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Making A Spectacle

Published: 10th Dec 2011 in OSA Magazine

Jane White, research and information services manager at the UK-based Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, (IOSH) talks about the need for eye protection in hazardous workplaces across Asia and the Pacific.

To lose your sight would be devastating – seeing is one of the senses we rely upon most in our daily lives. Damaging or losing your sight has the potential to turn your life upside down and means a huge change in lifestyle. So, the question is, why do some employees not wear the eye protection provided by their employer?

Employers have a moral and legal duty to provide eye protection if the risk of injury to the eye cannot be prevented through engineering safe systems of work, or technical safety equipment. The direct and indirect costs of injury far outweigh the costs of providing the right type of eye protection.

The scope of the problem

Workplace accidents affecting the eye vary widley, from minor irritation to blindness – and even death.

There are more than 2,000 eye injuries each day at work across the world. It is estimated that in America this figure is 1,000 a day alone. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)1 claims that almost 70 percent of eye injuries occur from falling or flying objects, or sparks striking the eye. Similar figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)2 Great Britain (GB) indicated that the two most common causes of eye injury stem from being hit by moving or flying objects (39 percent) and exposure to, or contact with, harmful substances (32 percent).

The American Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that eye injuries incur an annual cost of 300 million dollars in lost production time, medical expenses and workers’ compensation.
OSHA lists two major reasons for eye injuries at work:
• not wearing eye protection
• wearing the wrong kind of protection for the job

A BLS survey of workers who suffered eye injuries revealed that nearly three out of five were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident. These workers often reported that they believed protection was not required for the situation.

Research published by a large manufacturer has revealed that more than a third of companies in the UK have employees who don’t wear eye protection when required. The results showed that 38 percent of workers do not always wear eye protection when they have been instructed to do so. The main explanation given was that eye protection was ‘uncomfortable’. Of those surveyed, 73 percent said that comfort was the most important factor when selecting eye protection.

In Asia and the Pacific, smelting, foundry and heavy industries including petrochemical, gas and construction present a daily array of dangers to the workforce. A study by Chang CH et al (2008)3 Department of Ophthalmology, Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital Taiwan, said that work-related injuries accounted for 48.1 percent of admissions. It showed the majority of hospitalised eye injuries incurred significant visual loss, healthcare expenses and had longer term socio-economic impacts.

Managing the risk

The quick reflex of eyelids, eye lashes and tears is not sufficient to cope with the range of hazards found in many workplaces. In this case, eye protection can be an essential control. When managing the risk, there is a cycle from assessment of needs through to monitoring usage. If businesses can get the cycle right they will be able to get to the bottom of one of the biggest barriers – why employees do not wear eye protection.

Step 1: risk assessment

The key to getting the risk assessment right is to assess each task or activity individually. This is often referred to as the Task Risk Assessment (TRA) approach, which looks at each step within the process and ensures that all significant hazards have been addressed. This is the first step of managing risk in any workplace and should form part of your standard health and safety management system.

TRA provides detail and guidance in regard to the management of the hazards and risks that are embedded in each job, its various steps, and processes.

Make sure you consider the following:
• A data review - accident and near misses
• The frequency of exposure and the severity of injuries
• The workforce – interview workers, observe their practices
• The likelihood of simultaneous exposure to several hazards

Look to the hierarchy of controls and look to answer some of the following questions:
• Can we eliminate or remove the need to do the task?
• Can we substitute the product/process/tool for a safer one?
• Can we engineer in a control that would remove the worker from exposure to harm?
• Can we implement a safe system to control the hazard?

Finally, when all the above avenues of enquiry are exhausted, employers should look to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to place a barrier between hazard and worker. PPE should always be a last resort.

Assessment of hazards is an essential process. It provides opportunities for improvements in the safety management system. Knowledge gained about gaps in controls, new hazards and/or risks is essential for continuous improvement.

Engage the workforce – after all, if workers are involved in the risk assessment process and PPE selection, the potential for acceptance is greater.

Step 2: selection of eye protection

Eye protection can be used against lasers or intense light sources (known as optical hazards). This is one of the most complex hazards to manage as often the risk cannot be seen or felt until after the damage has been done. There are also physical threats, such dust particles or fragments of material. For this reason, safety glasses need to provide an adequate level of protection and are subject to tests for optical properties, as well as for the mechanical protection that they provide.

