Employees work in a wide range of work environments, many of which create a risk of eye injury. A key to preventing eye injuries in these hazardous environments is recognizing the hazards, following an objective process for hazard evaluation, and selection and implementation of an appropriate control strategy. Safety eyewear is typically part of the control strategy. Let’s consider the best processes to follow to assess hazards and consider all possible controls to prevent eye injuries.
Working in hazardous environments creates a real risk of getting dust, dirt, flying debris, and other projectiles in your eyes when work operations involve cutting, hammering, crushing, and other operations that may generate particulate. Hazardous work environments also create a risk of eye injury from splashing liquids, molten metal and fume, and UV, Visible and IR radiation.
Building a Control Strategy
The starting point of designing a proper control strategy is hazard recognition.
Awareness – Employees need to be able perceive the risks associated with the work they plan to do, understand the potential consequences of exposure to the hazards, and take action to control the hazard and reduce the risk.
Education – Formal education on the hazards of their workplace and they need to be trained in the hazard assessment processes to be used. This education and training needs to start at onboarding or hiring and be provided on an ongoing basis as a refresher. Educating employees needs to include an understanding of the risks, how bad injuries can be, and how to assess hazards.
Hazard Recognition – This is a key part of the hazard assessment process and employees need orientation specific to each job and task to be able to recognize the hazards and understand the risks of eye injury. Training needs to include the selection, use, and care of safety eyewear applicable for each job and task. The Eyesafe program can help employers determine the correct specifications for employee prescription safety eyewear.
Hazard assessments are necessary. Before work starts, or whenever work conditions change, a hazard assessment needs to be completed to allow for the design and implementation of an appropriate control strategy. This might reasonably require that the hazard assessment is performed at least once per day and in many cases often more than once per shift. In completing an assessment of the hazards consider all aspects of the jobs and tasks to be completed, including routine and non-routine work such as maintenance, repair, and cleaning. Take special note of the tools to be used and any chemicals being handled.
Eye Health Hazards
There are a wide variety of hazards but those with the potential to cause harm to the eye include biological, chemical, and physical hazards. Biological hazards include work involving bacteria and viruses, insects, plants, and animals. Chemical hazards include working with any substance that may enter the eye including reactive solids, liquids, and aerosols. Physical hazards include exposure to excessive visible light, and ultraviolet and infrared radiation. Safety hazards include projectiles, dust and other particulate matter. Any work that creates these types of potential exposures creates a risk of eye injury.
Completing a Hazard Assessment
A hazard assessment can be completed at the work site before work starts. This may be referred to as a field-level hazard assessment (FLHA). It would involve a discussion of the work to be completed with all employees, a review of all recognized hazards and confirmation of the plan to control the hazards. A written record of this review would be completed and all employees that participate would typically sign-off on this on the document. For fixed or routine operations the assessment may be completed once and recorded formally as a task-specific hazard assessment (THA) or job safety analysis (JSA). The THA or JSA process would typically involve employees who routinely complete the work or supervise these work operations and who are skilled at the job. The resulting document would be communicated to all employees who do this work and they would use it as a guide to safe work. A THA or JSA would be reviewed and updated regularly by employees involved in this work.
Engineering vs Administration Controls
The outcome of a hazard assessment is a complete and documented understanding of the hazards associated with the work such that a control strategy to reduce risk and keep employees safe can be designed and implemented. Ideally it would be best to eliminate exposure to the hazard but where that is not possible or practical the design and implementation of the control strategy should follow the hierarchy. Engineering controls are better than administrative controls. An engineering control is one that is built into the work process, plan or equipment. A safety shield fastened to a bench grinder is a good example. Engineering controls are preferred because they are a very reliable way to control worker exposures as long as the controls are designed, used and maintained properly. Administrative controls create consistency in the way work is completed and they include work instructions, safe work practices, and standard operating procedures. Part of the hazard control may be positioning of the employee during the work operations to keep them out of the line of fire or sufficiently away from the work operation to reduce exposure to the energy of the operation. For routine tasks completed in a fixed facility or controlled environment the control strategy is typically incorporated into a standard operating procedure, safe work procedure, or safe work instruction. Regardless of whether controls are engineering in nature or administrative it is typical to also use personal protective equipment, such as safety eyewear, in conjunction with any other control to create the necessary redundancy of control.
The risk of eye injury at work is real. Employees need help to be able perceive the risks associated with the work they plan to do. They 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 your safety eyewear every day.
Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health andsafety professional with 30 years of experience. He is a regular safety conference speaker in Canada andhe provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS certificateand diploma programs.