Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Beware the Hidden Eye Hazards: Each Day, More Than 2,000 People Injure Their Eyes at Work, According to Prevent Blindness America. When Employers Address This Problem, They Sometimes Learn Some Eye-Opening Safety Lessons

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Beware the Hidden Eye Hazards: Each Day, More Than 2,000 People Injure Their Eyes at Work, According to Prevent Blindness America. When Employers Address This Problem, They Sometimes Learn Some Eye-Opening Safety Lessons

Article excerpt

Eye injuries in the workplace remain all too common, afflicting more than 700,000 Americans each year. Yet Prevent Blindness America says 90 percent of these injuries can be avoided with a simple and obvious expedient: safety eyewear.

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If that's the case, why do so many workers and employers appear to be blind to the value of safety glasses?

Jim McKay, plant manager at McMormick and Co. Inc., the spice manufacturer based in Hunt Valley, Md., doesn't know the answer to that question, but he knows how to solve the problem. After joining the company as safety manager, he began a mandatory safety eyewear program that applied to everyone at all times in McMormick's production facilities. Serious eye injuries have been virtually eliminated.

"I've worked for Miller Brewing and General Motors," says McKay, who manages McMormick's spice mill plant, where spices are ground and processed. "I'm amazed by how many people I've seen who nearly lost an eye, but yet this wasn't seen as an opportunity to institute a mandatory safety eyewear program."

McKay counsels that if a company is going to require workers to wear safety glasses, the employer needs to pay for them. The costs associated with this offer one possible answer to the question posed above. Although he says that one serious eye injury can pay for a lot of eyeglasses, the reason for the policy is "it's the right thing to do."

Soon after the company started offering to pay for employees' prescription safety glasses, McKay made another startling discovery: Many employees needed not just prescription eyewear but bifocals.

"This means they weren't seeing that well to begin with, and that raises another huge safety issue that touches every aspect of your job," he says.

MALE VANITY HAZARDS

Alan Friedman, OD, national clinical director for Spectera Vision Plan, confirms McKay's experience about the large number of workers who aren't seeing as well as they should. With headquarters in Baltimore, Spectera is one of the nation's largest vision care plans.

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"You'd be surprised, but it's true especially for guys: They feel that if they have to wear glasses, they are getting older," says Friedman. "If you can't see what you're doing when using a dangerous tool, that's another hazard, and I see this every day."

The "old fogy" stigma associated with bifocals may explain why so many of McKay's workers needed some encouragement to change their prescription eyewear. Vanity, or the age-denying temptation that leads some workers to resist wearing proper prescription eyewear, is an issue that could grow in importance as the U.S. work force grows older. Friedman recommends annual eye exams for all employees to make sure they have the proper prescription if they need glasses.

OSHA regulation 29 CFR 1910.132(d)(1) requires employers to perform a hazard assessment to determine if hazards are present (or even likely to be present) that might necessitate the use of personal protective equipment.

The first priority should be to abate such hazards with engineering controls. If eye hazards remain, say McKay and Friedman, companies need to ensure that all employees wear safety eyewear at all times. To make this happen, companies need to pay for their employees' safety eyewear.

Friedman offers two additional reasons for everyone on a site to wear safety eyewear at all times. First, eye injuries can occur when the worker doing a dangerous job has eye protection, but a nearby worker does not. Second, Friedman says some serious injuries to the cornea happen without a worker realizing it. …

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