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Inside OHS Issue 69 – Monday 21 June 2010

Miranda Flint
Editor HR Report, Editor Inside OHS
Senior Reporter Occupational Health News


Employers could improve their OHS compliance by providing newly available PPE to workers over 40 who wear safety eyewear and also need prescription glasses, says risk and safety management consultant Ron Greenwood.

The OPTX 20/20 stick-on lenses allow workers to wear their own spectacles and not have to alternate them with safety glasses.

“Safety glasses don’t always have corrective lenses so people have to choose between reading glasses and safety glasses, potentially exposing themselves to serious risks,” Greenwood told Inside OHS. “A lot of employees just end up wearing their own glasses most of the time. The stick-on lenses work for any type of safety glasses.”

Work crew didn’t have glasses on the job

Greenwood first discovered the lenses while investigating a workplace incident and realising vision problems could be a contributing factor. The incident involved earthworks conducted during the construction of a gas pipeline. The average age of the workers on the project was 47.

“One of the most serious events was related to a machine being bogged over a live gas line,” Greenwood said. “Investigative evidence revealed that of the 20 employees interviewed 18 admitted they needed reading glasses, but only two brought them to work. Their employer didn’tprovide or pay for corrective vision safety eyewear.”

Crew’s abilities ‘significantly compromised’

With the majority of the work crew being visually impaired, their ability to effectively participate in morning pre-start meetings that involved reviewing job hazard analyses and engineering drawings was “significantly compromised”.

“The workers were asked what they thought of the situation and they said they relied on the supervisor to tell them what they needed to know,” Greenwood said. “But when I informed them the supervisor was one of the people that didn’t bring his reading glasses to work there was a silence.”

Lenses help tackle ageing workforce OHS

The lenses have become available in Aust at a time when employers are grappling with the health & safety challenges of an ageing workforce. By 2020 four in 10 Aust workers will be 45 or older and some 80% of the population between 40 and 60 need reading glasses to see up close due to a condition called presbyopia.

According to Greenwood, the lenses could help drive down incidents.

“They help workers who have presbyopia to see finer detailed work, read safety instructions, drawings, tape measures and instrumentation, such as pressure and temperature gauges or even the speedometer on the car dash,” Greenwood said.

Employers’ duty to stay informed of industry practice

The lenses’ availability in Aust raised interesting systemic issues for employers, Freehills snr associate Steve Bell said.

“Employers have a positive obligation to keep themselves informed of any changes in industry practice and any developments in available risk controls,” Bell told Inside OHS. “Assessing what is reasonably practicable under OHS legislation means considering the state of industry knowledge and what best practice is under the circumstances.”

Aust stds and govt policy alert employers

The std covering prescription eye protectors for low and medium impact is AS/NZS 1337.6:2007 ( It was developed after employers sought clear guidelines for when workers needed eye protection and corrective vision at the same time. The std aimed to promote safety improvements and reduce “the incidence of eye damage in occupational situations”.

Hazards that could potentially affect the eyes include dust, splashing and/or molten materials, harmful gases, vapours or aerosols, and high-energy flying particles or fragments, it said.

AS/NZS 1337 (  covers eye protectors for industrial applications, while AS/NZS 1336  ( covers recommended practices for occupational eye protection.

In Feb, the WA Govt released a policy statement ( that alerted public sector agencies they had responsibility for the full cost of prescription safety glasses for all employees “up to a reasonable maximum”. The policy said agencies needed to develop operational policies if prescription safety glasses were required. It should require employees to confirm they needed optical aids to fulfil their duties in the form of a medical/optometrist’s prescription, and that their safety glasses complied with the relevant stds.

According to Bell, some stds may be incorporated into law through codes of practice or other instruments, while others were a useful and current indicator of industry knowledge. But they all needed to be taken into account when planning work and risk controls, he said.

Employees’ safety duties

Employees for their part were required by law to take reasonable steps to look after their own safety.

“Being able to read instructions and see machinery clearly is obviously a critical element of this,” Bell said.