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Eye on safety

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Eye protection worn by Network Rail staff must conform to the EN 166 standard. It is the basic requirement all safety glasses must meet and the first thing you should check before carrying out any work.

The risks of not wearing eye protection when out on site are obvious and, like the requirement for high-vis orange and steel-toe-cap boots, the use of them is strictly enforced. Despite this, eye injuries still occur – from minor irritations to life-changing incidents.

Network Rail reported 187 eye injuries in 2015/16. The tendency would be to think that eye injuries only happen when someone fails to wear any eye protection at all. There is also the misconception that all products provide the same protection, when in fact the level of protection needed can vary from job to job.

Network Rail hosts regular PPE awareness days to ensure staff are aware of what PPE is required as well as how to properly use and look after it.

With safety eyewear, all the information you need is right there. Look closely at any pair of safety glasses and you’ll see what would look to the uninitiated like a random combination of letters and numbers. There are actually two sequences – one on the frame and another on the lens – which explain whether the product is designed to withstand high or low impacts, whether it can provide protection from large or fine dust particles as well as the level of UV protection they offer and their overall optical quality.

Different standards also apply to different uses, for example the EN 169 standard is used for welding filters. Glasses may also include the letters K and N where K refers to anti-scratch qualities and N to anti-mist.

The consequences

Network Rail highlighted just how devastating eye injuries can be in a video interview with Jerzy Jamroz, who lost the sight in his left eye after being struck by a large piece of metal while attempting to use a chisel to dislodge a Pandrol clip.

Jerzy, who was a system manager on a track renewal train (TRT), openly admits that it was a job he shouldn’t have been doing, using tools he shouldn’t have been using. He believes he could well have lost his eye completely were it not for the protective eyewear he was wearing at the time.

In the video, Jerzy explains how the injury has affected both his professional and family life. He is no longer allowed to work night shifts and he said he was unable to support his family as he could before the incident.

What can you do?

In Jerzy’s case, the damage was dealt by a flying object but eye injuries can also be caused by chemical exposure or abrasions from small foreign bodies, such as rust or glass.

Some sight issues, however, can develop over time and often they are preventable. National Eye Health Week, which was held between 24-30 September, promoted the significance of having regular sight tests – at least once every two years – to good eye health.

Eye health advice from the NHS indicates that smokers are more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of sight loss in the UK, and cataracts. Heavy alcohol consumption can also accelerate the onset of age-related macular degeneration and those who don’t regularly exercise can be more at risk.

For good eye health, it’s important to eat a balanced diet, wear sunglasses to protect from UV damage, exercise regularly and ensure you are getting enough sleep.

Read more: PPE of yesterday, today and tomorrow