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City and town employees encounter a number of risks on a daily basis. These risks can result in severe and costly injuries. One type of common injury to members of the SC Municipal Insurance Trust, the Association sponsored workers' compensation program, is eye injuries. In the last five years, approximately 380 employees sustained eye injuries with total costs of $284,000. In order to raise awareness about eye injuries, October is recognized as eye injury prevention month.

Like most injuries, many eye injuries are preventable. Eye injuries usually occur due to wearing inadequate, or in some cases, no personal protective equipment. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration defines personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as "PPE", as equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. These injuries and illnesses may result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards. Personal protective equipment may include items such as gloves, safety glasses and shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, vests and full body suits. Pre-use inspections on PPE should be conducted to include all eye and face protection. All safety glasses should be ANSI Z87.1 rated eyewear.

"In order to avoid preventable injuries, it is important for every municipal employee to be their own risk manager," said Heather Ricard, the Municipal Association of SC's director of Risk Management Services.

Employees can take several steps to avoid eye injuries:

  • Avoid distractions-pay attention to the tasks at hand and potential hazards.
  • Pay attention to peripheral vision-this helps monitor and scan activity going on around employees.
  • Rely on senses-sight, hearing, smell and touch are critical to identifying hazardous situations and avoiding catastrophes.
  • Report unsafe conditions.
  • Keep tools and equipment in good working order.
  • If using lawnmowers, edger's or other lawn maintenance equipment, make sure the area is free of debris to avoid any flying debris.
  • Use full face protection to reduce eye and face hazards. Eye and face protection is required 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 is important to avoid eye injuries. OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard requires the development and dissemination of such information. The communications should include:

  • Hazard classification: provides 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: these have 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 mitigate hazards from chemicals, OSHA recommends the following prevention methods, listed in order of effectiveness:

  • Eliminate harmful chemicals, and/or substitute with safer alternatives.
  • Establish physical engineering controls in the workplace to reduce, minimize or even eliminate employee's 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, eye and full face protection.
  • Have an eyewash and shower available within 25 feet, with no doorways or stairwells, as required by the Safety Data Sheets.

"Employees are the most valuable assets of any municipality," said Ricard. "Eye safety is an important component of overall employee well-being." 

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 more information on eye injury protection and OSHA standards, contact the risk management loss control staff of the Municipal Association, www.osha.gov, or scosha.llronline.com.