Doing Your Homework Before the Purchase

Selection and employee training and assessment are your end to the process, not the beginning.

Often we focus on the physical items of vision protection. However, it is not just about personal protective equipment. Laying the groundwork for your company's vision protection program can ensure success and make the program run smoother in the long run. Each employee’s vision is critical to your safety program's success, and this goes for all groups within the company.

Establish the need and basis and network of support from all angles as you methodically build the program elements, including purchasing, the employee base, and upper management. Too often, a vision protection program begins with issuing PPE quickly plucked from a catalog or big box store -– and not with employee training and need assessment. Do your homework as a safety leader and plan the program elements and management input ahead of time.

Selection and employee training and assessment are your end to the process, not the beginning.

Things to consider:

  • Your facility's policy. Is there a history of vision protection at your facility? Are you starting from scratch or dusting off a long-forgotten, orphan program?
  • Your facility itself. What are the processes that could cause an eye/face injury? Go back to the basics of safety: review chemical lists for hazards, process equipment that flings particles, filings, radiation, glare, unique hazards, etc. If you have not done so yet, document each department and make a note of each type of vision protection hazards that exist. This is your basis for justifying the program to upper management, so carefully review your entire facility hazard assessment and employee task analysis and make a plan of action to meet the hazards' challenge.
  • Your company's vision injury history. Don't focus on a single year; review the records for many years. Include notes for process changes, assimilations of other company properties or mergers, contract employees, and even temporary/"seasonal" type operations. Consider your maintenance operations and other especially unique situations. Discuss the injuries in detail with not only your worker's comp specialist, but also departmental managers and line staffers. Don't forget your maintenance staffers, who can provide a great deal of valuable information, and the housekeeping/sanitation staffers. (They see everything!)
  • Your employees. Consider their training, educational levels, limitations (such as language barriers), use of temps and contractors on site, skill and expertise at highly difficult tasks, and also their acceptance of change. Do crews work remotely, or are all plant employees under one roof? Consider employee turnover, too. New goals can mean change in how they do certain tasks and in using PPE that had been selected and trained upon. Make sure the selection process helps employee acceptance and that your awareness ensures each PPE item is used, not seen as a burden on getting the job done.
  • Your company resources. Confront the brutal facts: Money matters right now, and available manpower for training is shrinking. Is there a reasonable budget? Do you have training assistance? How about a functional safety committee that will support your efforts? Are you alone in trying to manage multiple programs? How much time and effort can you devote to this program?
  • Outside help. Consider consultants, trainers, grad students, interns, and the tools to help, such as video-based training, posters, and online tools. What can you utilize within your budget?

Attitude and Leadership
As the safety chief, you know well the upper management's attitude toward safety. Are you struggling to make changes in spite of management? Do you hide until dragged out in a crisis? Perhaps your corporate leaders champions of safety stewardship, instead. How your managers view safety directly relates to new program initiatives and how much support you can expect in the long run.

Now, we turn to your own leadership. Is vision protection an add-on? A bold new initiative for safety? Drudgery? Cast a critical eye on your attitude toward the program and how much effort you plan to devote to it. Nothing spells failure faster than apathy from the safety leadership.

What you want to accomplish with a vision protection program sounds simple, doesn't it? However, very careful consideration must be given to this item. It is easy to overstate your goals for the program and have the efforts falter within a few months. Even-handed application of resources and time will keep your efforts in front of employees and management, which will keep the program progressing.

Set your goals and make them reasonable and obtainable. Planning your program's success gives you a better chance of accomplishing it. This item can be tricky; your schedule depends on other program responsibilities you have and on the time and resources available. You want measured awareness and constant participation, not "popcorn" one-time-and-it's-gone program attention. Staging in your efforts helps everyone become accustomed to the new program elements and not overwhelmed all at once.

Who reviews, tries, and tests for comfort and applicability the PPE assigned to each job? Cost per item, limitations, replacement, and training all are part of the formula. Use the resources that are available -- vendors, online sources, distributors, and factory representatives who are ready and able to assist with specific item selection, from the mild to the wild. Gather samples and presentations of items for your groups, such as your safety committee and purchasing officers.

Don't forget your rank-and-file employees who will be wearing the PPE daily. Their input is golden and helps garner you favor on the shop floor. Keep your upper management in the know as your selection efforts move forward, making sure they know how your resources are spent. Positive communication is critical at this stage of the program and takes the program from a dusty drawer to a living element of safety facility-wide.

As for training and documentation, employees need to know what is expected of them. The training will reflect the information provided and who receives it. All training needs to be documented and maintained accordingly for audit or accident investigation.

Deal promptly with non-compliance from managers and line employees. Have an established replacement procedure, too. Alert worker's comp to advise you of all related injuries immediately for investigation.

Cementing the groundwork ahead of time for your vision protection program with a consistent application will provide you years of rewards in greater management and employee acceptance, improved employee morale, more active safety committee initiatives, and reduced liability from on-the-job injuries. You establish your role clearly as a leader who cares and communicates with all levels within the company.

Because all groups are aware of the need and justification of the program and what you are trying to accomplish, your chances of success improve. Success is different for each group (e.g., cost containment for purchasing, reduced liability for upper management, and fewer injuries for employees). Rare indeed it is to have such positive goals for all levels. As safety leader, be interested, be reasonable, and be available to ensure compliance.

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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