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?