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What can I do to make sure my employees are using proper eye protection?
By Valona Renner-Thomas, product manager, eye and face protection, Kimberly-Clark Professional, Roswell, GA.
An estimated 2,000 workplace eye injuries occur daily, but many may have been preventable. In fact, it is estimated that 3 out of every 5 workers injured either were not wearing eye protection at the time of the incident or were wearing the wrong kind of protection for the job.
Why aren’t all workers protecting their vision? According to the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, the most commonly reported issues with protective eyewear are lack of comfort, unappealing style, fogging and scratching. Safety professionals polled in a 2011 survey identified eye protection as the most challenging of all personal protective equipment categories in terms of compliance with wearing protocols.
With so many types of protective eyewear available, it is easy to see how employers may be challenged to find eyewear that provides the right combination of effective performance with the desired style and comfort factors.
First and foremost, protective eyewear must adequately protect the eyes from workplace hazards, including particles or objects that might strike or abrade the eye, blunt force trauma, chemical splashes, and UV damage.
Certification to ANSI Z87.1 (and/or CSA) standards is mandatory. Hard-coated polycarbonate lenses should be used when working in high-impact areas, as they are much more impact-resistant than glass or other plastic. Prescription safety lenses with tempered glass or acrylic plastic lenses should not be worn for protection from high impact unless they are covered by goggles or a faceshield. The eyewear’s frame also should be durable, especially when worn during long work shifts.
Protective eyewear should allow for sufficient peripheral vision; otherwise, workers may remove the eyewear at a time when it is most needed. For employees working outdoors, it is important to use eyewear that reduces glare and provides 99.9 percent UV protection for both UVA and UVB rays.
Protective eyewear won’t safeguard workers if it stays on the shelf or is worn on top of their heads, so do not underestimate the power of comfort in driving compliance.
Proper-fitting eyewear is crucial to comfort. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, 94 percent of injuries to workers wearing eye protection resulted from objects or chemicals going around or under the protective eyewear. A number of comfort-enhancing features may help improve compliance:
- Lighter-weight, flexible and vented frames
- Cushioned brow
- Comfortable gel nosepieces or padded nose bridges
- Flexible and soft-touch temples
- Fog shield
- Foam lens surrounds
- Hinge tightness
Selecting style features found in fashion eyewear, and providing PPE that allows workers to express their individuality, can help drive compliance. Several style trends seem to be common in some of the more popular brands:
- Lens colors
- Frame colors
- Neck cords
In addition to the physical toll on the injured worker, eye injuries come at great cost to businesses, amounting to an estimated $300 million annually in medical bills, compensation and downtime.1 Lost productivity is another consequence: Among private-industry employees in 2008, there were more than 27,000 reported days away from work due to eye injuries.2
1. Eye Care Council Inc. (2009). “See to Work®.” Retrieved Sept. 30, 2010, from www.seetolearn.com/see-to-work.html.
2. U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009). Incidence rates for nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work per 10,000 full-time workers for selected characteristics and major industry sector, 2008. Retrieved Sept. 30, 2010, from www.bls.gov/news.release/osh2.t07.htm.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.