The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 15, 2013

Protect eyes, ears at work

By Judy Rupp, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

— Your job is important to you, and you want to do it well and efficiently. Sometimes though, you’re tempted to forget about those strict regulations requiring goggles and ear plugs.

Don’t even think about it — eye and ear injuries in the workplace are common, often causing long-term or permanent damage. The regulations are there for your protection, and ignoring them even for a short period would be very short-sighted.    

POTENTIAL EYE HAZARDS include: projectiles, such as dust, wood chips, metal shavings, concrete; molten metals that could splash and injure your eyes; acids and other chemicals; blood and other bodily fluids that could spray or splatter, putting you at risk of an infectious disease; intense light such as that from lasers or welding that can cause severe damage to the eyes.    

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers make sure that each employee has eye and face protection any time they could be exposed to any of those hazards.    

But it’s also up to you to take the proper precautions. 1) Conduct your own assessment of the potential eye hazards in your workplace. 2) Try to eliminate them before you begin to work. 3) Use the eye protection provided by your employer.    

Prescription safety glasses with side shields provide the minimal level of protection. They are good for general low-risk situations to protect against dust, chips or flying particles.    

Goggles are the next level of protection and can be worn over regular glasses or contact lenses. Goggles should be in place any time there is a possibility of a chemical splash or spray. They also protect against high impact from any direction, providing a secure shield around the entire eye. It’s crucial, though, for goggles to fit properly and be free of scratches, cracks and other defects that could weaken them.    

Full-face shields and helmets offer even greater safety. They protect against chemicals, heat and bloodborne infectious organisms, as well as impact and flying particles. Welders and persons working around lasers are also required to wear shields and safety glasses.    

Contact lenses are not necessarily ruled out in workplaces where there is a risk of eye injury. When hazardous chemicals or fumes are present, though, it’s best to ask your eye professional about the risks of wearing contacts.    

PROTECT YOUR EARS: Hearing loss is usually gradual and painless; as a result, it’s easy for workers to ignore or deny. Yet, hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States. More than two-thirds of cases involve hazardous noise levels.    

When noise is too loud, it damages and kills nerve endings in the inner ear. The amount and degree of damage depends not only the loudness of the noise, but also the  exposure over time.    

Noise levels are measured in decibels or dB(A). A normal conversation is about 60 decibels, while a lawnmower, shop tools or truck traffic register about 90 dB(A). Exposure to 85 decibels over an extended period will cause a gradual, permanent hearing loss for most individuals. With louder levels, the damage will be quicker and greater.    

The most important thing to do is to reduce noise at the source. When the level cannot be brought down below 85 decibels, yearly hearing tests are required for workers. When hearing losses are detected in either ear, the workers must be informed and told to wear hearing protectors.

Noise levels averaging more than 90 decibels during an eight-hour day require individual hearing protectors in the form of earplugs or earmuffs.    

Plugs are small inserts that fit into the outer canal; they must totally block the canal with an airtight seal. Muffs fit over the entire ear and are held in place by an elastic band. They too must form an airtight seal. Properly fitted, either type should reduce noise levels by 15-30 decibels.    

Neither protector will be effective, though, unless you have an airtight seal. If you don’t hear your own voice as noticeably louder and deeper when you’re wearing them, you don’t have your earplugs or earmuffs properly positioned.    

It’s also important to wear your hearing protection continuously throughout the day. An earmuff that gives 30 decibels of protection if worn continuously provides an average of only 9 decibels if removed for 60 minutes during the day.     

All of the above are more than just rules and regulations. They are safety measures that have been established as a result of injuries that could have been prevented — but weren’t.

Rupp is a certified information and referral specialist on aging for NODA Area Agency on Aging. Contact her at 237-2236.