In Europe, eye protection – which includes safety glasses and goggles for personal use – must comply with the requirements of the PPE Directive. Relevant European standards for these products include EN 166:2002 Personal Eye Protection – specifications which detail functional requirements for various types of eye protectors used against typical hazards found in industry, laboratories and educational establishments.

PPE manufacturers and suppliers have a duty to provide product information to help employers make the correct choice of equipment. Performance specification showing conformance to European (EN) or International (ISO) standards should be known. Information on product performance, labelling to identify the level of protection and the instructions for use should be supplied with the PPE.

When choosing eye protection, factors other than the protection level need to be considered. These include the interaction with other PPE such as ear defenders and respirators. The working environment should be taken into account. For example, will misting be a problem? Wearer comfort and individual fitting also require careful consideration.

Consider the wide variety of hazards a worker could potentially be exposed to:
• Dust, concrete, metal and other particles
• Chemicals such as acids, bases, fuels, solvents, lime and wet or dry cement powder
• Falling or flying debris, building materials and glass
• Smoke and noxious or poisonous gases
• Welding light and electrical arcs
• Thermal hazards and fires
• Bloodborne pathogens (hepatitis or HIV) from body fluids and human remains

Where chemical splashes and vapour are a problem, full eye enclosure must be sought – this means unvented goggles. Full-face visors should also be considered, with chin guards to protect from upward splashes.

For impact protection the speed of likely impact is the main consideration. The higher the velocity the more likely that eye protection will be dislodged, so goggles or visors might be required.

Overall, it is good practice to consider the following:
• The right protection for the task
• Will the worker be wearing other items of PPE which may affect the fit?
• Will it be worn in a warm environment where the lenses will mist up? If so, a different ventilation system or anti-mist lens may need to be considered – some styles offer both
• Face fit – if full protection is to be achieved. Modern goggles have preformed frames which reflect the shape of the wearer’s face, or front-mounted straps to ensure a close fit
• Comfort – if the protective equipment is intended for long periods of use, comfort is very important. The goggles selected should have broad, soft head straps with sufficient adjustment and wide, soft facial contact to avoid chafing and soreness
• How the equipment be maintained and stored

If employees experience discomfort when using their PPE, they will soon stop wearing it. This could result in serious health risks and increase the chance of injury. The effects on the wearer of non-compatible or unsuitable PPE can range from minor discomfort to more serious health problems, or possibly a very dangerous level of distraction from the task in hand.

This makes user involvement key. For example, those requiring the use of eye protection could be asked to complete a simple PPE questionnaire, asking their opinions about the equipment they try.

Step 3: instruction and training

Where PPE is provided by employers, they must arrange for suitable training which must include appropriate information and instruction in its safe use and maintenance. The extent of information, instruction and training will vary with the complexity and performance of the equipment.

A comprehensive programme should cover:
• Why the PPE is needed and what risk is present
• How the task should be conducted (including demonstration), performance and limitations of the equipment
• How to wear it (including how to put it on, how to adjust and remove it), and how to store it
• Any testing requirements before using the PPE equipment
• Maintenance that can be carried out (e.g. hygiene and cleaning procedures, records)
• Factors that can affect the performance of the equipment (e.g. working conditions, personal factors, defects, damage and contamination)
• The procedure to obtain replacement PPE
• Problem spotting, defects in PPE, and the reporting procedures

Training should start with initial induction and move on to refresher training where it has been identified as necessary.

Step 4: monitoring and review

There are several causes of ‘ageing’ of PPE, defined as changing of the product’s performance over time during use or storage.
These causes can be one or more exposure to:
• Disinfectants or cleaning agents
• Visible and/or ultraviolet radiation
• High or low temperatures or changing temperatures
• Chemicals and biological agents, including humidity
• Mechanical action and ‘wear and tear’
• Contaminants such as dirt, oil, or splashes of molten metal

It is important that routine inspections of eye protection are put into place to see if it is still in good condition and able to provide the level of protection originally intended. This can be achieved through inspecting the workers’ PPE and training the workforce to look out for the signs of ageing PPE.

Managers and supervisors exposed to hazards requiring PPE while on the ‘shop floor’ must lead by example and wear their eye protection. This is best practice and leads to a culture where the PPE is accepted as being worn as standard.

