Seeing is Believing
Joint Forces Headquarters
South Carolina National Guard
Columbia, South Carolina
We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” This expression couldn’t be truer, especially in the Army. Most military occupational specialties require personal protective equipment (PPE). From medical technicians to motor pool mechanics, PPE is required for myriad daily tasks and procedures. I’ve learned the importance of protective equipment firsthand, and I assure you that the discomfort of some PPE is worth the protection it provides.
Several years ago, I was an experienced mechanic performing a hydraulic servicing procedure on the tail wheel strut of an AH-64. I had on the required PPE, but as I was waiting for the strut to drain, I decided to take off my safety goggles. I then waited by the strut for the next step in the task.
A fellow Soldier walked up curiously to see what I was doing. As a joke and without thinking, he collapsed the end of the strut quickly. Hydraulic systems are pressurized to push fluid through the system. When the Soldier collapsed the strut, the remaining fluid in the cylinder sprayed out of the drainage port and into my eye. Fortunately, I knew exactly where the eyewash station was located and immediately flushed my eyes. However, I suffered damage to my left eye.
At first, I was angry with the Soldier. Then I realized I should’ve kept on my goggles or at least stepped away from the strut while it was draining. It was my fault, not his. One might assume that this incident would make me an avid goggle user, but that’s a big negative. Eventually, I forgot about this experience and complacency crept back into my work habits.
So there I was (again), coating a tail boom frame with epoxy, a mixture of chemicals that form an enamel coating. The harsh fumes emitting from the mixture was evidence that it wasn’t good for skin and definitely worse for eyes. I had on all my PPE — gloves, glasses and mask — and so did my co-worker, who was a sergeant like me. Two noncommissioned officers should set the standard, right? Not this time. Sadly, experience sometimes causes complacency, and that’s when accidents happen.
When we were cleaning up the area, we did not use our goggles. They were uncomfortable, sometimes affected depth perception and fogged in hot weather. A litany of excuses, yes, but still reasons many Soldiers choose not to wear them.
We neglected to clean the rim of the can that still contained residual epoxy. When my co-worker closed the lid on the can, he slammed the edges with a hammer to secure it. As he did this, the remaining epoxy in the lip of the can splashed directly into my left eye. I was rushed to the emergency room, but this time the damage was irreparable. Fortunately, these two accidents haven’t prevented me from performing my job. However, there’s a difference in strength and clarity between my left and right eye.
Today, I’m extremely cautious of any chemicals or particles that could get into my eyes, on my skin or ingested. I cannot explain how foolish and irresponsible I feel to have had two accidents like this happen. To make matters worse, at the time, I was unaware of the standard I was setting for my Soldiers. To them, I was stating that it was OK to not wear PPE if you were “experienced” and knew what you were doing.
Because of my accidents, I lost credibility with my Soldiers. I’m hopeful they learned from my experience, though. PPE is required for a reason — to protect you and others. Use it!
March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, about 2,000 workers sustain job-related eye injuries each day. Of those, 90% could have been avoided had the worker worn eye protection. Using the proper eye protection while doing potentially hazardous jobs can save your sight. Make sure you know what kind of eye protection to wear. To learn more about preventing workplace eye injuries, visit https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/injuries-work.