July 9, 2020

How to help workers protect their eyesight in all condition

It finally feels like summer in Colorado — and the Old Farmer's Almanac predicts the remainder of the 2020 Colorado summer will be a hot one. As the peak heat of July and August is finally here, your workers' well-being is likely top of mind. After all, keeping them safe means that they can successfully do their jobs — thus warding off workers' comp claims.

You've kept them hydrated and drenched in sunblock, but there's one part of sun safety you might have overlooked (pardon the pun): eye protection.

Don't feel the burn

Colorado workers may be particularly prone to eye ailments. First, the high altitude in Colorado can exacerbate eye issues: The National Center for Biotechnology Information found both long- and short-term effects, such as high-altitude retinopathy, change in corneal thickness and photokeratitis in the short-term, and the potential for cataracts and dry-eye syndrome over time.

And UV radiation can reflect off water, concrete, sand, snow and any other light-colored surface, which can cause harmful rays to burn your eyes, just like they burn your skin. Such exposure to UV radiation can damage the eye's surface tissue, cornea and lens, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

With many of Colorado's workers — from construction, oil and gas workers to maintenance crews and more — toiling outside, it's particularly important for employers here to provide appropriate eyewear. Whether at work or play, here are some ways that you can share the importance of eye safety.

Make eye health and safety education a priority

Keeping your workers' eyes safe from the sun is an ongoing effort. Here are some ways to educate your workforce on eye health and safety best practices.

  1. Ensure workers have proper eyewear. Each task performed by your employees could have different eye protection requirements. For example, some might need protection from flying dust, particles or debris, while others might require protection from liquid, chemical splash or irritating mists. However, every worker exposed to the sun should wear UV-absorbent sunglasses (eye protection) that block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB radiation to protect their eyes. To discover more about eyewear standards and ensure that you are in compliance, visit the American National Standards Institute website. Additional background on eyewear can be found on the Occupational Health and Safety Administration website. A hat is a smart addition to their "uniform" as well; the best choice is a wide-brim hat, rather than a baseball cap, as it protects not only the eyes but also the neck, ears, forehead, nose and scalp from sunburn.
  2. Hold manager trainings. Your on-site managers have a wide variety of safety protocols to attend to — and eye health and safety should be an integral part of their focus. Educate managers on the importance of proper eyewear and remind them to set a good example by wearing it themselves.
  3. Communicate regularly and in a variety of forms. Whether your company prefers to communicate via email, newsletter, text message or a combination of the preceding, be sure to provide your staff with regular reminders about your sun safety protocol. You might send a morning text message reminding them to drink plenty of water and also cover up — both their skin and eyes — and then post reminders in prominent places so they can see the message repeated throughout the day.  Think conspicuous spots, such as the break room, your company trucks, the restroom … anywhere they won't miss it.
  4. Involve workers' families. Your top priority is to send your employees home safe each day to their families — and sometimes a simple reminder of why safety is important is all you need to gain better compliance from your workforce. Here's an idea: Send a funny pair of sunglasses home with each employee and encourage them to take a photo of their partner, kids, pet or other loved ones wearing them. Then have them print the picture or use it as their screensaver so sun safety stays top of mind, along with their loved ones. You can even have them post the fun photos to your company's social media sites if that fits within your company culture. Bonus: Turn this into a contest in which the winner gets a prize for the most creative photo entry.
  5. Offer incentives for compliance. The best reward, of course, is healthy eyes. But sometimes workers need a little more to help them get into the habit. Consider handing out icy cold bottles of water or frozen fruit pops during site spot checks or entering each employee sporting appropriate eyewear into a drawing for a small prize each week or month.

For more information, check out sun health and safety resources such as Pinnacol Assurance's sun-safety infographic and the Sun Safe Colorado at Work website.