Glaring Issues of a Successful Program

Safety shades hit the mark, but you have to keep those costs in line and keep an eye on what the workers truly need.

"HERE, look through these--look at the glare on that glass building," he said, handing me a stylish pair of top-of-the-line polarized safety sunglasses. "Now, look through these.

"Now, these are $150 a set and are my personal ones. Those $9 a set, you buy for the crew," he added. In a primitive form of bait-and-switch of products ranging over a hundred dollars a pair, we played the game of Why Don't We Buy These? My counter was, "Explain why you need the higher-priced pair, realistically." (No answer here.) "Now, explain how your budget will pay for this item for all your crew, not just you." (No answer, again.)

The end result was purchasing the $9 a set safety glasses for everyone. The crew was thrilled. Are the $150 a set glasses a better-quality item? Undoubtedly. Just not as affordable as the $9 a set for large crews.

This manager had worked himself into a lather comparing apples with luxury cars . . . to no good use. Success, just like failure, has costs and setbacks. The hardest things to do with product selection are to reasonably justify the cost and not let the budget spiral out of control.

Construction work, landscaping care/weed eating, working on water, manufacturing, and working around glass and highly reflective surfaces or snow--when you list them, the types of work needing vision protection seem as endless as the dirt, dust, fiber, and shavings that these products are protecting us from. There are many elements to your vision protection program (far too many for this article to list). Chances are, if you are in the safety business, you have employees who regularly use vision protection in some manner.

A successful vision protection program has costs ranging from your time and patience to actual replacement values of PPE, and from there to HR issues of non-compliance and disciplinary action. Education takes time, too, no matter how you educate your workers. Control has to be maintained over ordering and distribution or many extras will wander off into the "off hours" use. This is especially true of high-profile or valued items such as safety sunglasses or novelty seasonal items.

What is the most important feature of your employees' vision protection? Style? Selection? Cost? Special Features? Adjustability? No matter what you loudly answered while jumping up and down, there are many considerations when maintaining a viable vision protection program. You as the manager must balance those features with real need in the workplace.

Considerations
Vision protection is one of the most important items you will contend with in the safety arena. While there is no sure way to implement it, some common-sense guidelines to ensure your success include:

  • Identify what you want up front from your program. Be as specific as possible. More than one company has purchased a bunch of really neat vision protection that was not applicable to the use. Start with the industry and hazards associated. Track injury data for additional limiting factors.
  • Encourage use on and off work. This helps workers get used to wearing PPE all the time.
  • Know what you need! It is reckless to allow someone who does not know how to select needed tints, coatings, and other special features order your PPE. Go back to basics and read the applicable OSHA and ANSI standards.
  • Prepare a written program and make it available for all employees to review. Be specific on topics such as loss or replacement of damaged items. This ensures everyone will understand what is required. It also helps keep hidden charges from popping up later, such as the cost of excess replacement of PPE.
  • Establish a chain of command. Have one office or person responsible for ordering and payment of the PPE when possible. This avoids confusion and wasted time. Too often, a project mushrooms if more than one manager is given authority for purchasing. You also may have varying costs for the exact same items.
  • Create a budget and update it regularly. Be realistic on use and reorder requirements. If vision protection is needed and worn, it will have to be replaced through the basic wear and tear of work. Plan ahead to have extras on hand and available. This prevents budget shortages later on or purchasing unnecessary items that no one will ever wear. Beware of broad, super deals for bulk items unless you are familiar with the product--or you may have an item no one can or will wear. You might get stuck with a product that hurts the credibility of your safety efforts, too.
  • Set evaluation methods. Have a method of maintaining quality and a checks-and-balances system throughout so that you order the items needed that employees like. It makes it easier to enforce when they wear the PPE.
  • Establish a purchase cycle. Determine whether this is a regular purchase item, a seasonal item, or a one-time order. Make this clear to employees so they do not expect the same thing every year, etc. Keep your intentions clear to reduce grumbling. Few companies can allow never-ending deep pockets for purchasing.
  • Provide a yardstick for tracking the project's success. How will you know whether the new item purchased has succeeded? A written report? Lower worker's compensation costs from eye injuries? Positive employee feedback?
  • Take bids. Compare exact items. Bid out large orders if necessary, and be sure to compare them before making a final decision.

Making the Choice
Whether selecting the local purchase option of a box store, a distributor, or an Internet provider of your selected PPE, know what you are getting into before purchasing. Remember to consider the following, too:

  • Availability. How long will it take to get what you need? In some instances, a day may be too long. What is your backup plan?
  • Encourage use by example. Make sure all employees understand what is required of them and when they must be wearing vision protection. Enforce the use if that is your policy.
  • Have education/training sessions with all employees. Understandably, everyone at your plant may not need the same level of training, but everyone should have some knowledge and also know where vision protection is required.
  • Consider special needs. Unusual sizes or other adjustability features may be needed. It is good to have more than one style to select from for employees. Tints, anti-fog, or other special features may be desired, as well.
  • Use prior experience. Use what works. Ask long-term employees which vision protection items they have used in the past and whether they have recommendations.
  • Get samples. Are you unsure what you want or need? Ask for samples from vendors before you purchase. Most are very willing to help you with selection and price considerations. You make the selection cut, however . . . and allow employees to choose from previously screened items, not the whole lot received. You control the cost factor, as well, by not allowing the ultra-high-end products or trendy items to be evaluated.
  • Polish up your own attitude. Ensure employees know you are behind the program, as is upper management. Your employees watch every move that management makes more than you realize. A smooth-running program will be quickly undermined if upper management is observed without vision protection regularly in required locations.

Above all else: Listen and update! As needs and styles change, make sure your program keeps pace. There is a wide variety of style and wearing considerations in a multi-age workforce, so ask for feedback often.

This article appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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