Focus on care over compensation
22 September 2021
Eye protection can save an employee's eyesight; it can also save the employer hefty legal costs. Here, Peter Dumigan highlights the importance of care over compensation
IT WAS recently suggested on the website Legalexpert.co.uk that a successful claim for an eye injury that resulted in total blindness could produce compensation in excess of £200,000!1 Such a sum would be the ruin of some businesses in the current economic climate.
Late last year, the Euopean Statistics on Accidents at Work (ESAW), reported that in Europe, there are more than100,000 work-related eye injuries each year,2 of which 90% could be prevented by wearing the appropriate eye protection. While the cost of potential compensation claims for injuries are eye-watering to say the least, costs to business are also measured in employee down-time which is said by the organisation to be 1 to 3 days on average with an average ‘cost’ per eye injury calculated to be between £1400 and £2700.
ESAW also reported that the construction, transportation and storage, manufacturing, and agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors together accounted for 44% of all non-fatal accidents – including eye injuries. Non-fatal accidents were relatively common within manufacturing – 19%; wholesale and retail trade – 12.1%, construction – 11%, and human health and social work activities – 11%.
With regard to the provision of PPE to ensure the wellbeing and safety of employees at work, two pieces of legislation frame the manufacture and use of PPE: The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 stipulate that ‘Every employer shall ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to his employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health or safety while at work’. In addition, The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002 place a duty on what it describes as ‘responsible persons who put personal protective equipment (PPE) on the market’, to ensure that, first, the PPE must satisfy the basic health and safety requirements that are applicable to that type or class of PPE, and second, the appropriate conformity assessment procedure must be carried out on the product to independently validate its protection performance to qualify it for the CE mark which must appear on the product.
Certification of PPE for eye protection falls under the standard EN 166:2001 – it is the minimum required certification for eyewear. As a European Safety standard, EN 166 designates that when a piece of eyewear is EN166 certified it generally means that it is a piece of Safety Eyewear and therefore the technical industrial safety norm in Europe for eye protection. It applies to all types of individual protection for the eye which protects from hazards likely to cause injury – except for nuclear radiation, x-rays, laser emissions and infrared emitted by low temperature sources.
While face protection products such as safety glasses, masks and visors have all been brought into much sharper focus during the Covid-19 pandemic. They have long been critical components in the PPE framework that ensures wellbeing and safety at work. Sadly, accidents happen all the time, sometimes in the most innocuous situations that we might ordinarily take for granted, for example strimming the garden, jet washing the patio, cutting wood or drilling a wall.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, industrial and construction-related work has a much higher rate of facial injuries than any other with hazards many and varied. Impact injuries can be caused by flying objects such as stone or brick fragments, particles of dirt and dust, tiny pieces of metal and splinters caused through the use of hand tools and machinery. Some 70% of the eye injuries in the workplace are caused by flying debris or (small) particles.
Chemicals and extreme heat sources are also dangerous. Splashes, fumes, vapours and irritating mists can scald and burn while welding arcs, UV radiation and intense light can damage your eyes. That’s why the design and manufacture of safety glasses now has to be mindful of the environment in which wearers are working – even the level of exposure to bright sunlight. Don’t however take the view that ‘one product fits all’. A proper risk assessment will identify the degree to which a risk environment is hazardous and whether or not specialist eyewear and face protection products are needed, such as in heavier industrial environments or for instance when working with welding equipment.
The consequences of facial injuries are serious, some are potentially life-threatening. It's not just time off work and loss of pay as a result of short or long-term injuries, there’s the potential for something more significant. An injury can cause a lifetime of permanent disfigurement and loss of sight. Compensation claims aside, surely that a good enough reason for using safety eyewear all the time. That said, some people will always find a reason not to do so. Cheap eyewear products are ‘uncool’, they ‘fog up’ and are often unwearable because pressure, pinching and slipping points are a nightmare for users and the PPE ends up on top of workers' heads or in their pockets instead of over their eyes. That’s why the style of market-leading safety eyewear products is highly street-smart. But behind the good looks are key features and yet more safety standards that deliver the best-possible protection for wearers.
The best safety eyewear should be compliant with the essential requirements for health and safety (Regulation EU 2016/425, the specific requirements of which are EN166:2001 for Personal Eye Protection; EN170:2002 - for UV filters; EN172:1994 - Sunglare filters for industrial use. These standards relate to performance characteristics of the eyewear, specifically Optical Class, Mechanical Strength, Field of Use and Lens Type.
What to look for
Always ensure that product choice is based on an appropriate risk assessment to be satisfied that the product is suitable for the job it’s intended for. The most basic of safety eyewear should be ergonomically designed for comfort, fit and be robust enough to protect against small pieces of flying debris or dust. For outdoor use, look for specific products that protect against sun glare with photochromic or transition lenses.
Comfort, protection and fit are really important as are lightweight, durable materials to provide complete protection. Flexibility of design is also important for combined use with other PPE including ear defenders, safety helmets, and visors. Look for specially developed lens technology for impact-resistance plus anti-scratch and anti-fog coatings on both sides as well as styles that can be worn over prescription glasses.
Around the lens, ergonomic designs should incorporate practical features, such as a soft nose bridge and ‘adjustable temples’, which ensure the glasses stay in place and fit safely allowing you to keep a sharp focus all day long.
Peter Dumigan is managing director at Hultafors. For more information, visit www.hellbergsafety.com
2 ESAW – Euopean Statistics on Accidents at Work, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Accidents_at_work_statistics