Vision Needed to Ensure Eye Safety
Nothing in our lives today is taken more for granted than our eyes. Nothing in our lives today is more valuable to us than this same pair of eyes. It is indeed strange that something of such worth is so neglected.
Vision is the ability to see an object or situation, interpret what is seen and then react accordingly. This is the fire fighters’ primary and more important tool. Can any one of these men do without it?
What guidelines should be followed for the routine care of vision? Almost everyone has heard the terms “checkup” or “routine examination.” What these procedures should entail are manifold. A history must be taken. Visual acuities should be rechecked. The interior and exterior of the eye should be examined for the detection of possible pathologies or abnormalities. An analysis of the refractive error (whether lenses are needed and, if so, what types) should be performed. Binocular function (the ability of the eyes to work together as a team) should be reviewed. The near point functions (how well an individual can see to read comfortably) should be explored. It cannot be supposed that each man is going to remember each of the above points as well as the many more not listed.
Selecting a doctor
Therefore, a better method would be to select the most competent doctor in the area. Often, my patients ask me how I would select such a man. My answer is that he must be either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, and that either doctor (optometrist is O.D. and ophthalmologist is M.D.) must not advertise or work in a jewelry store, commercial setting, and or assembly line system. Do not go to anyone who advertises and do not bargain-shop.
The American Optometric Association, 7000 Chippewa Street, St. Louis, or the American Medical Association, 535 North Dearborn Street, Chicago, will supply a list of member doctors in the individual’s area. A final guideline is that the actual examination, not including the selection of a frame, should take not less than half an hour and probably should run to closer to an hour if the doctor has not seen the individual before.
So much for whom to go to. Now what should the firemen get? Dress hardened (toughened lenses) or plastic lenses are an absolute must. This should be a requirement of every fire department. The frame that holds the lenses should fit the face well and should hold an adjustment well. It should not slip or slide, yet it should be comfortable. Some frames have a reinforced or braced front that gives an added safety feature. Some frames are available so that the arms or temples wrap around the ears as the old-fashioned glasses did. (This is not old-fashioned and really keeps a pair of glasses on in an emergency.)
If the patient needs a bifocal, he should be fitted so that it is at a level that is convenient for both paper work and apparatus responsibilities. In some instances, it may be necessary to have two pairs of glasses—one for reading and one for distance. However, these decisions are made by the doctor, but the patient must help him and tell all pertinent information when he is taking the history. What is insignificant to the patient’s way of thinking may be vital knowledge for the doctor.
The fireman is a highly specialized professional. He faces unknown dangers as part of his daily routine. He must be able to see these situations to avoid them. A common example is the wearer of self-contained breathing apparatus. To get a proper seat and seal, it is imperative that glasses be removed. Yet, I have seen men who are legally blind if they remove their lenses. Unfortunately, some of these same individuals are not fully aware of their visual limitations and could conceivably be placed in jeopardy or jeopardize their brother firemen.
Therefore, company officers or chiefs should be alerted to those men who will be a liability if they wear face masks. If there is any question, a man should be placed in a training situation with a mask on to see how he reacts to common problems and emergencies, including the use of tools. Most of these drills should be in clear atmospheric conditions to stimulate the wearer being in a clear, poisonous gas.
Corrections must be worn
Drivers should be carefully checked to make sure that they are adequately endowed or corrected to drive safely. It is not enough to discover the need for a correction when driving. The driver must wear the prescription. Some men are vain enough to always keep their correction in their pocket. If it can occur with Air Force pilots, it can occur with fire fighters. Having a prescription is not enough. It must be worn when necessary.
Drivers, especially, should be checked for peripheral vision. This is the ability to see to the sides while looking ahead. A weakness here could be a contributing cause to many accidents.
While on the fireground, eye protection should be in place for all men. Some manufacturers have marketed various shields. They are very good and do the job as long as they are in place. An alternative I have recommended is to have the men wear a safety-type goggle. These are similar to those worn around power tools and shops. You never know when something is going to give way, scatter, explode or what have you. When it does occur, there is no time to place the shield or goggle in position.
Foreign body in eye
A common source of eye injury might be the spray from a high-pressure line or the rupture of that line. Another common problem is a foreign body (debris) in the eye. These particles usually cause painful and debilitating eye injuries. They are blown in by wind and smoke, they are splashed in by back spray from a hose stream hitting a surface, they are rubbed in by a man’s gritty hands. In short, there are probably as many ways of getting debris in the eyes as there are situations where it can occur.
Any situation where something foreign can accidently get in tire eye can be considered as quite serious in that the foreign body can, and often does, cause abrasions and extreme discomfort. The foreign body is the most common cause of eye injuries on the fire scene, and it can be very painful.
When we speak of anything getting into the eyes, a very important point must be raised. Whenever any power tools are used at the scene, in quarters, or in the shops, safety goggles must be on. Saws, pneumatic tools, etc., are all sources of ocular damagetype products. A man who operates any of these or any related implements without the proper protection is trying to be classified as permanently disabled.
Chief officers’ responsibility
A fireman usually is not allowed to work at a fire without the proper gear (helmet, coat, boots, gloves). The only thing not protected is his eyes. Some departments have strict rules pertaining to eye care, while others have none. It is the purpose of this article to point out the need for eye safety and eye care to those chief officers who have neglected it or assigned it secondary importance.
In conclusion, I have often been asked how important good vision care is to any person. My answer invariably is: “Did you ever hear of a pilot wearing a secondhand parachute or a fireman using a secondhand hose?”
No individual can afford to pay a little less for inferior eye care and/or inferior safety items when something as important as vision is at stake. You cannot afford to have anything less than the best. There can be no substitute for routine, yearly, professional examinations and no alternative to safety-designed eyewear.