Of all the hazards faced as a forensic specialist, the one ubiquitous danger faced almost daily is hazard to the eyes. Whether in the field or working in the laboratory, eye hazards are always present and take many forms. Here is a typical scenario from down under:
A research worker was performing a routine procedure in the laboratory. The technique involved heating a glass pasteur pipette, stretching it out, and then quickly breaking off the tip to obtain a sharp end. Some fragments of glass hit the worker in the eye becoming lodged and causing some scratching of the cornea, resulting in a corneal ulcer. The worker was not wearing eye protection at the time of the incident. Several other people in the area who also performed the same operation did not usually wear safety spectacles or work behind safety screens.1
We hope that most laboratory professionals are familiar with basic eye protection, but how much training do forensic technicians get on this important issue? Did you know that about 2,000 eye injuries resulting in lost time away from work occur on the job every day?2,3 And here is a shocker, three out of five eye injuries are due to employees not wearing eye protection at all. There is no excuse for this. Do you or your workers realize that even “minor” eye injuries can cause long term vision problems and suffering? For example, that corneal scratch above can lead to corneal erosion and life-time recurring pain.
Forensic laboratories have their own unique eye hazards and eye protection should be worn at all times, even by visitors. It is not a question of when eye protection is needed, but what the correct type of safety eye wear is. When we look at those 2,000 injuries per day that require medical attention, besides not wearing eye protection many are also due to wearing the wrong type. So, what type of eye protection is appropriate for laboratory work? Or field investigations? Let’s see if we can help answer those questions.
Step One: Perform Hazard Analyses
Industrial hygienists are trained to deal with occupational hazards in a basic three step process: Recognition, Evaluation, and Control.We are strong believers in prevention, and this means removing the hazard if possible or controlling it with engineering methods. Personal protective equipment, such as eye protection in this case, should be a last resort for putting a safety barrier between the hazard and the worker.
After identifying the potential eye hazards for your task, see if you can reduce the eye hazards by substituting chemicals, changing the procedure, or utilizing engineering solutions. Engineering controls include shielding or guards to prevent particles and splashes from being dispersed; fume hoods or local exhaust ventilation to contain dusts, particles, and vapors; and safety eyeglasses for alternate light sources.