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Eye Safety 101

Eye Safety 101

Safety eyewear hasn’t always been part of the personal protective equipment worn at the worksite. With the introduction of formalized occupational health and safety legislation in the late 1970s, the use of safety eyewear became part of every worker’s regular workwear. The early prototypes were bulky, clunky, awkward, uncomfortable and quite ugly. Great improvements have been made and the eyewear today has chic styling, modern designs, much better fit, and wearers comment that it is comfortable. Today you cannot step foot on any industrial or construction sites without safety eyewear.

Basic safety eyewear is worn to shield the eyes from dust, dirt, flying debris, and other projectiles created when work operations involve cutting, hammering, crushing, and other operations that may generate particulate. Safety eyewear is made of one of number of shatter-resistant lenses to protect the eyes from the impact of flying dust and debris. The available designs accommodate a range of lens thicknesses and materials to achieve the required impact resistance. The most common lens today is made of Polycarbonate, a synthetic polymer resin. These lenses are light-weight, fog-resistant, and have a higher impact resistance.

In Canada, approved safety eyewear must meet the performance standards set out in Canadian Standards Association CAN/CSAZ94.3 Industrial Eye and Face Protectors standard. Safety glasses that meet this standard must pass a series of tests such as an impact resistance test for the frames and lenses. The CSA logo, and other relevant markings will be visible on the lens and frame or body of the safety eyewear.

Although safety eyewear has become the norm on most worksites, many eye injuries still occur daily. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) reports that every day 700 Canadian workers sustain eye injuries on the job costing Canadian employers an estimated $80,000 in lost production time, medical expenses, and workers’ compensation. For safety eyewear to do its job it must be worn. The most common answer given by construction workers with eye injuries when asked why they weren’t wearing safety eyewear? “I didn’t think that I needed it!” Another common complaint is that safety wear is hard to fit all workers and so discomfort becomes an excuse for not wearing the eyewear. The CNIB report that simply wearing the proper safety eyewear could have prevented over 90% of the reported incidents.

So how do we get our employees to wear the safety eyewear they are being provided? Current research has been done to understand why employees choose not to wear safety glasses or simply forget to wear the safety eyewear provided.

Here are 5 suggestions to get your employees to boost safety eyewear use:

  • Offer a few different brands or allow employees to make their own choice of eyewear that meets the protection standards required. Comfort is personal so by offering more than one brand you are more likely to be sure of a comfortable fit for the largest number of wearers.

  • Make sure safety eyewear is universally available. Having easy access will boost wearer compliance.

  • Provide basic awareness education to all employees about safety eyewear. When employees understand the consequences of eye injuries user compliance will increase.

  • Reinforce full-time use. Institute a program of job-site observation and review to remind employees to wear their safety eyewear. Provide positive reinforcement for compliance and provide positive coaching when employees forget.

  • Get the fog-out! Glasses that fog easily will not be worn. Use of anti-fog glasses and anti-fog wipes improve wearer compliance.

Although we have seen dramatic improvement in eye protection development and use over the past forty years an opportunity exists for all of us to do our part and help those we work with protect their eyes. By using these 5 suggestions we can have boost wearer compliance and reduce the risk of workplace eye injuries.

Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 30 years of experience. He is a regular safety conference speaker in Canada and he provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS certificate and diploma programs.

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