See-Worthy Safeguards

Even more vulnerable than the ears are the eyes. Eye injury is one of the most common injuries at work.

"Wear your helmet!"

"Put on your shoes!"

"Don't forget your gloves!"

No, the voice is not your mother yelling at you. It is your supervisor or foreman, reminding you to wear your personal protective equipment.

Without wearing the necessary protective equipment, more injuries and fatalities will occur on the job. This is something Jerry Bach, vice president of Sacramento, Calif.-based Safety Center, Inc., will not tolerate. Wearing personal protective equipment is not only common sense that will keep you alive and safe, it also cuts down on worker's compensation claims, insurance premiums, and personal injury lawsuits for which employers must pay the price.

No one is trying to nag you to wear the equipment," Bach said. "It might be bulky. It might be a bit warm. It might even be uncomfortable. But it will ultimately protect you and possibly even save your life. And that is what it is all about.”

It is true that the company or organization must provide the worker with a safe working environment and the necessary protective equipment. However, when it comes down to it, it is the worker who has to decide whether or not to keep the environment safe around him and wear the equipment that is designed to keep him safe and alive. "Having safety procedures in place is not so the company can get you in trouble for not complying," Bach said. "It is so you come home with the same number and condition of body parts with which you left in the morning. Simple as that. No one wants you to lose a toe or an eye. And no one wants this to be your final day at work. Wear the personal protective equipment, stay safe, and go home at night to your family."

PPE Checklist

Personal protective equipment varies from site to site and can vary from task to task. Vision protection is a must for many workers and should be considered in the context of overall head protection. This checklist can help managers conduct an initial hazard assessment.

• Are manager assessing the workplace to determine whether workers are exposed to hazards that require the use of PPE (e.g., head, eye, face, hand, or foot protection)?

• If hazards are found, are affected employees using properly fitted PPE that is suitable for protection from those hazards?

• Have the workers been trained on what PPE is necessary for a job task, when they need it, and how to properly adjust it?

• Are they wearing protective goggles or faceshields where there is a danger of flying particles or corrosive materials?

• Are they required to wear approved safety glasses at all times in areas where there is a risk of eye injuries, such as punctures, abrasions, contusions or burns? Does this requirement extend to every entrant in these areas, including visitors, temporary workers, and others?

• Are employees who wear contact lenses in working environments that have harmful exposures required to wear approved safety glasses or protective goggles?

• Do you provide hard hats, and are they worn where there is a danger of falling objects?

• Are all hard hats inspected regularly for damage to their shell and suspension system?

• Is all protective equipment maintained in a sanitary condition and ready for use?

• Are eyewash facilities and a quick drench shower available within 10 seconds' travel time of areas where employees are exposed to injurious corrosive materials?

• Are the eyewash and shower units regularly tested and confirmed to be fully operational, with logs of these tests maintained on site?

• Are adequate work procedures, protective clothing, and equipment provided and used when cleaning up spilled hazardous materials or liquids?

• Are appropriate procedures in place for disposing of or decontaminating PPE that has been contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials?

Protecting the Head, Ears, and Eyes
At a construction site, almost anything can be a potential hazard. That is why it is of utmost importance that you wear your hard hat. Without it, falling objects could injure or kill you. A hat, especially one with reflective material on it, will make you more visible to others and lower the risk of injury to your head. Head injuries can range from cuts, scrapes, and bruises to concussions, seizures, and brain damage.

"Considering what can happen if anything hits your head, pardon the pun, but it is a no-brainer to be wearing your helmet," Bach said. "If a head injury fails to kill you, it can affect your health for the rest of your life."

If you are working at a site that is very noisy, remember your hearing protectors. Damage to your hearing, even deafness, can result if you fail to do this. "Many work sites are very loud," Bach said. "This could be an airport, stage where a rock band is performing, or construction site where someone is using a jackhammer. Bottom line: If you become deaf, you will never again hear your wife, children, crack of a bat, or whatever it is you want to hear. It can't be a fun way of life for someone who is used to hearing."

Even more vulnerable than the ears are the eyes. Eye injury is one of the most common injuries at work, with more than 2,000 workers receiving some sort of eye injury each day. About 10 percent of them require days away from work, according to statistics compiled by the National Safety Council. In fact, 10 to 20 percent of eye injuries on the job cause temporary or permanent vision loss.

"You need to wear the goggles or helmets that are provided to you to protect your eyes and to prevent eye injuries," Bach said. "Most eye damage is irreversible. Eye injuries happen when you don't wear the proper protection and you are working with debris and chemicals. So do the right thing: Wear the proper eye protection."

While employers are required by law to provide suitable eye protection to exposed workers, a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found 94 percent of injuries to workers wearing eye protection resulted from objects or chemicals going around or under eyewear. In general, use goggles in conjunction with faceshields.

Foot Protection
Imagine missing a few toes, a foot, or both feet. "It's not something you want to have happen to you," Bach said. "It's not just putting on steel-toed shoes. You also have to know and be able to identify electrical hazards [and] have to stay away from very hot surfaces and also corrosive, poisonous substances." Bach also said foot injuries are more serious than they seem to someone merely hearing about them.

"Foot injuries are extremely painful," he said. "They can keep you sidelined for quite a while. That is, if you are lucky enough to still have your feet."

There are two types of foot injuries. The first type results from punctures, crushing, sprains, and lacerations. The second includes injuries from slips, trips, and falls. However you categorize them, statistics have shown that foot injuries represent 25 percent of all disabling injuries.

Having the right pair of shoes is a must for working in dangerous work environments. While the cost of a good pair of protective shoes might seem expensive, consider this: The employer's average cost for a foot or toe injury is more than $10,000, according to the National Safety Council's Injury Facts for 2005-06. Spending a few more dollars on a good pair of shoes is far more inexpensive than the cost of a foot or toe injury.

Protecting Hands and Fingers
Taking proper care of your hands and fingers should be one of your top priorities on the job site, but some don't pay enough attention to this fact. "Just about anything you do in life requires that you use your hands and fingers," said Bach. "That includes driving a car, eating on your own, throwing a ball, or playing piano or guitar. So keep your hands and fingers safe, and they will reward you."

The first types of hand and finger injuries to avoid are cuts and punctures. Store tools in such a way that cutting edges are protected. Also, do not operate tools unless all guards are operable and in place. Always disconnect the power source before changing blades, knives, bits, or other sharp objects, and be alert for cuts and punctures from pointed tools, wires, steel and masonry chips and wood splinters.

Another injury that can occur is crushing and smashing your hands and fingers. To avoid this, always lock out all power sources and test they are inoperable before working on any mechanical equipment. Make sure you stay away from pinch points when handling all materials, and never place your fingers or hands through moveable equipment openings.
Be sure to avoid chemical injuries and burns to the hands and fingers. They are very painful and can be disfiguring. Do not ever try to use or handle any chemical until you have reviewed its corresponding material safety sheet, which will identify the dangers and PPE requirements. In addition, burns will obviously occur from contact with hot steel and equipment parts, open flames, and chemicals.

Always remember this: No one is nagging you. It is up to you to keep yourself safe. If you follow the correct rules that have been established, you will live to see another day with all of your body parts intact. And isn’t that what it is all about?

This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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