Safety article by Harold Hough

Most would agree that eyesight is our most treasured sense. Yet, eyes are one of our most vulnerable organs. OSHA estimates that eye injuries alone cost more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and worker compensation. Fortunately, 90% of all eye injuries can be prevented with proper eye protection.

Eye protection has a long history, but not in the mining history. Soldiers were wearing eye protection back when Rome was a minor city on the Italian peninsula. It reached its zenith in the Middle Ages in the armored visor for knights. The sophisticated patterns of holes, slits and sloping armor not only protected eyes from swords, lances, and spears; they also diverted heavy blows to the face away from the skull.

Unfortunately, holes and slits in steel helmets didn’t work well in dark mines, so most miners risked their vision to flying rocks, smoke, and metal tools. Glass of the time wasn’t any help, because it was too brittle and more likely to cause more problems. It wasn’t until a little over a hundred years ago that shatter resistant glass made safety glasses a reality.

John Crane Woods, took the first step towards safety glasses when he patented the idea of bonding sheets of transparent cellulose nitrate, using Canadian balsam, between two sheets of glass. The product was expensive and marginal in protecting the eyes. In 1910, Edouard Benedictus, a French chemist patented laminated safety glass. He used gelatin and other adhesives instead of Canadian balsam in the laminated glass. During World War I, laminated glass was used to make small, round lenses in gas masks. By the 1940s, safety glasses and goggles were gaining popularity.

Despite the fact that safety glasses have been around for 70 years, about 2,000 workers have job related eye injuries that require medical treatment a day. Five percent of those lead to lost work time of over a day. Seventy-five percent happen to workers under 45. And, 80% of those accidents happen to men. Unfortunately, mining has one of the highest eye injury rates.

The type of eye protection depends on the type of risk. Safety glasses are the minimum level of protection for workplace hazards and may not provide enough protection to the worker. Safety glasses are generally good for protection against impact, but little else.

Safety glasses with side protection are needed when there is any risk of flying particles or objects like chips or dust. For those who want stylish safety glasses, there are wrap around safety glasses that look better and still protect against dust and particles. However, traditional safety glasses offer better protection from impact. Not only do they protect the eyes, they also help protect the upper face from injury. Combined with a safety hat, they provide nearly complete protection of the brain cavity.

However, safety glasses aren’t enough for many applications. Goggles are stronger protection for the eyes and protect the wearer from higher impacts, flying particles, chemical splashes, and welding. Face shields protect the whole face and are even better for impacts from faster or heavier items and splashes from dangerous chemicals. Welding helmets protect from the intense UV light of welding arcs and the splashes of hot metal.

However, it’s not enough to make sure each worker has protective eyewear. They also have to fit properly in order to be safe. Safety glasses that aren’t snug leave gaps in protection, especially around the edges. Projectiles coming from the side or below can easily slip past the glasses. Eyewear must also fit with any other safety gear like respirators. Good safety glasses are adjustable so they remain close to the face.

As with other personal safety gear, safety glasses must be comfortable or they will not be worn. Nose pieces, temple pads, and other features make them more comfortable and provide more cushioning and protection in case of an accident. A safety glass retainer strap also allows workers to let the glasses hang around their neck when not in use.

Safety glasses will not be worn if they hinder vision, so they must be cared for between uses. Polycarbonate lenses with anti-scratch protection are necessary to guarantee that they will not cloud up from scratches. They should be kept in a case when not in use, especially if they are stored in a tool kit. Your operation should keep eyeglass cleaning solution and soft clean disposable cloths in restrooms and break areas for workers to clean their glasses regularly. Anti-fogging solution should also be available where it is necessary.

Finally, be prepared to give first aid if there is an eye injury. Work areas need readily available eyewash stations with plenty of eyewash solution. If there is a speck in the eye, flush it out and see the doctor. If there is a cut, puncture or object in the eye, don’t wash, but see a doctor immediately. Chemical burns require constant flushing for 15 minutes or until you see the doctor. A blow to the eye should be treated with a cold compress to the eye, but no pressure. At plastic bag of crushed ice can be taped to the forehead so it rests gently on the injured eye.

Vision is a precious thing and basic precautions can keep your workers safe. Mine managers can help instill the right attitude by wearing eye protection whenever they go to work areas. They can also help by aggressively protecting their worker’s eyes. Buy the proper eye protection for them, make sure it is comfortable enough that they use it, and encourage them to wear it at all times. That will help guarantee that one of those 2,000 eye injuries a day won’t happen at your operation.