Protecting Workers During National Safety Month

Protecting Workers During National Safety Month

Understanding head, face and eye hazards and their solutions will help keep workers stay safe this June — and all year long.

June marks the beginning of National Safety Month, which focuses on raising public awareness of the leading safety and health risks for workers and aims to decrease the number of injuries and fatalities in workplaces. While safety is important year-round, observances such as National Safety Month are paramount to raising awareness about safety and health hazards and creating an environment where workers and organizations can put safety first.

A safety-first workplace environment focuses on eliminating the leading causes of preventable injuries and deaths. By creating awareness of the risks and hazards and educating workers to conduct tasks safely, solutions can be made to help eliminate on-site risks. 

In safety plans, PPE should be considered the last line of defense against injury. But while it is viewed as the last line of defense, it is still crucial to have head-to-toe PPE. Indeed, head-to-toe protection starts at the top. This National Safety Month, let’s review the head, face and eye protection needed when it comes to staying protected on the job. 

Head Safety

Summer is here, which means construction season is in full swing. Common workplace risks for construction workers include exposure to dropped objects and impacts and bumps to the head on equipment and machinery. Ensuring proper head protection is a necessary component in helping to keep workers safe. 

However, with the warmer weather during summer months, wearing a hard hat for long periods of time in the heat can really take a toll on health and safety. Constant sun exposure is an under recognized health hazard that many construction workers and workers in other outdoor related industries face. Assessing the heat risks on the job is vital for workers. If the body is not able to regulate the internal temperature fast enough, this can lead to heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. 

When selecting head protection for outdoor construction workers who may be more susceptible to heat stress, employers should supply light-colored hard hats for their employees to help protect from heat hazards. Lighter colored hard hats, such as those that are white, help keep workers cool by reflecting light from the sun away from the head. High-visibility colors on the other hand, such as orange, can attract and retain heat. Research indicates that when working in a 90-degree-Fahrenheit setting, white hard hats provided the coolest temperature around a worker’s head, while orange hard hats or high-visibility yellow resulted in the highest temperatures. There was over a 10-degree-Fahrenheit gap in temperature between the two colors which could make or break a day of work in the heat of the summer. 

Adding in a full-brim hard hat is another good way to keep the head shaded. Finding one that is breathable with an integrated sweatband to keep cool and wick sweat can make all day wear more comfortable. Not to mention, it performs double-duty of helping to keep the head safe from falling objects while providing a bit of sun protection. 

Head protection that incorporates comfortable padding and allows for height adjustment makes it easier to wear during long shifts. Depending on the site and differing hazards, providing a Type 1 or Type 2 hard hat can make a difference. Type 1 hard hats protect the top of the head from falling objects like a falling hammer. Type 2 hard hats protect the head from the top and sides. If encountering sharp corners, a Type 2 hard hat might be the better choice. 

Face Protection

Protecting the face from splatter, spray or dust is necessary for protecting workers, but it can also lead to an uncomfortable day. Comfort plays a large part in respiratory protection compliance. Every face is different, so finding a mask or respirator that can mold to different face structures is critical. In the summer months, a humidity resistant filter can improve comfort levels and breathability. If a mask isn’t comfortable, a worker may not wear it properly or at all.

Respirable crystalline silica can be found at almost all construction sites, and inhaling these particles can cause serious health issues later in life without the proper protection. According to OSHA, about 2 million construction workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica in over 600,000 workplaces. Using a respirator is necessary if there is a lot of grinding, cutting or sawing materials like concrete, stone, brick and sand at a site. 

Fit testing is another way to help ensure workers are using respiratory protection correctly because ensuring a good seal on a mask is vital to avoid inhaling contaminants or particles. 

Eye Protection 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20,000 eye injuries occur in the workplace each year, which can lead to consequences ranging from missed days at work to temporary or even permanent vision loss. Safety eyewear can make a huge impact on the wearer’s health and safety and have been cited to prevent more than 90 percent of serious eye injuries. 

While crystalline silica dust is a huge respiratory health hazard, it can also be a hazard to the eyes. It is imperative to protect the eyes against dust, woodchips, metal particles and even windblown particles. Goggles, safety glasses and sealed eyewear all offer various levels of eye protection against different elements. Assessing workplace risks and hazards to the eyes can be the first step to figuring out what type of eye protection is needed. 

Sealed eyewear is a great option if the main hazard is keeping dust and debris out of the eyes. They stay snug on the head and are usually cushioned around the eye, making it feel like they’re not even there. Finding an adjustable pair is essential to getting a custom fit and being able to wear them for prolonged periods of time. 

Another eyewear option is safety glasses that workers can easily put on and take off. Many safety goggles and glasses are available in prescription, and even some fit over everyday glasses, so sacrificing vision for safety isn’t an issue. An important feature to look for in eyewear is an anti-fog coating, especially in the summer months with humidity at its peak. This helps reduce moisture build-up and avoid low visibility and hazing. 

With outdoor jobsites, the sun isn’t just a hazard on the skin. It can cause a huge strain on the eyes. Protecting the eyes and keeping vision unobstructed is of utmost importance when working with tools and machinery. Finding eyewear available in various tint levels can help ensure performance stays consistent while keeping the eyes healthy and shielded. Lenses should have UVA/UVB protection so eyes don’t get fatigued. 

Go Beyond PPE

While PPE is considered the last line of defense, there are so many other ways to help eliminate work related injuries and jobsite risks. Implementing a department or company-wide safety training can help guarantee that all employees are getting essential training in order to perform their job duties. This can be online or in-person and is a great way to make sure everyone has the correct information when it comes to their wellbeing and to help workers receive the proper education on how to use worksite equipment.  

An additional layer of safety is to provide first aid training. You never know what will happen on the job, so it’s best to make sure that everyone is prepared. There are a wide range of courses available, and it’s something that gives peace of mind to workers and employers.

As National Safety Month provides the opportunity to reflect on safety in general and in the workplace, it encourages organizations and workers to take a closer look at their current safety plans and how they can improve. The first step to a secure work environment is putting safety first and approaching workplace hazards with a proactive attitude. Don’t limit the conversation on safety to June, continue the conversation all year long.

This article originally appeared in the June 1, 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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