Many of us have had injuries or near misses ourselves. Now we have new high-hazard security risks with exposure to BBP through spitting and splashes in emergency ultra-high stress situations, with threats such as MRSA and Ebola contact exposure.

The Most Important Issue of Your Vision Protection Program

Make sure you have asked the right questions. And if you do not have time or do not want to do the dirty work, ask your safety committee to do this, they typically will be glad to help out.

Availability. While there are many other important features of your vision protection program that ensure success, the entire program falls apart without complete availability 24/7 to each affected employee. Argue quality, price, replacement, color, even special features, but the one constant that must be maintained to make the program work is having the PPE on the employee's face at the exact moment it is needed for protection. Otherwise your employee is exposed/injured, and your efforts have failed.

More than just ordering a product (and there are wonderful products available) you have to ensure the employees know it is for use to protect them from injury.

Consider real life at work. It happens to us all—we have the best of the best equipment (but it is locked up in a cabinet or someone's office who is on vacation, or somewhere else in the plant, or the equipment ordered is the wrong size, etc.) and again, your efforts have failed. When you need a piece of vision protection equipment and do not have it, changes must be made immediately to ensure it does not happen again.

  • Make sure your budget is approved ahead of time so that the needed equipment is ordered and on site in a timely manner so that it is ready to use and available.
  • Make sure the employees know what it is, how to use it and keep it clean, and how to store it properly to avoid damage.
  • Make sure you have asked the right questions, and if you do not have time or do not want to do the dirty work, ask your safety committee to do this, they typically will be glad to help out. Order the right equipment for the job and in the right sizes.
  • Make sure using the PPE is second nature to each of them so that they have the equipment not in hand but on and in place when needed.
  • Make sure you have documented training in the file for everyone that they are required to wear the equipment--required, not just a good idea! And that your workers' comp people investigate all injuries with enthusiasm immediately. It matters. You want fairness on both sides.
  • Make sure damaged or broken equipment is really removed from service and replaced in a timely manner. Wearing taped or damaged PPE is no badge of honor at the workplace. Watch for clever employees and other mischief and deal with it immediately through the supervisor.

If you are unsure what to order, ask for help. There is a wealth of reference material, vendor assistance, on-site representatives and distributors to visit, consultants, trainers, etc. Doing nothing is not just poor management, it is a liability issue. Your employees deserve better, and you want them to have the very best.

Vision protection seems so easy. We've all dealt with eye and face injuries from flying debris, the burns from chemicals or radiation exposure, scars and blindness. Many of us have had injuries or near-misses ourselves with remaining scars years later. Now we have new high-hazard security risks with exposure to BBP through spitting and splashes in emergency ultra-high stress situations, with threats such as MRSA and Ebola contact exposure. Most injuries are preventable with the right equipment and ensuring the employee actually wears it. Now, consider the best vision protection program elements that surpass only physical damage.

Vision protection also has invisible hazards you must educate your managers on 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, really great first aid on site. All are standard program elements and readily available. Any PPE item you need is within 24 hours of your company’s front door, once you order around the world. Customer service has never been better than today’s companies offer, both online and by phone or on site. You know what to do, just make sure it gets done and stays in place!

Which brings us right back to the most important feature of your program: availability. Ask yourself, then ask your employees . . . based on availability, just how successful is your vision protection program? You may be surprised at the answer. You may be horrified at the answer.

Law Enforcement Vision/Face Protection
Crime scene forensic investigators, lab specialists, deputy sheriffs, uniformed police officers, SWAT teams and specialty forces, military forces . . . law enforcement jobs are varied and offer many hazards around the world in all climates and duty stations. Most of our work you never hear about, it is hidden and not very glamorous, with long hours and not a lot of help. It is a mixture of construction/demolition and secretarial work at best. The other part is exciting.

When you think of law enforcement PPE, you think gun, not vision protection, but we all use vision protection! The most frequent vision protection identified with law enforcement is safety sunglasses to cut glare and reduce impact from flying particles. However, with better media exposure of these occupations, the public is now better understanding what dangers these employees can endure at various crime scenes from physical hazards both seen and unseen. Preparation and training are key, and planning far ahead is essential.

Every situation is different, and the experience of the investigator is crucial to his/her decision of what equipment to wear. Quick assessment always starts with "What is the need?" and "What do I have on hand?" Typical exposures and needed face/vision protection can include:

  • Active arrest with spitting subject: spit guard/spit mask for the subject. Faceshield for the arresting officer if time allows (but it rarely does).
  • Falling debris: Fire damage from arson or a murder investigation can result in an investigator being exposed to shards and falling debris. A faceshield and safety goggles could be needed, with safety glasses at other times, depending on the situation. If evidence is being removed using a saw, etc., the same faceshield and goggles offer protection to the workers gathering the evidence.
  • Woodland searches: Safety glasses would prevent scratches from limbs, etc. and if tinted, they can reduce glare, especially if on horseback if searching for a lost child or for depressions from a buried body after a murder.
  • Glare: Water (lakes, ocean, ice in Alaska, for example) and large pavement areas of highways produce glare. Polarized sunglasses are a cheap but great item.
  • Meth lab investigation: Full-face respiratory protection.
  • Shooting range: Appropriate shooting glasses for the conditions.

Often law enforcement and forensic teams "speak for the dead" by collecting the evidence for trials in spite of the occupational hazards encountered such as bloodborne pathogens, chemical hazards, and debris or physical building damage or cave-in potential. There's a lot of pressure to get it right quickly without a thought to personal safety. Personal protective equipment for law enforcement has to be multipurpose, easy to use and store, comfortable, and easy to keep clean.

In my career of 33+ years in law enforcement, I have taken car doors, wall sections, stairs, doors, and floor sections into the courtroom as evidence because, in a jury trial, a photo is great, but a real section of floor with the actual bloody footprints . . . well, it puts the jury at the crime itself in a personal way that no photo ever can. What you see in the TV drama is just that, TV drama. Real crime solving is slow, tedious, and dirty work, and often isolated. Protect your officers from the start.

Here are a few tips to help your officers, no matter what level, be more successful:

  • Set up a budget with the finance people. Be realistic. Plan for emergencies and replacements.
  • Be proactive: Plan ahead and ask what they need and order it now, not after someone is hurt.
  • Make it easy to use and store. Have it on hand and labeled. Teach them what it is and how to use it.
  • Check up on them and make sure they have what they need.

As leadership, do your homework too, ask questions, make sure they are successful so that the program can be successful. It seems like a little thing but it can make a big difference to your staff. Treat them all alike, and keep things positive.

Contributed by Pat Matthews, BS, a Forensic Analyst with the City of Wilson, N.C., Police Department. She retired from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation as a Special Agent. The majority of her career was spent processing crime scenes. She can be reached at [email protected]

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

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