We respond to a recent spate of e-mails regarding safety glasses.

Ralphie says: Everyone on the shop floor must wear safety glasses-you could poke your eye out!

In 12 years at ASSEMBLY magazine, I’ve written hundreds of articles, posted dozens of blogs, and shared many opinions. I’ve made economic forecasts, warned U.S. manufacturers against complacency, and championed the cause of industry. I’ve told the government to butt out, and I’ve urged them to act. I’ve praised and chastised labor and management alike.

In almost all cases, I hear nary a word from you, the reader. Yet, every time we run a photo of an assembler who is not wearing safety glasses, particularly on the cover, then it seems you can’t fire up your e-mail programs fast enough. Most recently, we received a dozen e-mails in response to my November article“The Right Way and Wrong Way to Use Power Tools,”and to Austin Weber’s“Big Blue Goes Green,”a profile of our 2008 Assembly Plant of the Year. Your letters decried the fact that various assemblers pictured in the articles were not wearing safety glasses. In fact, a few of you were so upset by the lack of eye protection that you even shared your concerns with the vice president of BNP Media, ASSEMBLY’s publisher.

To all who took the time to write, thank you. Your commitment to safety is admirable. We are well-aware of the importance of wearing safety glasses on the assembly line. ASSEMBLY neither condones nor endorses the omission of safety glasses or other personal protective equipment by anyone on the shop floor, at any time, whether they are pictured in our magazine or not.

Before I get into the very real issue of eye safety in manufacturing, I want to offer a few quick words about ASSEMBLY magazine. For the record, 99.9 percent of the photographs in ASSEMBLY are not taken by us or our representatives. To borrow a line from Scarlett O’Hara, we have always relied on the kindness of strangers. More often than not, when we need images of, say, people using power tools, they’re provided by tool manufacturers. Not surprisingly, such photos are taken with a very different agenda than one of educating the workforce about proper safety procedures. Regrettably, we can no more direct the content of such photos, than we can reject them based on relatively minor oversights. (I wish we had a worldwide stable of photographers on retainer so we could take pictures whenever, wherever and however we liked, but, alas, we do not. Hear that Santa? Hint, hint.)

That said, eye injuries are a serious concern in manufacturing. In 2004, there were 36,680 job-related eye injuries in the United States, according to the federalBureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s more than 1,000 per day! More than 26 percent of those eye injuries occurred in manufacturing-more than any other occupation, including construction. The typical injury resulted from the eye being struck or abraded by foreign matter, such as metal chips, dirt and splinters. The financial cost of these injuries is enormous-more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses and workers compensation. Ironically, safety glasses retail for just $5 to $10 a pair.

Most of these injuries are entirely preventable. According to a 1980 BLS survey, three out of every five workers who sustained eye injuries were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident. Others were wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job. You can read more about choosing the right eye protectionhere.

ASSEMBLY magazine’s sister publication,Industrial Safety and Hygiene News,offers a wealth of information about eye protection and other occupational safety topics. A quick read is“10 Tips for Preventing Eye Injuries,”or search the site’s extensive archive of safety-related articles.

For more information about eye safety at work, see the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health “Eye Safety”web page, as well as the National Institutes of Health “Healthy Vision 2010”web page.

For a free brochure on eye safety, clickhere.