We’ve all gotten dust in our eyes. It’s very common and typically inconsequential. But even the smallest particle can result in a huge accident. What’s at risk beyond particles easily flushed from the eyes (not even an OSHA recordable incident)? A lot. Consider what might happen to a lift operator in a warehouse. Pain can disorient him and cause his eyes to slam shut. Crashes into equipment, racking uprights, and other workers have resulted from something as simple as dust in an operator’s eyes.
Particles include dust, grime, and wood splinters off of pallets being moved from overhead rack positions. Paint chips and trace amounts of chemicals are other possibilities depending on what’s being handled. A couple of factors make lift operators susceptible to these sorts of issues: 1) operators have their gaze in the direction of particles that may be falling from overhead locations; and 2) dust on carried items tends to get stirred up when lifts are in motion.
Leaves blown and pollen from the hood of your car would end up in your eyes if not for the windshield. In this way–and it sounds funny saying it–lift operators can think of safety glasses as windshields for their eyes. I recommend safety glasses as minimum eye protection for lift operators, but not just any safety glasses.
There’s usually a gap between the brow of an operator’s face and the top edge of his or her safety glasses, which is less than ideal protection against small particles. The best safety glasses fit tight to the face and rest snugly on the nose. A range of different safety glass styles and sizes are available to suit most operators. Companies can also consider hybrid safety glasses that incorporate gasket-like features common to safety goggles.
Companies should provide a range of options to ensure a good fit and keep human nature at bay. If the glasses are uncomfortable, unstylish, fog-up, or slip down on the nose, they can be a nuisance to wear. It should come as no surprise when they are not being worn. Forming a tight seal to the face increases the likelihood of fogging from eye moisture, especially when operators will be transitioning in and out of climate-controlled areas. When fogging is an issue, companies may choose glasses with anti-fog coatings or experiment with anti-fog cleaning solutions.
Lift operators have precious little depth perception in their peripheral field of focus. What we see where we aren’t primarily focused can be VERY important. Seeing inattentive workers and vehicle cross-traffic may be something that happens out of the corners of an operator’s eyes. Smart companies do everything in their power to preserve a lift operator’s peripheral vision, including offering their operators high-quality distortion-free safety glass options.
Lens tint is yet another item to consider. I tend to side against dark shade values unless operation will be exclusively in areas with all-glare and no-shadow concerns, such as in an outdoor lot. And while photochromic (auto-darkening) lenses have gotten MUCH better over the past decade or so, there’s still that brief moment transitioning from dark trailers and brightly lit outdoor dock areas when the tint isn’t quite right. It should be noted that times when lifts cannot be seen well (other side of a rollup door, inside of a trailer) are times when lift operators MUST see well.
Something that starts out as small as a speck of dust can become a very real issue to contend with in warehouse environments. Failure to adequately assess hazards and provide adequate protective equipment (the likely citation if a violation were to be issued) did not even make it onto the top ten warehouse regulatory violations list. In my opinion, this suggests that workplace health and safety should focus on mitigating risk as much or more than just ensuring compliance with regulations.