Not Worth the Risk

Basic protective equipment is simple, inexpensive, and often the difference between going home and taking a trip to the hospital.

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Disease, blindness, trauma, death — these are the risks for service industry workers when they fail to use basic personal protective equipment.

Some of the simplest protective gear costs mere dollars, yet are frequently discarded or treated with disdain by operators who see them as an unnecessary hassle.

A costly prospect

Take the simplest PPE of all: safety glasses. They are a perfect demonstration of unnecessary risk.

Each year, more than 20,000 eye injuries occur in service industries, adding up to a cumulative cost of $300 million. On the flip side, ANSI-rated safety glasses can be purchased for around $1.

Here’s something else to consider: According to an article by Inverse, the cost of emergency eye care is on the rise, with emergency ocular surgery costing upward of $20,000 — in 2015.

The potential for eye injuries is vast in service industries, with blunt trauma, penetrative injury from grinding or cutting debris, as well as contact with hazardous substances or chemicals all common risks.

Cheap doesn’t equal unimportant

Other safety gear, like disposable gloves and earplugs, literally cost cents, and while the danger isn’t quite as significant, lack of both can cause big problems.

Service workers of all stripes have to deal with loud sounds. Without proper ear protection, some level of hearing loss is all but inevitable, and while this may not result in lost time or emergency care, it certainly decreases quality of life for workers.

There are many levels of hand protection, but the basic disposable glove is often the most overlooked. That’s probably because it doesn’t generally protect against visible threats — trauma or impact danger.

However, protecting against pathogens and bacteria is incredibly important, especially in the water and wastewater industries. A hand injury can result in a lot of time off, but how many days might you lose from repeated illnesses over time, when the solution could be as simple as taking an extra minute to don a pair of rubber gloves?

That’s the best case: Not all pathogen-related illness is as benign as stomach flu. Failing to protect against this most fundamental danger can result in significant risk to worker health: There are reports of wastewater workers in Ohio, Alaska, and Canada contracting hepatitis A, according to Cornell University’s Health Hazard Manual: Wastewater Treatment Plant and Sewer Workers.

Safety is top to bottom

The danger of not wearing a hard hat seems to go without saying, yet many workers still manage to find trouble in this regard. Though they have been in use since 1931 (ORR Safety) and are required in many situations by OSHA, every year there are fines and accidents to show that workers don’t always wear them when they should.

Though not the cheapest item on this list, basic hard hats can cost less than $10 and are perhaps the most essential. Unlike eye injury, hearing loss or even pathogen-borne illness in most cases, head trauma can have life-altering effects; the biggest risk, of course, is death.

Incidence of workers in water and wastewater work may not be as common as, say, construction industries, but they are not unheard of. Take for example the case sited by a University of Iowa health report, where a 29-year-old public works employee was killed after being struck in the head by a 1-inch jetting nozzle.

If that’s not convincing enough, consider that there were 65,000 head injury cases in 2012 involving days away from work, according to Safety and Health magazine. They also reported that in 2015, over 1,000 workers died from head injuries sustained on the job.

Gas monitors

Speaking of bigger dangers, this last item — possibly the most underutilized safety item — is the only one whose specific goal is to prevent loss of life: gas monitors.

A portable gas monitor isn’t a throwaway expense, running anywhere from around $100 into the thousands, but compared to the alternative, it’s a bargain.

Stories abound of workers who went into a sewer or tank without a monitor — or worse, had a monitor and failed to use it — and quickly met their demise.

Case in point: OSHA recently finished an investigation into the death of a father and son in Mississippi who were killed while working in a lift station last June. The 20-year-old son lost consciousness due to hydrogen sulfide gas, and the father died trying to pull him out.

Though worker safety is obviously the biggest concern, situations like this bring home the cost-effectiveness of providing workers with the proper safety equipment. The company that hired the father and son were charged with nine serious violations and over $27,000 in fines.

Consider all the costs

All these dangers are costly: Between medical costs, lost work time and workers’ comp, companies collectively lose hundreds of millions per year. When the solution is often a simple piece of plastic, why take the risk?


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