Eye injuries are not only common, but also costly. In addition to resulting in time loss from work and increased workers’ compensation premiums, it also takes a toll on one’s functionality and quality of life. Every day in Canada, 700 workers sustain on-the-job eye injuries, according to information from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).
Protecting one’s vision at work, in particular those who work in environments where hazards to the eyes are present, is everyone’s responsibility. Employees need to know about hazards in their workplaces and participate in safe-work procedures, as well as observe good housekeeping practices to keep their workplaces clean and free from hazards as far as possible. If they find working conditions are unsafe, they should speak up and refuse unsafe work until the hazardous condition has been corrected. They should also use personal protective equipment properly and for the duration required as long as the hazards are present.
Employers certainly have a legal obligation to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers by making sure that the necessary safety equipment are provided, used properly and maintained. Informing workers and supervisors of any hazards and how to handle them, as well as ensuring that procedures are followed in the workplace, are also key.
The following are some tips that the CNIB offers when it comes to safety eyewear:
• Always wear protective eyewear that is designed specifically for the task at hand;
• Keep safety glasses on even when wearing other protection like a welding helmet or face shield, as flying chips or dust can get under the shield if the visor is lifted;
• Match the eye protection to the hazard;
• Make sure the equipment fits properly;
• Inspect plastic visors or protectors for scratches that may limit vision or cracks that can weaken the structural strength; and
• Always keep a spare pair of protective eyewear handy.
Given the numerous brands and styles of safety eyewear available out there, the job tasks will primarily determine an employer’s choice of the type of safety eyewear to purchase. Before making that decision, a hazard assessment of the work environment needs done, advises Jodi Draghici, a licenced optician and consultant with Regina-based FO Safety Eyewear, a subsidiary of Optics International, which specializes in prescription safety eyewear.
While sealed or close-fitting eyewear is right for industries with flying debris, a lighter manufacturing job with fewer atmospheric hazards could settle for a pair of simpler glasses. Involving employees in the decision-making process is a good idea, because they know best what fits them and are more likely to use safety eyewear in which they look good and feel comfortable.
It is important to bear in mind that safety eyewear can be particularly vulnerable if it is exposed to flying shards and pellets. As such, proper maintenance can help safety glasses or goggles last longer and save costs in the long run. Another common mistake is overusing the same cleaning cloth, which leads to scratching of the lens, due to residual dirt build-up in the cloth. Users are well advised to first rinse safety eyewear under cool tap water before adding a cleaning solution specifically designed for the product, as common household cleaners can remove the coatings on the lens.
At the end of the day, the lifespan of a pair of safety glasses or goggles depends not on only the environment and tasks for which they are used, but also how well they are taken care of.
Jean Lian is editor of OHS Canada.