Optical dispensers can be influential in maintaining workplace safety and protecting the vision of workers through eyewear, ACOD director CHEDY KALACH explains.
When you hear the term ‘health and safety at work’, I assume you automatically think about your own workplace, staff or safety spectacles. As a dispensing optician there is more we can do in the realm of workplace safety for customers.
Eye injuries comprise 5-10% of reported lost time in the workplace. Many are preventable, caused by inappropriate use of equipment or lack of eye protection. Victims tend to be young and relatively inexperienced workers or experienced workers falling into poor habits. This increases costs to employers and healthcare systems and the injured employee can also suffer loss of future earning potential, due to the long-term effects of reduced vision.
Dispensing opticians are uniquely positioned to provide consulting and preventable services to maintain a safe workplace. In conjunction with optometrists, they can identify workplace hazards, analyse visual demands of workers and plan appropriate programs to provide safety eyewear, and monitor ocular health.
Firstly, the dispensing optician can perform a workplace survey and safety inspection, particularly focusing on oculo-visual hazard analysis. The safety inspection should focus on tasks, workplace areas that have the potential for ocular hazards, allowed limits of worker exposure, safe manual handling procedures and emergency measures. Even though mechanical/physical hazards comprise 70-80% of work-related injuries, and range in severity, other hazards could be chemical, optical radiation or ergonomic hazards, to name a few.
Physical hazards/foreign bodies are more common. They can vary from small superficial lacerations, ferrous foreign bodies causing possible siderosis (if left in), to deep permanent damage. Chemical hazards comprise approximately another 10% of eye injuries. These include vapours and fumes from volatile solvents or slash injuries from highly concentrated solutions. Optical radiation is more common during the summer, as solar exposure of just 20 minutes during 10am – 4pm may result in sunburn or mild photokeratitis. Chronic high level UVB retinal exposure in childhood may be a contributing factor of dry macular degeneration later in life.
Another hazard is inappropriate illumination in office spaces, or people working from home. As well as computer monitors and computer vision syndrome, the dispensing optician is in the ideal position to assist customers in correct ergonomics, lighting and the appropriate eyewear. You can ask the customer to download a luxmeter app on their smart phone to assess their workplace/home office illumination.
Home offices traditionally aren’t configured like office workplaces, lacking the same level of scrutiny to ensure worker safety. Nearly half of all eye injuries occur at home: will this statistic increase as more of the workforce work from home? Something else to consider for your customers when recommending eyewear.
For tasks with low contrast or small font, it is recommended to have 1000-2000 lux, while general lighting for an occasional visual task is 100-200 lux. Homes are usually 150 lux and dining rooms tend to be darker at about 25-50 lux. Are your customers working at the dining table?
Once you have a better understanding of workplace tasks, the visual standard needed, oculo-visual levels and illumination, you can start recommending relevant products. Think outside the products you usually supply to achieve the best holistic result for the customer – task lighting for example. On a side note, have they had a pre-employment assessment to ensure the workplace does not cause any harm?
Let’s put this together for a specific profession: healthcare workers. One needs to drill into the specific tasks for the profession and the person’s workplace. As part of the workplace survey, some ocular hazards may be: impact, splash of biological substances or chemical solutions, chemicals (drugs, disinfectant or cleaning materials), and optical radiations from medical lamps, lasers and, of course, any physical hazards present.
What are their specialised visual tasks? This could be reading coloured labels, small font, low contrast labels, indicator strips, utilising various digital devices, with different working distances, font sizes, screen sizes and illumination.
Considering this brief assessment, what products can be recommended? Obviously start with appropriate visual correction to ensure they can read at all working distances, including the small font. The client also requires specific spectacles to protect against splashes. Which leads to the next question, how often do you recommend safety glasses for healthcare workers?
By asking questions and taking an interest in your customers’ visual needs at home and work, can you then recommend appropriate solutions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chedy Kalach is a director of the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing. Since 2009 he has lectured throughout Australia and New Zealand across a variety of topics such as ophthalmic optics and business management. He is also the advisory board secretary of new dispensing network Optical Dispensers Australia.