PPE Focus of the Month: Safety Glasses

When safety glasses are required, do your employees always wear them?

The sad reality is that many would answer “no” when asked this question.  Even worse, some who would say yes now may have an incident in the future that proves them wrong.  The ones who can say yes now, and will continue to say yes in the future, are those who have a strong program that is consistently enforced.

Nearly 8,000 construction and manufacturing employees suffer eye injuries each year[1].  That averages to over 20 employees a day.  Some of those injuries will cause permanent blindness, forever changing their lives and their families.

Unacceptable.   These injuries should not happen.  Someone obviously needs to do something differently to prevent these injuries, but who?  In your company, what would need to be done differently, and who is responsible for making that happen?

Take a moment to think about your answer to that last question, and what that answer says about the attitudes of your company and your employees toward safety.   Before laying the responsibility on the employees, has your management considered why they aren’t wearing their safety glasses?  Are there legitimate concerns that could be fixed by providing different equipment, like safety glasses with anti-fog coatings?  Is your work culture so focused on productivity that employees feel that they can’t slow down or stop to get their required safety equipment?  Don’t think only about your policies and rules, like required PPE.  What would happen if an employee did stop to get safety glasses that were left in the break room, or requested new glasses when they find defects in their current safety glasses?  If employees are not wearing their safety glasses, then there is always something that management needs to do to ensure they are worn.

Eye injuries can happen quickly, and often in moments when employees least expect them to happen.

For example, an employee was re-installing a tube after disassembling it for cleaning.  He has done this once a week for the 3 years he has worked for the company.  This time, though, his hand slips as he tightens the hose clamp, and feels something in his eye.  He dismisses it at first, but his eye starts watering uncontrollably.  His eye still feels irritated, so he asks another employee if there is something there.  The other employee does not see anything.  He tries to continue working, but his vision becomes blurry and reports a vision problem to his supervisor.  At the hospital, the doctor tells him that his eye has been punctured, likely from the screwdriver.  He is immediately scheduled for surgery to prevent further damage to his eye.  In a moment, a routine task without apparent eye hazards led to an injury requiring surgery.  Employees are required to wear safety glasses at his company.  This could have been the first time he didn’t wear his safety glasses, or it could have been his fiftieth.

Management, supervisors, and foremen need to enforce PPE policies consistently and create a culture where every employee understands and supports wearing the required PPE.  This means that we need to observe employees, and document and discipline those who do not adhere.  We must make sure that every worker understands that safety supersedes all else, and that work does not continue when employees are not protected.  If your workers know that they have been observed working without safety glasses when they should be wearing them, and no corrective action was made, they clearly get the message that safety comes far behind productivity.

This is often why you’ll have employees who don’t wear safety glasses when they should.  It doesn’t matter what you initially trained them to do, or what company policy says.  What really matters is what happens when management sees them working unsafely.  Too often we’ll see employees exposed to hazards that can blind them.  They do not wear safety glasses under their face shields when cutting concrete despite company policy and training that tells them that they must.  Others don’t wear safety glasses because of issues with them fogging or getting too dirty to see through, even while performing tasks where they are creating flying particulates.  Many supervisors, foremen, and managers will dismiss these as typical employee complainers without investigating the validity of the complaints.  If we don’t look into the complaints, or tell them to just “deal with it” because no one else has said something, or because we don’t have time to do something, then those employees have just been told that their safety is not important to the company.  This is never acceptable. 

[1] Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics