Tying It All Together
Document your training efforts and log all attendance. It matters and shows your efforts to educate a constantly changing workforce.
It's more than a set of stylish safety glasses, new goggles, or a shiny faceshield . . . or a video on eye safety . . . or even a beautifully formatted and bound policy and stacks of monthly checklists. Comprehensive vision protection and safety requires thinking outside the box and integrating all aspects of injury prevention and restoration of the injured after the accident or exposure.
The most daunting question is, if injury potential is so predictable, why are employees so surprised when they are injured? Take a close look at your injury logs for several years to get a good idea of the type/severity of eye injuries in your workplace. Many employers have the knowledge that vision hazards exist at their workplace but fail to follow up on correction on items that include flying objects, bits of metal, wood chips or splinters or sawdust, glass dust, chemical or body fluid splatters, radiation, misuse of tools, and a combination of causes, such as poor work assessment, lack of equipment/process guarding, and failure to use vision protection PPE. Most eye injuries can be prevented or at least reduced, whether they are foreign body intrusions or scratches to the eye, contusions, corneal burns, contact exposure from touching an eye with contaminated fingers or gloved hand, or something else.
We regularly see employers with a partial vision protection program. Well-intentioned supervisors purchase a case of safety glasses and stress the importance of wearing them to affected workers. However well meant, the program will miss the full performance mark without adequate assessment, training, and follow-up, leaving gaps in your vision safety program and allowing injuries at your workplace.
Elements of a Comprehensive Program
Consider the functioning parts of a well-implemented program:
- Hazard assessment. This means assessing not only all established activities, but unusual/occasional activities, such as special maintenance items. It is easy to evaluate a stationary activity such as one metalworking machine that slings metal fragments but harder when there is a room full of various machines, an army of workers, and a variety of processes in a closed area. Evaluate not only the immediate operator for hazards, but also other workers nearby, visitors, temporary workers, and even inspectors. How about your remote workforce? You may be surprised at how many things were overlooked.
- Inspection/policy/restoration services, such as worker's compensation. As you follow up the hazard evaluation, make sure regular inspections are being done by qualified employees and spot checks are done by safety professionals to keep everything current. True inspection happens only when it involves a variety of personnel at all hours of operation, not the same guy's "once a month" look with a quick pencil and a checklist. Checklists are only helpers, not the inspection program itself. Review your worker's comp follow-up, too, so those injured are provided quality respectful treatment and care as they are treated and returned to full duty. Active case management can help the injured worker feel connected, aiding your return-to-work efforts.
- Education, continuing education, and product selection. As you review your needs, consider all options: printed educational items, such as posters, handouts, and training aids; videos that are fast paced, current, and available for rent or purchase; online tools available at any hour with the click of a mouse. Don't forget your in-service potential from your safety professionals meeting with employees regularly. Face-to-face meetings often show other issues before the injury occurs. Document your training efforts and log all attendance. It matters and shows your efforts to educate a constantly changing workforce.
- Barrier protection and PPE. This may be the easiest item to complete. Today's manufacturers have heard clearly about the need for a variety of styles, materials, and special features in all types of eyewear, faceshields, welding shields, special-application items such as chip guards (for logging/woodworking) and full-face respiratory protection. Availability is almost instant, with the herds of distributors and manufacturers online and others only a call away. Fortunately, most vision protection PPE can be shipped quickly where it's needed. A greater selection than ever before is also available at local big box or specialty stores. In short, comfortable, affordable, outstanding protection is readily available, with technical assistance for product selection a mere call away. Samples are offered at all major safety shows, with "sample loaner" items available upon request while you choose bigger-ticket items.
- Evaluation, process changes, process hazards. One common failure of safety is in following up as the program grows or evolves. Too often, we safety professionals do not keep tabs as processes change, machinery is switched out or upgraded, or other process hazards are discovered. Vision protection efforts must be regularly evaluated and updated as the operation changes.
