print logo

I Wear Eyewear (I Swear!)

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

worker wearing safety eyewear

I don't need eyewear for this task, it's a quick one. It would take more time to grab the glasses from wherever they're at, than it would to just do this real quick. It's not that risky anyway. Nothing bad's happened to me before. And anyway the goggles are uncomfortable.

These are the kind of phrases that go through our heads…and the kind of rationalizations we could spend the rest of our lives regretting.

Nothing bad's happened to me before

Let's start with that one. I think we all know it's not a valid argument, but lack of a prior incident desensitizes us over time. If you watched your coworker get his arm caught in a machine and get rushed to the hospital, you'd be pretty cautious around that machine and similar machines for a long time after that incident. But whether you're there to witness it or not, thousands are blinded each year in the workplace and OSHA says that most of these could have been prevented with appropriate gear. One of these times it could be you, and the money you saved on safety glasses, you'll be spending on a cane.

It's a quick project

Duration isn't a large factor in assessing the likelihood of an incident, hazard level is. It can take as little as a fraction of a second to become blinded, and no project has ever been completed in less time than that.

It would take too long to grab the glasses

You're in a hurry, I'm in a hurry, everyone's in a hurry. Too much work has to get done in too little time, and we shave time off here and there as we can. But risking blindness isn't a chance you should take to get more done in less time. If the glasses aren't convenient to the project locations, fix this. Move them to where the work takes place, or buy extra pairs of glasses and place them in multiple locations where work could take place. Hang them up near eye level rather than tucking them into a toolbox so they're convenient, and serve as a visible reminder. Label the machinery: "Always wear eye guards when operating this equipment."

They're uncomfortable

This tends to be a bigger deterrent than it should since often it's easily fixable by spending a few minutes adjusting them. If it's not adjustable, buy eye protection that is. Prescription PPE glasses/goggles are available so that employees who wear glasses don't experience a higher discomfort level from prescription glasses pushing up against the PPE glasses. Prescription glasses can also interfere with a good fit to the PPE gear.

OSHA estimates that eye injuries cost companies over $300 million annually between worker compensation, lost production time, and medical expenses. $300 million buys a lot of PPE.

As an employer the potential expense of injuries should be a big concern. But as humans we also suffer emotionally when we see each other maimed or killed. We think about their pain, we think about the suffering of their family, we're thankful it wasn't us, we're worried it will be us next time. Safe behavior has impacts that reach far beyond satisfying OSHA mandates.

But about OSHA compliance…

Okay, but we do still have to worry about OSHA compliance, and OSHA has a lot of regulations when it comes to eye protection. The basic rule is: the company must provide a safe atmosphere for employees and if PPE is necessary to this end, then the employer must provide it. Workers must wear protective eye gear with side shields when there is a hazard from flying fragments, objects, large chips, or particles. The lenses must be designed to resist moderate impact from flying pieces. Goggles are available which prevent fogging or seal effectively against the wearer's face and prevent chemicals from splashing into eyes. There are also goggles and glasses which protect against optical radiation or other light hazards. If the worker will be bending down during the course of the task, headband temples--with a stretchy strap that is pulled behind the head--will assure that the glasses are secured.

Do we need protective eyewear?

A hazard assessment (29 CFR 1910.132(d)) should be conductedto determine the level of risk to the eyes and face. Assess for the following potential factors: particle "shrapnel" impact, heat, optical radiation, chemicals, dust. Some of these risks may necessitate additional safety measures such as welding glasses, protective respiratory gear, or dust controls when appropriate. The employer must provide gear or other solutions to protect employees against the highest level of each hazard (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I App B).

I don't need goggles, I use a face shield

Face shields are a terrific preventative from flying particles hitting the face or entering the mouth/nose, but it's considered—in fact, defined by OSHA—insufficient protection for the eyes. Face shields should be worn in conjunction with eye protection, not instead.

If workers aren't wearing appropriate protection, you can yell and scream and train but the problem might be as simple as one of the ones listed above, so it pays to ask why they're not wearing them so the root issue can be eliminated. Or you can always go with emailing scary YouTube videos of poor saps that should have been wearing PPE but were not, and paid the price.

I have my own PPE I'd prefer to use

OSHA is okay with this but it's the employer's responsibility to assure that the PPE will provide sufficient protection, and to make sure that it's properly maintained. And employees cannot be forced to provide PPE at their own expense; it is the employer's ultimate responsibility to make sure their employees are provided with appropriate safety gear. And OSHA doesn't consider Plan: Scary YouTube Videos to be sufficient, so you'll really need to do some PPE shopping.