Tips for Conducting an Eye Safety Toolbox Talk with Construction Workers
By: Maureen Paraventi
Thousands of eye injuries occur every day in U.S. workplaces – many of them in the construction industry, which has one of the highest eye injury rates. Particles of dust, wood chips, slag and drywall, cement chips, metal slivers, nails, staples and other objects can be blown by the wind, dropped by a co-worker above or ejected from a tool. They can strike, scrape or penetrate eyes, causing serious injuries, and — in worst case scenarios — a permanent loss of vision. Even minor eye injuries can result in lifelong vision problems and suffering. A simple scratch from sawdust, for instance, can lead to recurrently painful corneal erosion.
A 15 to 30-minute discussion can help prevent painful, costly and potentially life-changing incidents at your worksite. Not sure where to start or what to say in an eye safety toolbox talk?
Here are some suggestions for you, based on recommendations from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):
- Ask if anyone has ever had an eye injury or knows someone who did. Have them describe the injury event. Solicit ideas for how it could have been avoided. This gets workers involved and engaged. Mention how the two most common causes of vision loss in construction occur are hammering on metal (which gives off metal slivers) and the rebounding of ordinary nails.
- Identify the jobs, tools and areas at your worksite that pose the most danger to eyes. These may include:
- Hammering, grinding, sanding and masonry work that produces particles
- Handling chemicals may lead to splashes in the eye
- Wet or powdered cement which can cause a chemical burn
- Welding, which potentially exposes welders, helpers and bystanders to arcs and flashes of intense UV radiation
- Dusty or windy conditions
- Simply passing through an area where work is being performed
- Coworkers who are performing tasks nearby or above other workers
- Talk about ways for both management and workers to reduce eye hazards, such as engineering controls (i.e., machine guards that prevent the escape of particles or welding curtains for arc flash protection); administrative controls (making certain areas “off limits” unless that is someone’s work assignment area); and the proper protective eyewear.
- Have a frank discussion about whether or not workers are wearing the necessary eye protection when they need to wear it. There will likely be a range of responses, as in: never, sometimes, usually or always. The most common answer given by construction workers with eye injuries when asked why they weren’t wearing safety glasses: “I didn’t think that I needed it!”
- Describe what’s available to workers in terms of non-prescription and prescription eye protection: safety glasses, clear or tinted goggles, face shields, welding helmets and full-face type respirators that meet the ANSI Z87.1 Eye and Face Protection Standard.
- Specify when and for what tasks workers should wear eye protection that has side shields and when they should wear goggles, face shields and welding helmets. Side shields, for instance, are required any time that there are hazards from flying particles or objects. Goggles are used for higher impact protection, greater particle protection, chemical splashes and welding light protection. Face shields are used during spraying, chipping and grinding, and should always be worn over safety glasses or goggles, because particles can easily go around a face shield and into an eye.
- Talk about the importance of a proper fit. Do the safety glasses fit snugly against the face? Do they tend to slide down the nose? Are there gaps between the eye protection and the face can may expose the eye to hazards? (The biggest gaps are usually near the corners of the glasses.) Fit issues can often be addressed by choosing different sizes and styles and using straps to help hold the glasses in the proper position. A strap will also let the glasses hang around a worker’s neck when not in use, making it convenient to don again when needed.
- Because workers may want to remove eye protection that is uncomfortable, let them know about features that can improve comfort, such as hard or soft nose pieces and padded temples.
- Explain ways to prevent fogging, which can create dangerous circumstances by hindering someone’s ability to see clearly. Provide workers with safety glasses that have anti-fog coatings and with anti-fog solutions they can apply to the lenses, as needed. Suggest that a sweat band be worn on the forehead or a cool rag be placed in a hard hat, to minimize sweat.
- Make clear the company policy as regards to wearing of eye protection:
- When it must be worn
- How and wear workers can get safety glasses, and replacements – when they need them
- What someone should do if they go to a workstation and the eye protection that usually hangs by a power tool is missing
- What the company’s enforcement process is
Keep workers on the job and free from debilitating eye injuries by holding regular toolbox talks to remind them of specific hazards and to reinforce the need for them to wear appropriate and well-fitting eye protection. WMHS
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