- Safety eyewash/showers, portable eyewash, and first aid. Make sure you have the "after the injury" needs for emergency treatment available and in working order. Ensure employees know how to use it. Drenching/eyewashes must be tested regularly, portable eyewash solutions often have an expiration date, and first aid kits may not include adequate first aid for eye injuries. As you evaluate your operation for hazards, upgrade your emergency treatment to provide exceptional care for the injured. Don't forget training for the first aid providers and posting of emergency contact numbers. Eye injuries are unique and require different skills than a simple laceration, and response time is critical.
- Consistent safety outreach and follow-up. Emphasis on the vision protection program may wane as the safety professional moves on to new programs or other critical management areas. Each safety professional has a different "interest" in various programs; changeovers mean ongoing issues (no matter how important) may drop in the transition. Documentation is essential for continued follow-up in the long term. After all, the hazards do not vanish with time. When you're dealing with vision protection issues, they are controlled to the extent possible.
The Bottom Line
In today's lean economic times, being a safety professional has never been more challenging. We are trying to do more with less and may, in the flurry of program compliance and staff shortages, forget to maintain the fundamental safety programs such as vision protection -- pushing them to the rear of the line. Yet this area is easy to assess and implement. With regular monitoring and education of your workforce, you can reduce eye injuries, reduce suffering, and add to the company's bottom line.
It takes organization, effort, and follow through (tough for those of us strapped for time), but the value is retaining the employee on duty and continued uninterrupted production. And as for replacement of damaged PPE, consider it an honor. Every badly damaged item of PPE may mean an eye saved or a less severe injury. Present those at your next safety and upper management meetings for real impact that displays how well your program works!
Vision Protection Checklist
True False Your company has evaluated all potential vision protection hazards, including machinery, processes, and other contamination routes. The hazards are documented to ensure follow-up corrective measures.
True False Vision protection is part of the comprehensive safety policy and program efforts and is a priority for all managers and supervisors.
True False There is an established selection process for vision PPE, and items used are reviewed and upgraded as needed, including safety glasses, goggles, faceshields, radiation protection, full-face respirators, etc.
True False All supervisors/managers have been briefed/trained on the appropriate use of vision PPE for employees and their role in maintaining a safe workplace.
True False Supervisors/managers use appropriate vision/face PPE when in areas where it is required.
True False Supervisors/managers ensure all emergency items are in place and maintained, including first aid kits, drenching and eyewash stations, portable solutions, and emergency response measures.
True False Your hazard evaluation is documented and shared with the safety committee and upper management regularly in order to emphasize the importance of consistent vision protection.
True False A variety of safety measures are utilized at your facility to ensure consistent vision protection, including education, PPE, inspection, and first aid measures for all shifts and workers.
True False There is a written policy on your vision protection program elements, and it is reviewed and updated regularly or as needed by a skilled safety professional.
True False PPE items are reviewed and selected based on need, application, and appropriateness for your industry hazards, not just cost.
True False Employees are trained in the use, correct disposal/replacement, and fit of all PPE items in use at your facility.
True False Appropriate PPE items for vision/face protection are available in sizes needed by employees.
True False Extra PPE items are available if needed for replacement of broken, worn, or lost PPE.
True False Visitor PPE is available for use in areas where needed, and visitors are required to use it when in these areas.
True False After-the-injury safety items are in place, such as drenching facilities, eyewash stations, and portable eyewash solutions for remote operations. They are maintained and inspected/replaced as required.
True False Consistent medical and worker's compensation follow-up is provided to injured employees in a timely manner.
True False Eye injury first aid is immediately available for all employees. First aid training for responders is provided and updated as needed.
True False Every employee is advised of the requirement to wear vision/face protection on the job when required. This is documented, whether in initial orientation, on-the-job training, etc.
True False Training is emphasized for all employees and visitors for correct use of vision protection and other awareness items as needed.
True False There are methods to explain to non-English-speaking, hearing impaired, or illiterate employees how to use PPE, when to use it, and how to request replacement items.
True False The program's success is reviewed and changes are made as needed to ensure progress toward fewer vision injuries.
True False Your facility safety professionals are trained and skilled in recognizing and correcting hazards and provide proactive leadership for the vision protection program.
This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Linda J. Sherrard, MS, CSP, is Safety Consultant II with Central Prison Healthcare Complex, NCDPS in Raleigh, N.C., and is the former technical editor of OH&S.