Derek Bosch was removing a kitchen backsplash when a small piece of ceramic flew into his eye. Thinking it was a minor injury, he went home and got some sleep.
“The next morning, I couldn’t open my eye,” explains Bosch. “I tried to open it but everything was a blur. When I got to the optometrist, I found out that the cornea in my right eye had been sliced.”
Bosch was clinically blind in his right eye for over a week. Off work for three weeks and without any income, the small business owner wondered if he would ever see again and whether or not his career was over.
Bosch had been wearing safety glasses at the time of the incident but they had slid down his nose as he worked, leaving his eyes unprotected.
Stories like Bosch’s aren’t uncommon. According to CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind), 700 Canadian workers sustain eye injuries on the job every day.
Dr. Tom Wilk, optometrist and owner of Mountain View Optometry, knows this first hand. His office treated Bosch’s corneal abrasion back in 2016.
“Most of the cases we see are related to corneal foreign bodies – specs of metal that get wedged in the cornea,” explains Dr. Wilk. “Our office in Cochrane also sees some blunt-force trauma injuries caused by large farm animals. Overall though, most of these accidents are preventable,” says Dr. Wilk.
Bosch believes his accident was preventable.
“I wasn’t wearing the right type of safety eyewear,” he says. “I should have been wearing goggles or had a strap on my glasses to prevent them from sliding down on my nose. Honestly though, I’m not surprised these accidents happen. Everyone on a site has safety glasses, but often they are on their hard hats – not on their face.”
Some of the reasons why workers skip the safety glasses? They hate layering safety glasses over their regular glasses, they were given standard safety glasses that don’t fit right, they ordered their glasses online and they are uncomfortable, they feel like they look ridiculous wearing their safety glasses, or they want sun protection that their safety glasses don’t have.
A 2009 study comprised of 51 participants published in Accident Analysis & Prevention states that “Lack of comfort/fit, and fogging and scratching of the eyewear were suggested as the most important barriers to PPE usage.”
Improving “comfort/fit” and “style/choice” were listed as some of the top suggestions made by participants to increase the wear of safety eyeglasses.
That’s where programs like Eyesafe, a non-profit prescription safety eyewear program administered by the Alberta Association of Optometrists, come in handy.
The program has been providing occupational safety eyewear for over 50 years and works with employers of all sizes across the province in managing their employee safety prescription eyewear requirements.
“When a company contacts us to join Eyesafe, we meet with them to find out what their company safety eyewear policy requires,” says Al Amarshi, director of Eyesafe. “We’ll also ensure that their policy meets Alberta OH&S standards to ensure they meet the necessary safety requirements. All data is entered into a web portal, which managers or employees can access to generate a ticket that they can take to one of 500 optometrists across the province. The job ticket specifies a company’s policies on frames, lenses and approved coatings, which means employees will always get the right kind of safety eyewear.”
There is no cost for companies to sign up for the program, and because Eyesafe orders thousands of pairs of safety eyeglasses per year, they’re able to offer deeply discounted prices to their clients. The program currently boasts a wide selection of safety frames from vendors like OnGuard, ArmouRx, Honeywell Uvex Rx and WileyX.
Many group benefit providers offer an option to cover the cost of prescription safety eyewear.
While some employers may choose to pay for the entire cost of the glasses, others co-share with their employees. Eyesafe is working towards including employer group benefit plans in the program so that employees can direct bill if they are paying for a portion of the glasses.
Vince Anderson is a health, safety and emergency management specialist with the City of Medicine Hat. The city has worked with Eyesafe for over 10 years.
“In addition to being a cost-effective solution, the Eyesafe program is quite practical for employees,” says Anderson. “It’s so easy for staff to choose the optometrist of their choice, choose their frames and build in their prescription. I’ve yet to meet an employee who wasn’t pleased with the program.”
When an employee starts a new role at the City of Medicine Hat, a hazard assessment is performed. If the employee is found to need safety eyewear, they are given a ticket which allows them to visit one of 500 Eyesafe optometrists where they will receive an eye exam and obtain a pair of safety glasses.
“Even if the employee doesn’t need a prescription, we allow them to participate in the Eyesafe program,” explains Anderson. “We want all of our employees to be able to choose the frame they want and the frame that fits best. By allowing them to infuse their own style into their frames, they are more likely to comply to workplace safety requirements and wear their safety glasses.”
Employees are responsible for taking care of their safety glasses. Should they break, damage or lose them due to a non-work related occurrence, they are responsible for replacing them.
“It’s an added incentive for employees to take good care of their safety glasses,” says Anderson.
Meanwhile, back at Dr. Wilk’s office, he’s busy fitting a landscaper with the right fitting safety glasses.
“Some workers will swap their safety eyewear for sunglasses while working outside thinking it will offer them some protection,” explains Dr. Wilk. “In fact, non-safety certified sunglasses can be a liability. Photochromic safety glasses can also be a good option allowing employees to transition from inside to outside without having to remove or put on their safety glasses.
“Whether an individual has a prescription or not, visiting an optometrist is a good idea. Safety glasses should be a perfect fit. Optometrists who partner in the Eyesafe program carry multiple safety frames and lenses. They can help you find the frame that fits the curvature, size and structure of your face and provide advice on the type of lens that’s right for you. You can’t try safety glasses online so it’s a bit of a gamble as to whether or not the frame dimensions will work for your eyes and whether or not they’ll be too tight or pinch your nose.”