Protecting your eyes from injury is one of the most basic things you can do to keep your vision healthy throughout your life. At work this may be most easily achieved for everyone if an effective eye injury prevention program is put in place. The basics of eye injury programming are simple, recognize the hazards associated with the situations, environments, jobs and tasks that could result in an eye injury, assess the relative risk associated with each, and develop a control strategy. Let’s look at the specific elements for inclusion in an eye injury prevention program.
Inspect and identify all work areas, operations, and equipment for potential hazards to eyes from chemicals, radiation, dust, dirt, flying debris, and other projectiles created when working. Review any incident reports where eye impact or damage was reported. Create an inventory of all jobs and tasks, routine and non-routine, that may create an eye injury hazard.
Assessing the jobs and tasks that may create an eye injury hazard may be completed qualitatively. Observing the work in progress will allow you to make this assessment and job observation will be useful when planning a control strategy. This assessment may also include assessing employees vision. Unrecognized and incorrected vision problems can lead to incidents. Many jobs and tasks have specific vision abilities associated with them. Providing employee eye exams as part of employer-led physical exams is a means of managing this risk. Employees can be encouraged to have comprehensive eye exams by a doctor of optometry. Booking an appointment can be easily handled when using the Find an Optometrist feature on the www.optometrists.ab.ca web site.
Control of exposure is necessary during any job or task that may create a risk of eye injury. The selection of controls should follow the hierarchy of controls. If the hazard can’t be eliminated or controlled using engineering or procedural controls, personal protective equipment should be used. Information collected in the assessment will be useful for selecting proper protective eyewear. Alberta OHS legislation calls up CSA standards that require employers to provide employees protective eyewear suited to specific jobs and tasks and the associated hazards. For many jobs and tasks, the assessment may lead to the selection of a face shield and goggles to provide protect against liquid splashes or the light and radiation from welding. CSA specifies the shade level of the lens selected for protection against the light from welding. A one-size-fits-all standard rarely works when the hazard includes flying debris safety eyewear with side protection is required. The CSA logo, and other relevant markings must be visible on the lens and frame or body of all safety eyewear.
As part of the program implementation, give employees the opportunity to try on different types safety eyewear that provides the necessary protection. Have eyewear fitted by an eye-care professional to ensure effectiveness and comfort. For safety eyewear worn in combination such as goggles, safety glasses, face shields, full-face respirators, a good and comfortable fit is important. People want to feel they have some choice. Allowing employees to try a range of safety eyewear that can achieve the same level of protection will improve buy-in and likely wearer comfort which will increase use compliance.
Employees need to be part of the program. Provide the necessary and foundational education needed to all employees who will be part of the program. Get employees involved in developing the inventory of jobs and task, routine and non-routine that may create an eye injury hazard. Their engagement will make creating a mandatory program of eye protection easier to implement. A program that applies to all work areas and all employees is easier to enforce compared to a program that applies only under certain circumstances. An introduction to this program is needed at the new hire orientation stage and needs to be reinforced during planned training, education and other scheduled safety communication opportunities. Visible management involvement will build program momentum. Management must be active participants in the program and they must always wear safety eyewear as mandated by the program.
Measure Uptake and Provide Support
On a regular basis a review of use, care, and compliance with the programming requirements is necessary. Job observation is valuable to confirm user compliance. Commend compliance and provide corrective feedback when necessary. Encourage proper use, care, and maintenance. Scratched or dirty safety eyewear will reduce vision, increase glare, and these two factors may increase the likelihood of an incident. Provide replacement safety eyewear as necessary and encourage proper use, repair, and maintenance.
Emergency Response Planning
As with any plan, intentions are good but a plan to deal with emergencies is needed. When an incident happens, you need to be prepared to mitigate the damage. First-aid procedures specific to eye injuries needs to be part of employee education and training. Eyewash stations need to be installed such that they are easily accessed, especially where chemicals are used. Provide basic first aid training and include more advanced training for those that will be expected to lead the emergency response.
Write it Down
Once the eye safety program has been created and implemented make sure all the details are recorded and circulated in writing. Post a copy of the policy and program details in work areas and make copies of the programming available everywhere employees gather.
Eye safety is easier when it is managed as part of a program. Eye injury prevention programming is best linked and contained within the occupational health and safety management system framework. It can be simple if the basics are covered, and everyone is kept involved.
Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with more than 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.