Magazine article Occupational Hazards

In the Blink of an Eye

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

In the Blink of an Eye

Article excerpt

In The Blink of An Eye

A Harvard professor has proclaimed eye injuries "boring."

"An eye injury is not an accident. It is a reproducible, predictable event. It is a boring, repetitive, predictable, totally preventable event," said Paul Vinger, MD, assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. "Under most circumstances, eye injuries are 100 percent avoidable."

Statistics show that the majority of occupational eye injuries occur at job sites which have fewer than 500 employees. According to experts, there are many reasons for that.

Smaller job sites include activities like logging, car repair, plumbing, and carpentry. These employees have traditionally not worn protective eyewear, said Vinger. "The highest injury rate we've seen is among automobile repair people. They have a history of banging metal on metal with little bits flying all over the place," he said.

Smaller firms also tend to budget less money for protective clothing and safety education. Workers often won't pay for their own protective clothing, so they don't wear it if the company doesn't provide it. If protective eyewear doesn't fit properly or is deemed "unattractive," employees will also hesitate to wear it.

Safety and health personnel at smaller sites frequently are stretched to the breaking point to handle an increasingly complex regulatory compliance load. Streamlined staffs in these tough economic conditions mean less time is devoted to individual safety programs.

"A small company might have a safety person, but he's involved in the whole safety program, not necessarily just the vision safety program," said Van Nakagawara, O.D., research optometrist for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Vision safety, Nakagawara points out, "requires a person to wear a protective device which can give him problems. It's not like wearing safety shoes or a safety helmet. Those can be fitted pretty easily. Safety glasses are different, because if they don't fit right, they're very uncomfortable and workers will just take them off."

Nakagawara stresses that eye protection means more than just telling employees "Hey, wear your safety glasses." Things like vision screenings, choosing the correct prescriptive lenses for a job, deciding on a protective style (faceshields or sideshields), and repair and inspection should all be part of a model eye protection program.

Wearing safety glasses should become a habit, says Rebecca Hunley, director of programs and education for the Ohio chapter of the National Society to Prevent Blindness, like driving defensively or locking doors.

A training program stressing the importance of eye safety and eye health does not need to be expensive and does not have to pull safety directors away from their other duties. Organizations like the Society to Prevent Blindness, as well as many optometrists' offices, offer speakers, printed materials, and vision screenings at little or no cost.

An important element of an eye safety program is to encourage employees to wear their eye protection. The best way to do that, said Hunley, is to remember that "eyewear should be accessible and appropriate for the job. You should make sure it fits well and doesn't fog up. Make sure workers have access to the latest in technology. If they want neon frames, give them neon frames."

Eye Opener

The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that one-third of the people suffering eye injuries at work say that protective eyewear was not provided at the work site. Of those suffering severe injuries, two-thirds report no available protective eyewear. It's little wonder, then, that eye safety experts stress the only way to ensure worker protection from eye injuries is to enforce a mandatory safety eyewear program.

"One company will have a program in place and they say if you don't wear eye protection, then you'll get in trouble. …

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