When technician Frank Maier lost his right eye in a shop-related accident 36 years ago, the phrase “Personal Protective Equipment” (PPE) was a relatively new concept mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. He’d be the first to tell you though, that wearing eye, hand and ear protection while working in an automotive repair shop is critical.
“After my accident, I was operated on and the doctor saved my eye, but could not save my vision,” said Maier, now a manager and shop foreman at Holly Oak Towing & Service in Wilmington, DE. “I could not go out in sunlight because of the pain. Mostly I had to sit in a dark room. It hurt to watch TV.”
Still today, 36 years later, an automotive repair shop can be an accident waiting to happen if the proper safety precautions aren’t taken. According to a recent article from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), technicians “are more likely than the average worker to be injured” on the job, having ranked 14th in terms of the number of injuries and illnesses involving days off from work in 2005. In particular, injuries to the upper extremities accounted for 34.9% of injuries to technicians. Eye injuries made up 7.8% of injuries to techs compared with just 2.8% among all occupations. In addition, BLS found that almost 70% of the eye injuries studied occurred from falling or flying objects, or sparks striking the eye.
Surprisingly, the BLS reports that about three out of every five workers who suffered eye injuries were either not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident or wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job. To be effective, eyewear must fit properly and be designed to effectively protect workers while they work. It’s estimated that more than 90% of eye injuries are preventable with the use of proper safety eyewear.
Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970, often referred to as the General Duty Clause, requires an employer to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to his employees.” More specifically, OSHA regulations mandate that “protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.”
How can you make sure your shop is in compliance with federal and/state safety regulations?
Start by asking some questions posed by OSHA:
Have employees been trained on PPE procedures, i.e. which PPE is necessary for the task, when they need then and how to properly adjust them?
Are protective goggles provided and worn when there is any danger of flying particles or corrosive materials?
Are approved safety glasses required to be worn at all times in areas where there is a risk of eye injuries such as punctures, abrasions, contusions or burns?
Are protective gloves, aprons, shields or other means provided and required where employees could be cut or where there is reasonably anticipated exposure to corrosive liquids or chemicals?
Do you have an eye wash facility and a quick drench shower within the work area where employees are exposed to injurious corrosive materials?
Is protection against the effects of occupational noise exposure provided when sound levels exceed those of the OSHA noise standard?
These questions just scratch the surface of making sure your shop is a safe place to work for you and your employees. And each shop is different. At the shop Maier has worked at for the past 26 years, safety glasses are a must, gloves are provided, helmets are used during welding and an eyewash station is available on the shop floor. He says they are also contemplating a quick drench shower station.
As for Maier’s injury, it fortunately did not affect his ability to work on cars. But given the severe pain he suffered due to sensitivity to light, Maier eventually opted to have his right eye removed and his body rejected two different glass eyes he was fitted with. Maier gives this advice to technicians who don’t think a life-altering accident could ever happen to them: Try wearing an eye patch for a day; Maier has to wear one for the rest of his life.
For more information on PPE, including the full text of OSHA’s standards, visit www.osha.gov.
For the full BLS report, go to http://www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/print/sh20070521ar01p1.htm
Eye Wash Stations
In any environment where there is a risk of foreign bodies or chemicals getting into the eyes of staff, it is absolutely essential that the management of the facility do all that they can in order to maintain the highest levels of safety and protection for their employees.
Although any staff members who are in any way at risk of coming into contact with dangerous chemicals or loose grit and debris should wear appropriate safety goggles or safety glasses, accidents do happen, and having eye wash stations in place to deal with any eventuality will enable your staff to be protected. This will reduce your liability in the event of an accident, but more importantly, will do a great deal to minimize the chances of an employee suffering any long-term damage to their eyes as a result of an accident.
An eye wash station is a wall-mounted facility where all the equipment necessary to rinse debris or spray from the eyes is kept. All staff should be aware of its location and be fully trained in its proper use.
Regulations about the equipping of an industrial facility require that an eye wash station should be available within 10 seconds of the working area, and contain enough materials and water to allow for 15 minutes of continuous washing of the eyes. If a strong caustic agent or acid is being used in the workplace, the eye wash station should be immediately at hand in order to be sure to minimize the possibility of long-term damage in the event of an accidental spillage.
Choose an eye wash station that is highly visible in the workplace, and make sure that everyone is comfortable with how it works, and even how to open it. Seconds really do count in the case of an eye injury, so make sure that everyone knows what to do in the event of an accident.
Keeping the eye wash station completely stocked with the right eye wash solutions for your workplace is important. Generally, regular eye wash that you would find in a supermarket is unsuitable for the job at hand, and you need to invest in a proper eye wash solution for an industrial environment, as this will be chemically designed to offer the best protection for any victims of a spill. Check the levels in all of your workplace eye wash stations regularly. All in all, providing appropriate safety equipment in the workplace is a vital role for any employer, and is also a legal requirement. One way of being certain that your facility meets the various regulations that apply is to fully equip it with enough eye wash stations to protect the health of your staff in the event of an accident. Even if they are never needed, simply having them there will give employees a constant reminder of their own responsibility to work safely. Courtesy of Red Hill Supply.