8 Things you can do to prevent eye injuries in the workplace.

October 4, 2022

By Glyn Jones, for Eyesafe/Alberta Association of Optometrists

Employees work in a wide range of work environments, many of which create a risk of eye injury. An estimated 2000 Canadians sustain eye injuries that require medical attention every day, according to a study by Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Over one third of these occur at work resulting in lost time and/or temporary or permanent vision loss. The costs in terms of compensation, plus the pain and suffering, are staggering. The good news is that with education, clear work planning, and the use of proper safety eyewear it is estimated by CNIB that 90% of these injuries are preventable.

Here are 8 things you can do to help prevent eye injuries in your workplace.

Undertake formal hazard assessment
Look carefully at plant operations including high hazard work areas, around heavy equipment, powered machinery and tools, and chemical handling that may pose a risk of eye injury. Involve all employees in the hazard assessment process. Take time to review past incident and injury reports. Your hazard assessment process needs to be part of the overall safety program and it needs to be in writing. Make sure the OHS policy and hazard assessment program pieces are made available to all employees. Include a review of the related policy and hazard assessment processes in the new hire orientation program.

Get the right personal protective equipment
Ensure employees have access to and use appropriate safety eyewear including safety glasses, goggles, face shields, full-face respirators, and other special safety eyewear. Select safety eyewear that is designed for the specific duty or hazard based on the detailed hazard assessment. Safety eyewear needs to fit and be comfortable if it is to be worn. Ensure safety eyewear is fitted by an eye care professional or someone specifically trained to do this. Inspect the safety eyewear being used. Worn, scratched, and damaged safety eyewear needs to be removed from service and replaced. Provide repairs or replacements for damaged or worn safety eyewear and require each worker to be take personal responsibility for their equipment. All safety eyewear in use must meet the requirements of the current occupational health and safety legislation and the CSA standards, which is provided through the Eyesafe™ program.

Schedule eye exams
Healthy eyes and vision have a big impact on an employee’s overall health and therefore work efficiency. Uncorrected vision problems can be a significant cause of workplace accidents. By scheduling eye exams with an optometrist you can contribute to the overall health or your employee group and this can go a long way towards keeping your employees safe.

Implement emergency response plans with an eye safety focus
Provide the necessary education and training so employees know what to do in the event of an eye injury. First aid training needs to include first-aid procedures for eye injuries. Eyewash stations need to be put in place such that they are easy to get to, especially where chemicals are used. Inspect and test the systems annually, or as may be required by the legislation, to confirm the flowrates and water quality meet the standards. Ensure first aid kits are equipped with eye drops, gauze, and bottles of eyewash. Place signage or informational posters in the workplace reminding employees where the eyewash and first supplies can be accessed.

Provide employee education and training
Educate employees about workplace hazards to the eye. Train employees on the proper selection, use, and care of safety eyewear. Train workers on how to use eyewash equipment and how it should be regularly tested. Provide regular and ongoing education and training programs to keep eye safety at the front of employees’ mind. Add eye safety to toolbox discussions and as a part of all new hire orientation programs. Eyesafe™ can help with eye safety talks.

Ensure unconditional participation and use
If it has been determined that safety eyewear is necessary for all employees entering the facility to wear 100% of the time, ensure this includes all employees, all levels of management, contractors, visitors, everyone! A broadly applied and enforced safety eyewear program prevents more injuries and is easier to enforce than one that limits eye protection to certain departments, areas, jobs, or tasks.

Support the eye safety program from the top on down
Management support is key to the success of any program, and this includes the eye safety program. Management can show their support for the program by wearing protective eyewear whenever and wherever needed. They can mix some eye safety messaging into their regular communications with employees and the management team. They can show support by intervening to remind an employee who may have forgotten to wear safety eyewear to do so.

Audit and update
The eye safety program needs to be audited regularly and updated. Regularly review and update the program to keep up with changes in safety eyewear technology and legislation related to eye safety. Worksite inspections, also known as job observations, can help identify compliance issues. Follow the plan-do-check-act cycle to keep your eye safety program relevant and your employees safe.

The risk of eye injury at work is real. The CNIB statistics prove it. Employees need help to be active participants in the eye safety program. Eye safety is easier to ensure if hazards are assessed, if work is thoughtfully planned, and if the proper safety eyewear is used. Employees need education about the potential consequences of exposure to the hazards, and they need to follow the hierarchy of controls, reduce the risk, and stay safe. Safety eyewear is an important part of any eye safety program. We need to remind employees that their eyes are easily damaged and about the importance of wearing safety eyewear every day.

Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 35 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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