Safety Articles

Article # 4101

Seeing Eye Safety in a New Light:
Prevention, Protection and Immediate Reaction.

Employees at a large oil rig and mining manufacturer were recently reminded how important protective eyewear is when a maintenance mechanic lost his balance while attaching a hook to an oil tank. "The tank was below floor level," explains Wally Banter, safety coordinator for this manufacturer of offshore oil rigs and mining, forestry and intermodal equipment. "And when the worker was leaning over the tank, his hand slipped out from under him causing him to fall forward against the edge of the tank. He had diagonal lacerations on the forehead and below his eye--on either side of his protective glasses--but the eye itself was unharmed. If he hadn't had the glasses on, his eye would have been cut badly."

Banter claims that this near miss was a lesson learned for all workers at the facility. "Those glasses probably saved the mechanic's eyesight. That was a lesson to everyone on the importance of safety glasses at all times!" The oil rig and mining mechanic isn't alone in recognizing the value of eye protection. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 50% of workers injured while wearing eye protection thought that the eyewear had minimized their injuries.

Policies Confirm Safety Commitments
Brad Smith at an automotive company also feels strongly about providing protective eyewear for production workers. That's why his facilities adopted a policy last year requiring all employees to wear protective eyewear throughout the premises, with the exception of the offices. "We were just seeing too many eye injuries," says Smith, corporate safety manager for this manufacturer of decorative trim for cars. "Since we adopted the policy in the fall of 1998, we've had no reportable eye injuries."

But the new policy did pose a challenge for Smith. A large portion of his employee population is Hmong, an Asian group originally from Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and China. "Our Hmong employees were issued the standard safety glasses, however the standard glasses did not fit the bridges of their noses properly, "he explains. "The glasses were actually a hindrance rather than safety protection." Smith talked to his Magid rep about the problem. The rep suggested smaller fitting glasses with custom bridges. The new style of eyewear fits the Hmong employees comfortably and safely and now the automotive company is 100% compliant.

Banter from the oil rig and mining manufacturer also has a policy requiring all employees to wear protective eyewear throughout the facility. "It makes sense to always protect yourself. We're working with steel here. We have welders, fabricators, steel foundry workers and machinists. Why take a risk? We just simply protect ourselves all the time. Everyone within the gates of the facility must wear protective eyewear unless they're in an office, breakroom or restroom." Banter notes that once people get used to the policy, they just take it in stride. In addition, he says, it reminds everyone of the importance of protective eyewear. Most importantly, the policy has meant fewer and less serious injuries. Banter reports that there have been no injuries resulting in loss of eye or vision since the policy has been in place.

The Importance of Fast Action
Even the most rigorous approach to eye protection must also include provisions for dealing with eye injuries. Banter, from the oil rig and mining manufacturer, notes that at his facility, there is always a risk of particles getting into workers' eyes, no matter how much protection is worn. "Because we're working with steel products, it's easy for small particles to get into eyes," he explains. "With 1,200 employees, most of whom are working with some form of steel, particles in employees' eyes are almost a daily occurrence." He notes that fast action makes the difference between a first aid treatment and a reportable injury. "Steel can rust in the eye and cause considerable damage if it isn't removed quickly," says Banter. "It can take as little as three hours for rust to form." Banter uses the Wizard Wand® to remove particles. "Thanks to the magnetized tip for removing metallic particles, we don't risk scratching the eye," he says. "With Wizard Wand®, we're able to react quickly right here in the plant and not waste valuable time traveling to a medical facility. "He adds, many situations that used to be reportable injuries are now just first-aid cases.

Fast action is also critical in situations where chemicals contact workers' eyes. According to OSHA regulations, facilities for flushing the eyes and body must be provided in the immediate work area for any workers who may be exposed to corrosive chemicals. The ANSI Standard Z358.1 specifies that workers must be able to reach an eyewash station within 10 seconds and must be able to flush both eyes continuously for 15 minutes with tepid water or solution. In the case of eyes and chemicals, every second counts!

Cathy Waters, health and safety coordinator for a company that manufactures automobile seats, uses both plumbed and the self-contained stations. "Our workers are exposed to a variety of hazardous chemicals, particularly in the area where they make foam for car seats," she explains. "We have plumbed-in stations that are a combination eyewash and shower station throughout the plant. In addition, our Emergency Response Team carries portable eyewash systems. We're prepared on all fronts to handle any emergency and our employees understand the importance of acting quickly. "

Doug Fink, director of environmental health and sciences for a fluorescent pigment manufacturer, agrees on the importance of eyewash stations. "We have eyewash stations all over the facility - more than 30 of them altogether," he explains. "I prefer the stationary types with foot treadles. I think they're the easiest to use in an emergency situation." At this manufacturer of fluorescent pigments, most of the liquids are pumped; very little is poured. "But that doesn't mean we don't take precautions. Our workers wear face shields and chemical splash goggles even though there are very few instances where any splashes might occur. On top of this, they are properly trained on the use of eyewash stations in an emergency. Eye safety is very important to us."

A Small Price to Pay for Safety
Jim Nathen, spokesperson for a large manufacturer of eyewash stations, is often asked to quantify the value of eyewash stations for employers. "An eye injury can cost between $1,500 and $5,000, and the loss of an eye to a worker can cost the company $20,000 to $50,000," he says. "But that's just the beginning. If an employer has not followed OSHA regulations, the fine could run between $3,000 and $8,000. And if the injured worker files a lawsuit, the court costs could be astronomical. Above and beyond regulations, standards and cost implications of injuries, however, is the ethical issue. Employers today realize that providing eyewash stations is simply the right thing to do for their employees."

OSHA estimates that 90% of eye injuries can be prevented through the use of proper protective equipment. When the right equipment (protection) is combined with solid safety policies (prevention) and effective eyewash products (prompt reaction), eye safety can be seen in a much brighter light.