Sensing Danger

Oftentimes, we take our sight and hearing for granted, but protecting these invaluable senses is something none of us can afford to ignore. Unfortunately, no matter how vigilant companies are about making sure employees wear eye and ear safety equipment, accidents happen. Bob Kinnucan, president of Kinnucan Co. in Lake Bluff, Ill., issues safety equipment, including ear and eye protection, to all employees on their first day of work, and they are expected to wear this equipment whenever they are in the field.

“One of the challenges all employers have is to make their employees aware of potential hazards,” says Kinnucan. “Many people, for example, do not realize that long-term exposure to almost any noise can damage a person's hearing. To cause damage, the equipment that generates the noise does not need to be as loud as a chain saw or chipper shredder that ‘barks’ with every big twig. The noise that emanates from string-line trimmers, quiet-running blowers and mowers may not register especially high on the decibel scale, but over time the noise will have a negative impact on hearing.”

Wearing eye protection is equally important and may even pose a greater challenge, given that hazards are oftentimes well hidden. Kinnucan explains, “It does not take much to injure an eye. Most of us are careful to protect ourselves and our field employees from flying debris, but technicians should wear eye protection too. Hydraulic fluid spewing from a broken hose can seriously injure a person's eye or cause blindness. Flying debris and hot oil are not the only culprits. Harmless-looking dust can cause eye irritation and infection if individuals rub their eyes to alleviate the discomfort.”

In addition to making employees aware of potential hazards, Kinnucan's safety program involves two other critical components: the equipment itself and consistent enforcement of the company's safety policy. “I believe employers have to do more than mandate the use of safety equipment,” says Kinnucan. “They have to make an effort to find equipment that employees will want to wear. Safety glasses are a good example. Chain saw manufacturers and other equipment suppliers offer attractive-looking eye protection, which many of our employees wear even after work. Safety supply houses are another excellent source of safety glasses and other safety apparel.” Kinnucan continues, “Ask employees who already wear glasses if they are fitted with safety lenses. If not, then they should be supplied with wraparound safety glasses that fit over their regular ones.”

When it comes to safety, where there is a will, there is a way — and alternative solutions. Hearing protection is available as earmuffs, but there are also hearing bands (ear plugs that can be worn around an individual's neck for intermittent use) and a wide variety of disposable and reusable earplugs.

Having protective equipment readily available for employees is half the battle. Kinnucan points out that the other half is making sure they wear it. “Our company policy states that employees must wear their safety apparel whenever they are in the field or performing a task that may be dangerous, which is one reason why it is so important to make employees aware of safety hazards,” Kinnucan relates. “The other part of the equation is enforcement. Wearing eye and ear protection and other safety equipment needs to be habit-forming. The most effective way for an employer to ensure that wearing safety equipment is second nature is to be consistent with enforcement. You cannot have an effective safety program when you enforce it one way on one day and another way on the next day. Whatever your policy is for enforcing the use of safety equipment, keep it consistent.”

There is another dynamic to the whole of issue of safety, Kinnucan continues. “Every employer should want to protect his or her employees' well-being because it is the right thing to do. Today, it is also the financially responsible thing to do. With skyrocketing insurance rates, the last thing a business owner wants is an eye injury that results in work loss time, medical bills and rising insurance rates.”

Start taking steps today to ensure everyone in your company protects his or her eyes and ears. Begin by making sure that all employees are aware of potential safety hazards and that they have the proper protective equipment. Then, mandate the use of ear and eye protection and back it up with a consistent enforcement policy.

Adapted from “Eye and Ear Safety Is for Everyone!” by Rod Dickens, ALCA contributing writer.


Your eyes may be the organs most vulnerable to occupational injuries. While the eye does have some natural defenses, they are not great enough to protect against injury.

The eye is subject to several types of injury: blows from blunt objects, cuts from sharp objects and damage from foreign bodies. Add to that eyestrain from working in the sun and looking at objects both close and far away, and you can see that an eye injury can easily happen. You need to take care of your eyes.

Wear safety glasses, goggles or face shields when needed. These situations include mowing jobs, operating chain saws and trimmers, as well as applying chemicals.

What should you do if something does get in your eye? A propelled object injury requires immediate attention. Even if the object did not penetrate the eye, you should not try to remove the object yourself. Get medical attention immediately. Removing objects from the eye is a job for a professional.

Chemical splash injuries require a different approach. The extent of permanent damage depends almost entirely on how you react. If you get to an eyewash fountain quickly, wash the eye properly for at least 15 minutes and get immediate medical attention, the chances for recovery are good.

Keep an eye out for safety.

(Adapted from ALCA's 180 Safety Talks for Supervisors, © Colorado Contractors Association, Inc. [CCA])


Noise is often described as sound that bears no information and is unwanted by the listener.

It has been estimated that 14 percent of the working population is employed in jobs where the noise level is excessive, and 1.7 million workers in the U.S. between 50 and 59 years of age have a compensable hearing loss.

Work in our industry subjects us to noise every day; and over a period of time it can cause hearing problems.

As an employee you have the responsibility to use the hearing protection that is provided and use it in the way you have been instructed. In order to protect your hearing, wear earmuffs or hearing bands.

(Adapted from ALCA's 180 Safety Talks for Supervisors, © Colorado Contractors Association, Inc. [CCA])

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