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More than 800,000 people sustain eye injuries at work each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Carpenters, electricians, welders, assembly line workers, mechanics and computer data personnel consistently have the highest reported rates of on-the-job eye injuries. Pest control technicians are also at risk for eye injury. In enclosed spaces such as attics and crawlspaces, dust and suspended particulates entering the eye can cause injuries. Pesticides that splash against surfaces or drift in breezes are potential hazards. Even during traditional termite liquid treatments, termiticides under pressure for sub-slab injection can “kick back” from drill holes in concrete and cause injuries.

PESTICIDE EXPOSURE. Remember, there are three routes of pesticide exposure:

  • By absorption through the skin or eyes (dermally).
  • Through the mouth (orally).
  • By breathing into the lungs (inhala- tion).

Dermal exposure results in absorption immediately after a pesticide contacts skin or eyes. Pesticides are readily absorbed through the eyes and can cause eye injury. The tissues of the eye are extremely absorbent, and blood vessels are very close to the surface of the eye, so pesticides can be absorbed easily into the bloodstream. Under certain conditions and using certain pesticides, absorption through the eyes can be significant and particularly hazardous. Eyes are very sensitive to many pesticides and, for their size, are able to absorb surprisingly large amounts of chemicals. In addition to systemic concerns, some products are corrosive and can cause severe eye damage or even blindness. Serious eye exposure can result from airborne dusts or particles, splashes or spills, broken hoses, spray mists or from rubbing the eyes with contaminated hands, clothing or personal protective equipment (PPE), such as unwashed gloves.

IMPORTANCE OF PPE. Goggles are pest management professionals’ best protection, especially when they have the right type of venting:

  • Open vents are for impact protection only and not recommended for use with pesticides.
  • Indirect vents are for protection from pesticide and other chemical splashes.
  • Non-vented goggles are for protec- tion from gases, mists and fumes.

Some goggles have a wider bridge over the nose to be compatible with respirators. In high-exposure situations when both face and eye protection are needed (such as in overhead applications), a face shield can be worn over goggles. Be sure to clean goggles and face shields after each use and include the headband, which may be made of a material that readily absorbs and holds chemicals.

FIRST AID. Wash the eye as quickly and gently as possible; some pesticides can cause damage on contact. Hold eyelids open and wash eyes with a gentle stream of clean running water at body temperature, if possible. Continue washing for 15 minutes or more. Do not use chemicals or drugs in wash water as they may increase the potential for injury. It is important to set up an eyewash station in the area where pesticides will be mixed or at least have ready access to an eyewash bottle in the first aid kit.

REGULATORY PROTECTION. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state labor agencies require that employers provide PPE and training for every employee covered by the regulations. Regulations also state that noncompliance may expose the employer to liability on a per-employee basis, so the exposure grows as the size of the company increases. These worker safety standards are found in 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), parts 1910, 1915, 1917, 1918 and 1926.

Additionally, in most states, the Department of Agriculture can enforce pesticide label requirements for PPE. Be sure that you and your technicians read labels frequently and are equipped with, trained on and using all PPE — including eye protection — required by labels. Remember that regulatory fines and intentional acts (such as ignoring label directions) are not covered by insurance and can jeopardize your coverage.

The loss of body parts (arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes) due to an on-the-job injury is usually defined by a schedule in state law. The loss of an eye comes at a high cost. The average maximum compensation for one eye is $96,700. The highest cost is in Pennsylvania at $301,870, and the state with the lowest cost is Minnesota at $22,800.

EMPLOYER DUTY. Employers have a duty to provide protective gear, including eye protection and first aid kits, as part of their larger duty to provide employees with a safe workplace. Consider this as an investment in worker safety, future regulatory compliance and claims avoidance, and not an unnecessary expense. If your employee is injured on the job because of a lack of protective gear, you create a potentially costly workers’ compensation claim, potential regulatory fines (that are not covered by your workers’ compensation, general liability or employment practices liability insurance policies) and even exposure to legal action by the injured employee. Failure to provide eye protection, especially if specified on pesticide labels, could be considered employer negligence and create legal exposure beyond the “exclusive remedy” provided in most states’ workers’ compensation laws.

In cases of gross negligence, an injured worker can file a private lawsuit against his employer outside of the workers’ comp system. Private lawsuits award a separate amount for pain and suffering that is not included in the payment of medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages covered by workers’ compensation. In severe cases, and in some states, courts also can award punitive damages.

FINAL THOUGHTS. A small investment in training time and inexpensive safety goggles can yield great returns — a productive team of technicians, low workers’ compensation losses and worry-free regulatory compliance. Make sure you keep your company’s future in full view with eye PPE.

The author is director of risk management for Xterminator Pro, a Division of Houston International Insurance Group (HIIG) Xterminator Pro. Loss control resources can be found in the “Client Area” of the Xterminator Pro website. He can be reached at afugler@hiig.com or 407/241-3037.