Our eyesight is an extremely valuable asset, yet employees often do not take the necessary steps to protect their eyes in the workplace. Even though modern eye protection is easier to use, more comfortable, and fashionable than ever before, more than 1,000 workplace eye injuries are reported every day. These injuries cost U.S. companies more than $300 million dollars per year, according to OSHA.
Eye injuries can happen suddenly, and some professions are more at risk than others. Of the 1,000 reported injuries mentioned above, injuries in manufacturing facilities account for almost 50%. Construction workers, plumbers, electricians and pipefitters also top the list for being most likely to suffer from eye injuries.
As a result, OSHA requires all employers to provide safety glasses for their workers in hazardous environments. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, three out of every five workplace injuries happen to employees who are not wearing eye protection. Clearly there is a disconnect between the amount of eye safety products available to workers and those workers who actually use eye protection. In fact, 70% of reported injuries were caused by flying particles and 20% were the result of splashes or contact with chemicals. The rest of the reported injuries were caused by swinging objects like tree branches, ropes, or chains, where the worker was unprotected or inadequately protected.
Workplaces should make a conscious effort to encourage at-risk workers to pay heed to eye safety. The good news is, it’s now easier than ever to provide the best protection possible to your employees, while also being mindful of their specific needs and preferences. Today’s safety glasses come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and styles, and are available with prescription or reader lenses. Various coatings provide anti-fogging, anti-static, scratch protecting, and polarized qualities, while shading provides protection from sunlight, welding, UV and infrared light, or the glare from halogen or fluorescent fixtures. Additionally, certain eye protection lenses can improve an employee’s visibility in low-light environments.
With a vast array of available safety glasses and goggles, eye protection is easier and more comfortable than ever before. Here’s what you can do to encourage use in your facility:
- Talk to employees. It’s important start and continue a dialogue with workers on the importance of wearing proper eye protection, as well as understanding what their specific preferences are based on their daily tasks.
- Provide options. Provide workers with more options to encourage use. The CDC recommends selecting eye safety equipment based upon the nature and extent of the hazard, types of possible exposure, additional protective equipment used, and the user’s specific needs. Options include different styles, colors, shapes, lenses and sizes.
- Continue educating. This process doesn’t stop with simply providing options for workers based on their preferences, but it’s a matter of encouraging use for prolonged periods. This can be done with regular trainings and conversations, as well as signage throughout the facility that encourages proper use.
- Offer positive reinforcement. Instead of fining or punishing employees for not properly wearing eye protection, create individual or team contests or competitions that promote the use of eyewear and practicing correct eye protection. You can also offer prizes to the winners. This is far less costly than eye injuries and helps to create a culture that soon becomes habit.
Eye injuries can cause permanent damage, so it’s vitally important to provide occupants with protection from potential injuries, starting with wearing appropriate eye protection.
Bob Risk is the National Sales Manager, Safety, for Staples.
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