Management must also monitor, supervise and enforce the wearing and correct use of PPE. Inspection, auditing and monitoring of compliance should be documented. Counselling and, ultimately, disciplinary procedures must be invoked against those who fail to comply with the wearing of eye protection. This step is imperative and will help give the business its positive safety culture.

Review of the risk assessment brings the process back to the beginning of the cycle. It is important that the initial task is reviewed to ensure the choice of eye protection was fit for task. Risk assessments should be reviewed periodically; however, if any of the following occur, then a review will be necessary:
• There is a change to the task, e.g. equipment or products used
• An accident or near miss takes place
• Shift patterns change
• The worker has additional needs e.g. has specific ill-health requirements

Reducing eye injury statistics

The aim of any business is to succeed. High accident rates, low productivity, down time, replacing staff and missed deadlines will only serve to damage a reputation and reduce profitability. The costs of eye injuries are high, but they can be managed. Managing risk is the strategy that underpins this reduction in injury.

Managers/directors are ultimately responsible for health and safety – they are in the best position to lead by example and take action. Hence, indicators which measure safety-related activity are highly important.

For example, records should include:
• Numbers of workforce who have received specific safety training
• Managers participating in safety talks
• Number of safety audits
• Relevant risk assessments completed, and more

Such management indicators tie in with a good health and safety management system and reiterate the importance of having risk addressed comprehensively.

To reduce eye injuries in the workplace, control measures should be closely monitored. Processes that led to failures need to be examined and control mechanisms should be monitored to weigh up the effectiveness.

It is worth noting that choice of measure can sometimes promote behaviours which are in conflict with the desired outcomes. For example, rewarding low accident rates (in the absence of other measures of performance) can lead to under-reporting. Or, merely counting the number of safety meetings held can lead to the target number of safety meetings being achieved, but the quality being poor. Think quality, not quantity.

It is simple to protect the eyes. If risk cannot be eliminated or engineered out through a Task Risk, Assessment then eye protection needs to be provided.

Persuading the workforce to wear their eye protection is not always easy. Advances in technology mean eye protection comes in a range of specifications and in many cases can be designed to fit the unique needs of each individual. This doesn’t, however, remove the fact that some people just don’t like to wear glasses and will make excuses not to.

A common objection is on the grounds of discomfort; yet the characteristics of many spectacles and goggles are lightweight and designed with face fitting capacities, as well as being adjustable. This apparent conflict of workers’ comfort concerns with the actuality that many designs are comfort-based is often difficult to manage. Management of this, however, is essential and it is a businesses’ good safety management system that will make eye injuries in the workplace disappear.

References

1. http://www.foh.dhhs.gov/NYCU/eyeinjury.asp
2. Health and Safety Executive Statistics; http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/
3. Chang CH, Chen CL, Ho CK, Lai YH, Hu RC, Yen YL. (2008) ‘Hospitalized eye injury in a large industrial city of South-Eastern Asia’ Department of Ophthalmology, Kaohsiung Medical University, Sanmin District, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, ROC.. Epub 2008 Jan 8; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18180943

Author Details:

Jane White BA(Hons), MSc, CMIOSH

Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner
Jane White is research and information services manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), based in the UK.

IOSH is the chartered body for health and safety professionals. With 40,000 members in 85 countries, the Institution is the world’s biggest professional health and safety organisation.

IOSH has a branch in Singapore and Hong Kong, with close links to other safety organisations in mainland China who actively promote ‘good’ workplace safety within the region. For more information about the groups visit www.iosh.co.uk
With a background in facilities management, Jane began her career in public sector health, safety and wellbeing almost 10 years ago.
Specialising in health and safety for the education sector, Jane has created a number of training packages, and worked on various risk strategies for schools.
 

Published: 10th Dec 2011 in OSA Magazine

Author


Jane White


Jane White BA(Hons), MSc, CMIOSH
Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner

Jane White is research and information services manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), based in the UK.
IOSH is the chartered body for health and safety professionals. With 40,000 members in 85 countries, the Institution is the world’s biggest professional health and safety organisation.

IOSH has a branch in Singapore and Hong Kong, with close links to other safety organisations in mainland China who actively promote ‘good’ workplace safety within the region. For more information about the groups visit www.iosh.co.uk

ith a background in facilities management, Jane began her career in public sector health, safety and wellbeing almost 10 years ago.
Specialising in health and safety for the education sector, Jane has created a number of training packages, and worked on various risk strategies for schools.


Jane White

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