Fit Makes the Difference

BLS reported there were 23,730 eye injuries requiring time away from work in 2014, or 6 percent of all lost-time cases in private industry and state and local government employment.

OSHA notes that ensuring PPE fits an employee properly is essential to effectively protecting that person; this is particularly true with eye protection. Without proper fit, protective eyewear is likely to be uncomfortable, to slip, and possibly to be damaged or even discarded. The consequences of even momentary gaps in protection can be severe.

OSHA has reported that thousands of workers are blinded every year from occupational injuries that could have been prevented through using vision protection—which must be worn by employees who are exposed to hazardous chemical splash, dust, and particles—and that eye injuries resulting from such exposures cost more than $300 million per year in this country.

The agency very much wants employers to prevent such injuries; it cited a Missouri sheet metal manufacturer in mid-December 2016 for more than a dozen repeated and serious violations, issuing $138,430 in proposed fines. The company had failed to ensure workers wore eye protection and other necessary PPE, according to OSHA, as well as train workers to handle hazardous chemicals, install adequate machine guarding, develop energy control procedures and conduct regular inspections of machine safety procedures, and remove damaged powered industrial trucks from surface, among other things.

OSHA's Eye and Face Protection eTool1 offers a basic hazard assessment table to help an employer start the process of selecting proper PPE. The table lists five types of hazard to workers' vision that might be encountered—impact, heat, chemicals, dust, and optical radiation—along with examples and common tasks related to each of them.

Chemical splash, a leading cause of serious eye injuries, raises the topic of emergency showers and eyewash. The ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment is the key standard to consult and follow; available from ISEA (www.safetyequipment.org), it specifies minimum performance criteria for this critical equipment to ensure that a worker receives adequate rinsing of the eyes and face in an emergency situation following exposure. ISEA points out that OSHA inspectors often use the standard to make sure employers are complying with medical and first aid regulations.

The OSHA eTool's main page offers links to four OSHA standards that apply when selecting eye and face PPE:

  • 29 CFR 1910.132, general requirements
  • 29 CFR 1910.133, general industry
  • 29 CFR 1915.153, maritime
  • 29 CFR 1926.102, construction

When explaining to an employee—a new hire, perhaps, or a seasoned veteran whom you've spotted taking an unnecessary risk or who has just experienced a near miss—you may want to offer these statistics. There were 420,870 cases of non-fatal lost-time injury or illnesses in the United States in private industry and state and local government employment during 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in December 2015. Although sprains, strains, and tears were the leading injury or illness that year, when the overall incidence rate was 38.9 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, there were 23,730 eye injuries requiring time away from work that year, or 6 percent of the total. The median number of days away from work was 9 days for all types of injuries or illnesses that year, according to BLS.

And we know eye injuries can be life-altering. They range from simple eye strain to severe trauma that can cause permanent damage or vision loss and even blindness. Blunt trauma can bruise or lacerate the eye, or even fracture the bones that surround the eye.

Recent Calls for a Comprehensive Vision Health Strategy
Prevent Blindness America, long an advocate of vision health and saving sight, sent a letter Nov. 22, 2016, urging President-elect Donald Trump to support the Vision Health Initiative2 of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although polls suggest Americans "have consistently identified fear of vision loss as second only to the fear of cancer. . .  a coordinated national approach to interventions, supported by adequate funding, is currently not in place," wrote Prevent Blindness President & CEO Hugh R. Parry, Board Chair Richard L. Sanchez, and Government Affairs Committee Chair Torrey DeKeyser. They cited the September 2016 report3 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, "Making Eye Health a Population Health Imperative: Vision for Tomorrow," which concluded that eye and vision health are "relatively absent from national health priority lists."

The report recommended that CDC develop a comprehensive surveillance system for eye and vision health; coupled with a research agenda and coordinated research and demonstration grant programs that target eye conditions and diseases that contribute the greatest public health burden, the resulting evidence would allow health care professionals and public health decision makers to better understand the scope of the public health burden, risk factors, and at-risk populations and also to target effective policies, practices, and interventions, the report's authors suggested. They reported that between 8.2 million and 15.9 million people in the United States have uncorrected vision impairments.

PPE Fit Included in OSHA's Standards Improvement Project
OSHA included a PPE item in the fourth rule4 it proposed, in October 2016, under its Standards Improvement Project. That rule, intended like the other three to modernize OSHA’s standards, boost compliance, reduce compliance costs, and make them easier for employers to understand, covered topics ranging from reporting job-related hearing loss and lockout/tagout to spirometry testing, lanyard/lifeline break strength, and Permissible Exposure Limits.

The PPE item said this: "Ensuring that personal protective equipment (PPE) properly fits each employee is essential to employees' protection. The proposed revision to require employers to select PPE that properly fits each employee clarifies the construction PPE requirements and makes them consistent with general industry requirements."

OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels said the revisions in the latest rule will improve safety and health protections for workers across all industries and would save employers an estimated $3.2 million per year.

References
1. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/eyeandface/index.html
2. https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/home/
3. http://nationalacademies.org/hmd/reports/2016/making-eye-health-a-population-health-imperative-vision-for-tomorrow.aspx
4. https://www.osha.gov/sip-iv/summary.html

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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