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Protective Equipment Safeguards Employees and Municipalities

​Between police, fire and public works services, city and town employees can face potentially hazardous situations every day — circumstances that can cause severe and costly injuries.

Eye injuries are a common injury type for members of the SC Municipal Insurance Trust, the Municipal Association of South Carolina's sponsored workers' compensation program. In the last five years, about 380 employees sustained eye injuries, with a total cost of $284,000.

Eye injuries usually occur when employees wear inadequate personal protective equipment, known as PPE, or when employees wear no equipment at all. For eyes, PPE typically takes the form of safety glasses or goggles, but PPE also includes gloves, shoes, earplugs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, vests and even full body suits. They are all designed to prevent contact with workplace hazards, including physical, chemical, electrical, mechanical or radiological hazards, and all of them should be made to comply with an appropriate regulatory standard. In the case of safety glasses, all glasses used should meet the American National Safety Standards Institute's Z87.1 standard.

"Avoiding preventable injuries means that all municipal employees need to be able to serve as their own risk managers," said Heather Ricard, the Municipal Association's director of risk management services.

For eye injuries, she pointed to several steps employees can take:

  • Avoid distractions and pay attention to both the task and its hazards.
  • Don't ignore peripheral vision when working — use it to help monitor nearby activity.
  • Rely on the senses of sight, hearing, smell and touch as appropriate to recognize hazards.
  • Report all unsafe conditions.
  • Keep all tools and equipment in good working order.
  • When maintaining lawns with mowers or edgers, check for debris that could be sent flying outward beforehand.
  • Use full face protection to reduce eye and face hazards. Eye and face protection is critical when using a grinder, spark-causing tools, molten metal and liquid chemicals.

For those employees working with chemicals, understanding the identities and hazards of chemicals used is critical to avoid eye injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Hazard Communication Standard requires employers to provide communications sharing chemical information with employees. The communications should include several elements:

  • Hazard classification, with specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures.
  • Labels – chemical manufacturers and importers must provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Precautionary statements must also be provided.
  • Safety data sheets with a specified 16-section format.
  • Information and training: Employers are required to train workers on the label elements and safety data sheets format to facilitate recognition and understanding.

To help control hazards from chemicals, OSHA recommends these methods, given in order of effectiveness:

  • Eliminate harmful chemicals or substitute with safer alternatives.
  • Establish physical engineering controls in the workplace to reduce, minimize or even eliminate employees' contact with hazardous chemicals.
  • Rotate shifts to make sure no employee is overexposed.
  • Make sure all affected employees use personal protective equipment, such as chemical resistant gloves as well as eye and full face protection.
  • Have an eyewash and shower available within 25 feet, with no doorways or stairwells, as required per the safety data sheets.

"Employees are the most valuable assets of any municipality, and eye safety is a critical part of their well-being," Ricard said. "The most important goal of employee safety is to make sure all employees come home at the end of the day, unharmed and safe."

For further information on eye injury protection and OSHA standards, contact the risk management loss control staff of the Municipal Association of South Carolina at losscontrol@masc.sc, or find more resources at www.osha.gov or scosha.llronline.com.