving ideas on other topics.
  • Managers know the numbers: When asked, your workers' comp rep knows the costs associated with eye injuries and how many lost work days per year they cause, as well as salary costs, long-term disability, etc., and makes sure department managers know these data for their areas so that they can keep a keen eye on specific processes. Beef up your training and new employee orientation. Drill it in; when there is an injury, it is every manager’s issue!
  • Safety matters: Is your program documentation in order? Do you make a regular walk-through and follow up with corrective actions? Is your chemical safety program up to date, and how about your first aid program, training, fire safety, and the slip, trip, and fall program?  Make a list of every safety program that could apply to your employee vision protection initiative and start there. What about having a mentoring program on site? They work well in many industries.
  • Eye injuries: Detail every process that could possibly create the situation where an eye injury could occur—not just high-hazard items such as grinding or welding. Think about janitorial chemicals, floor strippers, etc. If it can splash, splinter, or fly, that is a good place to start. Every job needs to have not only a job description, but also a hazard analysis, which can change over time. (When was the last time your company’s analyses were updated?)
  • All parts of the program in place and kept up to date: If you are struggling with this, call on consultants, trainers, and the vast array of educational materials that are available. Chances are, you have many parts already in place; some may be in dusty cabinets or in stacks waiting for signatures.
  • An active training and learning environment, including a safety committee, teamwork, toolbox talks, is in use. Is it documented, timely, and appropriate for the work being done? Bilingual? User friendly? Adaptable 24/7? Upgraded as processes or codes change? Do employees actually use it or sleep through it?
  • Problems are viewed as challenges to be resolved, not barriers. Process changes occur all the time within most companies. Make sure there is a method for reviewing all of the conditions and new or unique hazards that may be created—with each and every one afforded protection. This needs to be done before the first injury occurs, not as a follow-up. If you do not think your facility has any problems, you have many problems!
  • New products are introduced when possible and employees are given a choice of appropriate PPE for the job to facilitate comfort. However you want to introduce and discuss these new products is great. Some employers leave them out in break areas; others provide them at tailgate or toolbox talks as prizes. Others provide sample products at structured meetings with feedback. Do whatever works to get the products into the hands (and on the faces) of your workers. Many companies are going the extra mile and providing PPE such as safety sunglasses and faceshield for home use (weed-eating, lawn mowing, etc.), knowing that reduced injuries at home mean increased work time. This is another benefit for your workplace, although hard to track.

Safety and corporate environments have moved (wonderfully, in my opinion) from the "thou shall" to the "team oriented, we will" attitude. The workplace is becoming more of a partnership alliance, with ultra-high-tech employees and management leading a positive work environment. The safety professional's role is also changing in this environment to one of providing more analysis and data management before the accident, rather than after the fact. Our sage advice and overall goal is exactly the same: prevention of injury as a compassionate service, and there is not a better service toward others. You have to decide what role vision protection and safety will take at your facility—make it a proactive one that provides lasting benefits.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Linda J. Sherrard, MS, CSP, is Safety Consultant II with Central Prison Healthcare Complex, NCDPS in Raleigh, N.C., and is the former technical editor of OH&S.

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