How to protect your employees against eye injuries around heavy machinery. By Kirk Lauterback
Whether it’s eye strain from a computer screen or a scratch from metal shavings on a construction site, hazards to eye health are present at any job. However, some industries — like manufacturing — pose more of a risk to eye safety than others. According to the Vision Council, most eye injuries (61 percent) occur in manufacturing, trade, and construction jobs, equating to over 70,000 eye-related injuries within the industrial sector each year.
Despite the potential health and financial repercussions that can result from an eye injury, eye health is one of the most overlooked aspects of a job. But in many cases, taking simple measures can prevent an eye injury — and the potential health effects, downtime, and costs that come along with it. If you’re an employer in the manufacturing or related industry, here are a few ways you can protect your employees’ eye health.
1. Identify the risks (large and small)
Whether your employees work directly on a construction site or inside one of your facilities, no environment is completely free of eye hazards. However, a good rule of thumb is that the heavier the equipment, the higher the safety risk. Many significant eye injuries occur during the operation of heavy equipment or power tools, which can produce wood splinters, dust particles, metal shavings, and other projectiles, as well as sparks and harmful light rays. Equipment such as assembly, sanding and grinding machines, welding torches, and milling machines pose a substantial risk for eye injuries due to projectiles and light radiation. Even automated equipment can create dust, debris, and other conditions that can significantly damage the eye.
Beyond equipment, you’ll also want to consider chemicals, heat sources, or large objects that can cause injuries. According to the CDC, the most common eye injuries that occur on the job, other than puncture wounds and lacerations, are blunt-force trauma and chemical and thermal burns. It’s important to consider all potential hazards and injuries rather than limit your risk analysis to one area. Consider the environment, role of human error, and broad set of conditions that work together to increase risk.
2. Make eye safety routine — and part of the culture
While it goes without saying that heavy equipment poses safety hazards, employees grow accustomed to working with it, and eye safety is one of the first precautions employees let slip. Whether it’s a case of simply forgetting to put on safety glasses or deliberately removing eye protection, failure to use the appropriate eye protection is still a considerable problem. The American Optometric Association (AOA) states that 2000 US workers experience job-related eye injuries every day, usually due to wearing no eye protection or wearing the wrong kind of eye protection. The AOA estimates that 90 percent of these injuries wouldn’t have occurred if the workers had used adequate eye protection.
Most manufacturing environments have safety glasses policies already in place. However, it’s vital to have reminders at various touchpoints. Post signs and provide extra safety glasses where eye protection is needed. These measures are particularly effective at the entrance to a high-risk area, as it builds eye safety into the routine, takes memorizing out of the equation, and makes it difficult not to wear safety glasses.
You’ll also want to include reminders to wear safety glasses in team meetings and safety training, document eye injuries, provide corrective training and encourage employees to prioritize eye health outside of work. And you should model the appropriate practices yourself. Even if you’re not working with machinery directly, wear safety glasses when
you’re on the floor. Doing so will show your employees that you value eye safety, the policy applies to everyone, and safety is part of the workplace culture.
3. Educate your employees (and dispel myths)
In addition to reminders and building a culture of safety, employee education is also vital in preventing eye injuries. Establish the contexts in which employees need to employ eye safety measures and what those measures are. Employees likely know, for example, that machinery can generate projectiles that endanger their eyes. However, they may not know that debris can also be dangerous or that their everyday eyeglasses aren’t sufficient protection against these hazards. Distinguish the differences in capabilities and design between sunglasses, prescription, and safety glasses, and make sure your employees know when to wear glasses that include more durable lenses, side shields, and non-conductive eyewear. Even the most well-intentioned employees may sustain eye injuries from assuming any eyewear product will protect them well enough against every eye hazard.
4. Provide the right safety eyewear for your work environment
Thanks to innovations in eyewear design and technology, safety glasses are no longer limited to the plastic wrap-around workshop glasses from the past. Safety eyewear suppliers can now offer polycarbonate lenses over plastic or glass, and they can fit frames to an individual instead of providing only a one-size-fits-all model. There are also cushioning and other safety features to help prevent injuries to the face or areas beyond the eye. Taking these factors into consideration and talking with your safety glasses supplier will help you find the option that will best fit your manufacturing facility and employees.
5. Make it a lasting effort
It’s easy to overlook eye safety with the many priorities employers and employees alike have to juggle. However, the most critical parts of any safety measure are consistency and follow-through. Remind your employees of and enforce safety eyewear policies. Schedule routine safety audits and training to build eye safety into your processes. Make sure your employees always have access to the proper eyewear. And encourage them to talk to their eye doctor about their work environment to help with additional preventative measures.
In short, make eye health a priority in and outside of the workplace. Contact your safety eyewear provider if you’d like more information about preventing workplace eye injuries or to learn about the eyewear available to your facility.
Kirk Lauterback is Shopko Optical Chief Operations Officer. Shopko Optical is the trade name of Shoptikal LLC, an affiliate of Monarch Alternative Capital LP. For more than 40 years, Shopko Optical has provided excellent patient-centric care and high-quality eyewear through its dedicated team of nearly 700 optometrists (independent doctors of optometry in IA, ID, MT, SD and WA) and opticians. Shopko Optical expects further growth in 2021 and beyond.