Eye safety campaign – a good start but shortsighted on safety

On 19 May 2010, the Optometrists Association Australia (OAA) launched a national eye safety campaign.  This campaign is worthwhile but illustrates some of the shortcomings of this type of campaign.

The OAA media release states:

“Sixty per cent of all eye injuries happen at work, .. warn optometrists who are urging every workplace to put eye safety procedures in place as part of a new national campaign.

Optometrists Association Australia (OAA) and HOYA Lens Australia will launch ‘Eye accidents change lives forever’ a comprehensive workplace eye safety campaign this week.” [links added]

The need for eye safety procedures is clear but the recommended action is too narrow.  The entire focus of the campaign is to increase awareness of eye hazards and to increase the usage of safety eyewear.  There is no focus on the reduction of the hazard itself, just the protection of the worker’s eyes.

OAA paraphrases Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC) data which says:

“Most workplace eye injuries happen within the construction, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining industries..and often occur during grinding and welding related tasks.”

Any outdoor work will subject workers to a range of environmental eye hazards, dust, dirt, sharp edges….. and many of these hazards are difficult to control.  Mining, agriculture and other industries often have safety eyewear as a mandatory part of the work uniform.

Eye hazards associated with welding and grinding are often best controlled through the installation of guarding or screens depending on the task and its location.  Most competent welders would never consider welding without the presence of a suitable mask, if not for safety reasons, simply because one cannot see what one’s welding without some sort of tinted eyewear.

The ASCC data mentioned above also states, in its executive summary:

“Not surprisingly, many of the eye injuries occurred when the person was not wearing appropriate eye protection.  However, a considerable proportion of cases occurred when appropriate eye protection does appear to have been worn.  This suggests the need to examine the design of the safety eyewear and/or improve the training of workers so that they know how to properly wear the eye protection.”

In the discussion of the ASCC data, the ASCC says:

“There is no doubt that wearing eye protection dramatically decreases the risk of sustaining an eye injury at work.  Nevertheless, a surprisingly high proportion of eye injuries occur when the worker is apparently wearing eye protection in an appropriate manner.  This is particularly the case for persons using grinders and, to a lesser extent, people sustaining an injury while welding.”

This indicates that enforcement of the wearing of eyewear is just as important, if not more so, providing the eyewear in the first place.

One of the important issues with safety eyewear is that often one is simply handed a pair of goggles and told to put them on when entering a specified area.  Is the eyewear the right type for that person?  Does the wearer know when it is safe to remove them?  What if the goggles begin to fog up?  How should the eyewear be maintained?  When should the eyewear be replaced?  What are the issues concerning prescription safety eyewear?

The ASCC findings show that a lot more effort is needed to explain the use of safety eyewear.

One particular comment in the OAA media release seems questionable. The Optometrists Association Professional Services Manager, Shirley Loh says

“Workers often sustain eye injuries when walking by or helping others perform tasks without wearing any, or the appropriate, eye protection… It’s important that employers and employees work together to ensure eye safety procedures are in place and followed to prevent accidents.”

The first part of Loh’s comments is curious and OAA has been approached for clarification.  If workers are often injured “when walking by” a work task then a separation of pedestrians from the work area seems appropriate, either by a buffer or isolation distance or by a screen.  Assisting in a work task, perhaps welding or grinding, should apply the same safe work procedures as those that apply to the principal worker, screens, personal protective equipment (PPE), etc but more importantly the task should be assessed before being started to see if there is a safer way of doing the task that would not involve sharing the risk.

Some years ago, I was required to undertake first aid needs assessments of workplaces.  It quickly became apparent to me that what was needed was not first aid but an assessment of the work environment in order to reduce the chance of injury.  This is the reality of workplace safety and one which presents a considerable challenge for any organisation who promotes lower order hazard control measures such as PPE.

It is admirable that

“[OAA] members are preparing to go into workplaces to conduct vision screenings with employees.  The process will involve identifying and analysing visual hazards and determining ways to improve eye comfort in specific work settings.”

Any of these visits should be accompanied by a safety officer of the company,  a health and safety representative or someone who is so familiar with the work tasks and operations that they can identify the areas where safety eyewear is the only suitable control measure available, after an appropriate risk assessment of the work tasks has been undertaken.

The risk of applying a PPE control without identifying that this is the best control measure runs the risk of providing a business with a false sense of safety security.

The comment from Brad Bairstow, HOYA Lens Australia’s Sales and Marketing Director, is true:

“Occupational health and safety awareness is growing considerably in the community and we see our alliance with Optometrists Association as a key component in ensuring our industry is well-educated in the application of safety eyewear.”

But how much safer would workers be if the alliance also included an occupational health and safety association?

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

5 thoughts on “Eye safety campaign – a good start but shortsighted on safety”

  1. Wearing appropriate eye-wear during daily activities definitely will reduce eye injuries, as a safety and health officer, I fully agree with this statement. The protection of eye safety must also be extended to those who are taking up excessive sports activities such as playing football, basketball, badminton, etc. as these are also of high risk to their safety.

    Perhaps, in future, other than motionless position, all others actions need to be put on with appropriate eye-wear.

  2. Hello Kevin, thank you for the article, I never realized how important eye safety was until l reread your blog, I recently started working for Safety Glasses Today, and never realized how many safety glasses are actually also cool to wear, I guess l was always hesitant that they weren\’t cool looking, until ready your article. I think every business needs to provide safety glasses for their employee. Once again thankyou

  3. Thanks Kevin for drawing attention to our Eye Safety Campaign, which aims to increase awareness of eye safety amongst employers, employees and the health care industry. Unfortunately, our marketing manager was ill yesterday, so we were unable to get back to you before you posted your blog. I’m glad that you’ve pointed out things you would have liked to see in the campaign, because in fact our comprehensive resources cover everything you say.

    As you may be aware, our media release and brochure could only cover a limited number of messages. Your comment ‘The entire focus of the campaign is to increase awareness of eye hazards and to increase the usage of safety eyewear’ is incorrect. Our campaign very much focuses on looking at the big picture. You may have noticed that in our brochure, the first dot point under ‘Eye protection on the job’ is ‘Take a common sense approach to hazardous activities and work with your employer to eliminate and control potential eye hazards.’

    We have also developed a comprehensive 40 page guide for optometrists which covers many technical issues regarding eye safety, including OH&S policies and legislation, Australian Standards, inter-professional assessment and management of workplace eye safety, legal matters and communication. There is an emphasis on the OH&S hierarchy of control, which discusses the steps of hazard control: Eliminate, substitute, isolate, engineer, administer, and lastly, use personal protective equipment.

    The purpose of the campaign is for our members (optometrists) to be the messengers of the above information and other various resources we have developed for them. In this way, we hope the messages will reach businesses at a local level and have a real impact on workplace operations. As far as we know, this campaign is the first of its kind and we’re very excited to make progress in an area that has been overlooked in the past but is becoming increasingly important.

    1. Hi Kevin,
      Some updated information for you
      2020 Occupational and Optometry Guide from Optometry Australia so this is the latest information
      Also, a 2020 Vision Index report is available via Optometry Australia website

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