Let us pose a simple question: why is vision the only sense we do not test for in the safety and health arena on a regular basis?

Most employers rely on a pre-employment visual test or just look at the driver’s license to see if restrictions are needed. This is a poor practice.

In America, most states only test central visual acuity and have no requirements for peripheral vision. Most jobs require a normal field of vision or a ‘useful field of view’. Prison guards in some states, however, must be able to see the whole room, to prevent an inmate from coming up and ‘blind siding’ the guard.

Have you ever considered the useful field of view for your jobs?

Visual acuity is only testing the writing on the Snellen chart. There are other forms of acuity which determine your ability to line up bars or parallel lines. Do your employees read gauges or micrometers?

Contrast is important in determining if a flat surface is rippled or pitted. Do you know if your employees can perform the inspections you ask them to conduct?

Depth perception tells you how far away an object is, and you need both eyes for good depth perception. Do you know if your crane operators or forklift operations have depth perception problems?

Glaucoma, cataracts, strokes, diabetes all can affect vision and with an ageing population there are individuals in many workplaces with serious vision problems that affect their productivity, quality and most of all their own safety and the safety of others. Frighteningly they hide these conditions from employers and sometimes, family members.

How many accidents have you investigated where the employee said that the object or person “came out of nowhere”, or “one minute the coast was clear and the next instant it was not.”

The cost of an eye test is relatively inexpensive yet the cost of a collision with injuries can run into vast sums. So let me ask you again, why aren’t you testing the vision of drivers of vehicles, forklifts, cranes, inspectors, electricians, quality control agents, control room personnel or office employees?

Types of injury

Each day about 2000 American workers have a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment. About one third of the injuries are treated in hospital emergency departments and more than 100 of these injuries result in one or more days of lost work.

The majority of these injuries result from small particles or objects striking or abrading the eye. Examples include metal slivers, wood chips, dust, and cement chips that are ejected by tools, wind blown, or fall from above a worker. Some of these objects penetrate the eyeball and result in a permanent loss of vision. Large objects may also strike the eye/face, or a worker may run into an object causing blunt force trauma to the eyeball or eye socket.

Chemical burns to one or both eyes from splashes of industrial chemicals or cleaning products are common. Thermal burns to the eye occur as well. Among welders, their assistants, and nearby workers, UV radiation burns (welder’s flash) routinely damage workers’ eyes and surrounding tissue.

In addition to common eye injuries workers in some occupations may be at risk of acquiring infectious diseases via ocular exposure. Infectious diseases can be transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eye as a result of direct exposure (e.g. blood splashes, respiratory droplets generated during coughing or suctioning) or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects. The infections may result in relatively minor conjunctivitis or reddening/soreness of the eye or in a life threatening disease such as HIV, B virus, or possibly even avian influenza.

Protection criteria

Engineering controls should be used to reduce eye injuries and to protect against ocular infection exposures. Personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full face respirators must also be used when an eye hazard exists.

The eye protection chosen for specific work situations depends on the nature and extent of the hazard, the circumstances of exposure, other protective equipment used, and personal vision needs. Eye protection should be fitted to an individual or adjustable to provide appropriate coverage. It should be comfortable and allow for sufficient peripheral vision. Selection of protective eyewear appropriate for a given task should be made based on a hazard assessment of each activity, including regulatory requirements when applicable.

Training for health

You’ve probably trained your workers on how to keep their eyes safe from injury on and off the job. But have you also educated employees on how to keep their eyes healthy? In America, March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month and the Prevent Blindness America (PBA) organisation has some great tips you can share with your workforce.

1 Don’t smoke. PBA reports that not smoking – or quitting smoking – can lower people’s risk for eye problems, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and glaucoma. Not smoking is especially important if a person is diabetic, because it can reduce the risk of getting diabetic-related eye problems.

2 Eat a healthy diet. Studies have shown that zinc, vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene can reduce the risk for AMD. Caution your workers, however, to check with their doctors before adding vitamins to their diets. Other studies report that dark green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, may also reduce the risk of getting AMD. Furthermore, healthy eating can lower the risk of developing diabetes, which is a risk factor for developing glaucoma.

3 Live an active lifestyle. Regular exercise and activity promotes overall good health and keeps people from developing conditions that can lead to eye disease, such as diabetes. Again, caution workers to consult with their doctors before starting exercise programmes.

4 Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase the risk for glaucoma. And for those with diabetes, high blood pressure increases the risk for disease-related eye problems.

5 Protect your eyes from the sun. Remind workers that they don’t just need to protect their skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays, they also need to protect their eyes. PBA recommends wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that absorb 99 to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B rays.

Sprinkling occasional wellness training sessions into your usual safety training calendar can help your workforce stay healthy and alert to potential problems. Checklist for eye safety

1 Create a safe work environment • Minimise hazards from falling or unstable debris • Make sure that tools work and safety features (machine guards) are in place • Make sure that workers (particularly volunteers) know how to use tools properly • Keep bystanders out of the hazard area

2 Evaluate safety hazards • Identify the primary hazards at the site • Identify hazards posed by nearby workers, large machinery, and falling/shifting debris

3 Wear the proper eye and face protection • Select the appropriate Z87 eye protection for the hazard • Make sure the eye protection is in good condition • Make sure the eye protection fits properly and will stay in place

4 Use good work practices • Caution – brush, shake, or vacuum dust and debris from hardhats, hair, forehead, or the top of the eye protection before removing the protection • Do not rub eyes with dirty hands or clothing • Clean eyewear regularly

5 Prepare for eye injuries and first aid needs

• Have an eye wash or sterile solution on hand

Author Details:

Cynthia Roth has been a professional in the ergonomics industry since 1987.

In 1993 she co-founded Ergonomic Technologies Corp, (ETC), where currently she is the Chairperson of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. She has lectured to the Fortune 500 Companies in the US and abroad and to many international companies. Ms Roth lectures on safety, ergonomics, product designs, future trends, motivating employees, and biomechanics to top engineering universities and colleges around the world.

Ms Roth was elected to the Board of the American Society of Safety Engineers Foundation (ASSEF), served as Vice Chair and Chair and currently serves on the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Council on Professional Affairs. She has also been appointed as a permanent member of New York State’s Commission on International Trade and has travelled to Brazil, Argentina and Chile on behalf of the State of New York. Ms Roth is a member of the

NYC Advisory Board to the Mayor and has also served as a consultant to the Department of Labor, OSHA, Occupational Hazards and CTD News. She represents University of Pittsburgh, as a board member to Fiat Pax (using technology for world peace).

Ms Roth is a published author having written the chapter on Ergonomics for Maynard’s Industrial Engineering Handbook, used by the majority of engineering students worldwide, and wrote the Handbook on Ergonomics for the National Safety Council.

Ms Roth received a degree from the University of Pittsburgh as a professional registered nurse with specialties in Occupational Nursing and Biomechanics.

She also completed postgraduate work at Cornell University in Labour Relations/Industrial Management.

Cynthia L Roth, CEO, Ergonomic Technologies Corp (ETC)

T: 516.682.8558 ext.21 E: [email protected] W: www.ergoworld.com


Published: 01st Apr 2011 in Health and Safety International