As Summer Sizzles, Does Protection Wane?

Make sure your workers know how to store their PPE, where to store it, and how to determine when an item is no longer functional.

They squeak when I move them.”

“They slide.”

“They stretch out of shape and never wear right again.”

“They don’t fit my face.”

“The d#@*! things fog up constantly!”

“They scratch up too easily.”

You’re heard all of these before, no doubt. You and I hear them because if our employees are not wearing their vision protection during the summer months, we need to ask why, and fast. For many workers, summertime means high heat, high glare, high humidity, and hard work. (Construction, logging, agriculture, heavy maintenance, lawn care, tree trimming, and brush removal come to mind.) For them, PPE should assist in getting the job done—not aggravate and make it tougher to work.

Carefully scrutinize your injury logs for typical and less-typical eye injuries during the summer months. Ask employees for constructive feedback. Usually, they are more than willing to tell you what works and what does not. Safety folks typically have thick skins, so stand your ground: PPE must be worn when it’s needed! But careful selection and training will make your job easier. Ask your worker’s comp professional for his/her thoughts on this subject, too. These folks often have a different view on injury prevention.

Helpful Reminders
Here are some timely reminders to help with your safety management:

Monitor your inventory. If you have dusty piles of one style/brand in place from years gone by, chances are your employees will not wear it for reasons of comfort, sizing, or material. Provide an assortment so that all shapes and sizes are available in styles that are attractive to your workforce.

Better yet, let them choose. If they like the PPE, you have a much better chance they will wear it.As you tick off the hazards, you will find a product suitable for each one—faceshields, safety glasses, multipurpose faceshields, combo units with face chip screens/hard hats/hearing protection, chemical splash goggles, and more. Disposable items and those for long-term use can be on site quickly.

Look at past years’ purchases. History does indeed repeat itself, and it helps with budgeting to know how many vision protection items are used, damaged, and replaced.

Ask for assistance. Not sure what you need? Friendly representatives are standing by to assist. With just a phone call, you can have a sample bag of items to try out before purchasing. I also recommend attending the big conferences regularly and reviewing the new items for vision protection. Many publications/vendors also have “a free pair” of new items advertised regularly.

Use a budget. Average the past few years’ use and add to it to cover unique or unusual situations that may arise. In your reporting to upper management, add in the average cost of an eye injury from medical treatment, light duty, transportation, and replacement costs for temp workers or overtime. Your budget will be much more satisfactory to the bean counters of your company. It pays to remind management of the need for an assortment of vision protection and considerations other than the budget, by the way.

Have a policy for prescription safety glasses. If employees wear prescription glasses, begin long before the hot season to make sure they are covered. Whether the company pays a portion or the total cost of the PPE, control what they purchase by deciding on coatings, etc. Or limit the portion the company pays and do not cover special coatings or graduated lenses. For new employees, have the type of safety glasses/goggles that slip over their prescription eye protection until prescription safety glasses are in place.

Buy what they really need! Are they doing outdoor, high-glare work? Working on water or in highly reflective areas, such as shiny, stainless steel railcar tanks, for example? Consider safety sunglasses. Styles and coatings are available to meet the need, including polarized sunglasses and those with scratch-resistant and fog-resistant lenses. Vented goggles are more comfortable in high-humidity locations.

Ensure new employees and visitors are covered from the first day. Make sure that all new employees who need vision protection are issued the correct item and receive the training/awareness information they need. Doing these things helps to ensure proper use and care of their protection.

Carry extras! As the safety guru, you need to be able to replace damaged or missing items on the spot, not make employees wait until another day or until you can reorder. Having a few sets of “special,” high-fashion styles lets you hand out great “gimme” items for workers as a morale builder. It really does work! Chances are, employees will wear these even more faithfully because the eyewear is different and works as a status symbol.

Wear what they wear. Your employees notice your PPE, too. Make sure you are not on the mountaintop, but down in the work zone with the employees. It builds credibility. If you purchase the right style and size, your program will be easier to maintain, too.

Storage Issues Remind employees about the use and limitations of all vision protection and when combination units are needed, such as wearing safety glasses with grinding faceshields. Storage in high temperatures or other hostile environments is a huge consideration, as well.

Many employees store safety glasses without any covering or case on the dashboard of work trucks, the front seats, in the toolboxes, or stretched up on top of work caps or hard hats. Make sure they know how to store them, where to store them, and how to determine when an item of PPE is no longer functional. Don’t forget to explain how to exchange out or replace damaged or missing items. Check your policy—some companies issue only one free pair and charge for lost items.

Speaking of your corporate vision policy, do you allow employees to use company-purchased vision protection off the job? Many alert companies do, balancing the cost against the costs of absenteeism/sick leave for a home injury.

Do employees know how to clean their safety glasses and goggles during use and when they store the PPE? Using the wrong cleaning solution may damage the coatings and scratch or mar the vision field, rendering the PPE unusable.

Training & Awareness
It’s time for a pep talk. Make sure all supervisors and employees review their activities and consider the hazards they may be exposed to. If the task is working with machinery, they should consider debris, smoking rust from mufflers, and dust from grain, wood products, or other materials. For chemical exposures including application of pesticides and herbicides, protection from splashes, blown droplets, and dusts is essential.

Bump up your training and your workers’ awareness of toxic smoke, sawdust, sparks, poison ivy, and a long list of hazards. Going over them helps to keep the information front-and-center for field staff. Don’t spend hours on them, just deliver some fast reminders. First aid considerations enter the picture at this point because portable or fixed eyewash units, first aid kits, and fast access to medical attention can be critical.

One of the best things you can do for your employees and your safety efforts is to have a vision protection program that works for the employees. PPE that works and is worn means a more successful program for you.

This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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