The Eyes Have It

You count on your employees to do a good job. Don't skimp when it comes to their best tools.

WHAT do a police officer approaching a suspicious looking person and a quality control technician inspecting an integrated circuit board have in common? They both need good visual acuity.

Many companies provide physical examinations for their employees, but how many of those examinations include a vision screening? This is more than just reading the eye chart on the wall. The screenings include near and far visual acuity, depth perception, and sometimes color perception.

How Good is Your Product Quality?
A major pet care products company was having problems with quality control and decided to include vision screening during a health fair. Among the people tested, almost 40 percent were referred to eye care professionals for follow-up examinations. The following year, quality had increased and vision-screening referrals dropped. 1

Karen Young, Executive Director for Prevent Blindness-New Jersey (an affiliate of Prevent Blindness-America) said 25 percent (or one out of every four people) screened in the workplace setting do not pass the screening criteria and are referred to an eye care professional. Older adults are at risk for glaucoma, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.2 Many of these diseases do not manifest any symptoms until it is too late. A vision screening program can help identify such problems in their early stages.

Young also said vision problems are prevalent in children. "One in every 20 preschoolers and one in every seven school age children has vision problems," she said.

Human resource professionals develop job descriptions and work with their companies' managers to develop critical skills for each job. How many include vision requirements? In police and fire departments, for example, "The job analysis process must describe the task in detail as well as measure the importance, consequence of error, frequency and duration of task performance. Furthermore, environmental factors (tasks performed in fog, rain, bright sunlight, dimly lit rooms, etc.) must be documented . . . only a few are critical for job performance or easily testable. These abilities include near vision, far vision, peripheral vision and color vision. Each of these abilities decrease with age and all can be lost entirely as the result of accident or injury."3

Job-Related Considerations
In developing job analyses, here are some considerations to stimulate discussion.

1. What level of far corrected or uncorrected vision is required? Consider the tasks of forklift drivers, over-the-road drivers, and surveyors: They require far vision. Can that be corrected vision rather than uncorrected vision? Airline pilots would generally require uncorrected vision, as would police officers and firefighters.

2. What level of near corrected or uncorrected vision is required? How about quality control technicians who have to examine printed circuit boards or defects in fine furniture? They could have either corrected or uncorrected vision.

3. What level of peripheral vision is required? Consider the job requirements for a bus driver: Having good peripheral vision would be a must.

4. What level of color vision is required? Color matchers and artists would fit into this category.

5. How shall contact lenses and glasses be handled? Will you allow chemists and welders to use contact lenses? What would happen to a police officer if a suspect got rowdy and hit the officer in the face, either knocking his glasses off or forcing a contact lens out of place?

Vision Protection Checklist

  • Have you assessed the workplace to determine whether hazards that require the use of personal protective equipment (e.g., head, eye, face, hand, or foot protection) are present or are likely to be present?
  • If hazards or the likelihood of hazards are found, have you selected and instructed affected employees to use properly fitted PPE suitable for protection from these hazards?
  • Are the employees trained on PPE procedures--that is, which PPE is necessary for a job task, when they need it, and how to properly maintain and replace it when necessary?
  • Are protective goggles or faceshields provided and worn where there is any danger of flying particles or corrosive materials?
  • Are approved safety glasses required to be worn at all times in areas where there is a risk of eye injuries, such as punctures, abrasions, contusions, or burns?
  • Are employees who need corrective lenses (glasses or contacts) in working environments having harmful exposures required to wear only approved safety glasses, protective goggles, or use other medically approved precautionary procedures?
  • Are protective gloves, aprons, shields, or other means provided and required where employees could be cut or where there is reasonably anticipated exposure to corrosive liquids, chemicals, blood or other potentially infectious materials?
  • Is all protective equipment maintained in a sanitary condition and ready for use?
  • Do you have eyewash facilities and a quick drench shower within the work area where employees are exposed to injurious corrosive materials? Where special equipment is needed for electrical workers, is it available?
  • Are adequate work procedures, protective clothing, and equipment provided and used when cleaning up spilled toxic or otherwise hazardous materials or liquids?
  • Are there appropriate procedures in place for disposing of or decontaminating personal protective equipment contaminated with, or reasonably anticipated to be contaminated with, blood or other potentially infectious materials?

Conclusion
You count on your employees to do a good job. You provide them the tools and training to do their job. Don?t skimp when it comes to their best tool--their bodies. Make vision screenings a part of their overall annual physical examinations.

"When Prevent Blindness New Jersey provided vision screenings at New Jersey American Water, I was surprised to learn that 30 percent of the employees screened failed," Frank Birmingham, risk manager of the New Jersey American Water Company, says about vision screenings. "It is human nature to think that you are healthy or that you aren't supposed to see as well as you did in your 20s. Prevent Blindness New Jersey's screenings helped everyone to understand their risk of eye disease. I am thankful for their work."4

To arrange for vision screenings for your employees, contact your local chapter of Prevent Blindness-America (www.preventblindness.org) or your local optometrist or company clinic.

References
1. Confidential company, private communications with company's safety director.
2. Karen Young, Executive Director, Prevent Blindness-New Jersey, email correspondence, December 2003.
3. Med-Tox, Vision Screening for Police Officers. www.med-tox.com, 2001.
4. Frank Birmingham, New Jersey American Water Company. Private email correspondence, December 2003.

This article originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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