Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sometimes a solution is "right before your eyes"

Contributed by Norm Nyhuis, Consultant / trainer, Evergreen Safety Council

When Walter G. King was a young man, in Cleveland, in 1881, he joined his father's optical company, as a salesman. Not too extraordinary, until you learn that the company manufactured glass eyes. Business was good, perhaps too good. The turn of the 19th to the 20th century brought an era we refer to as the industrial revolution. More people were working at the higher paying, but more hazardous jobs in heavy industries. Walter was bothered by the fact that literally thousands of their company’s glass eyes were being shipped to industrial areas.

He did a bit of investigation, and as he feared, most of the purchases were for workers who had lost their eyes in industrial accidents. Even though it would mean a drop in his father’s business, Walter determined to prevent these disastrous injuries caused by flying pieces of metal and particles of emery dust.

Walter had heard about slit-type goggles that polar explorers found Eskimos wearing to avoid snow blindness, and in 1905 he adapted that device to industrial use; great idea, too bad it didn't work very well.

Lenses of thick glass might dork, so the next year working with engineers of the American Optical Company, Walter developed a safety goggle using tempered glass. A Cleveland foundry that made steel castings for railroad cars ordered six dozen pairs for trial testing.

Crude as these were, the customer reported a month later that the goggles had saved the eyes of 20 of the workers by withstanding the impact of flying metal chips. Some of the lenses were shattered, yet all the glass remained in the frame, and most importantly, except for a few bruises the workers were not injured.

Trainer Al Filmore models his safety goggles.
Pretty cool, huh?

As use of Walter's goggles spread, and even with proven success, some workers would wear them when the "boss was watching" but slip them off when the foreman wasn't looking. They claimed the goggles were uncomfortable, and they could "see better" without them. Some companies made it mandatory policy that anyone caught without goggles at an operation where goggles were required would be fired! Even today, company safety rules or policies, that are more protective than either State or Federal rules, continue to be used, and continue to save lives and prevent injuries.

Walter King's company continued to develop other forms of eye protection, including the first successful "welding" lenses, to shield workers from the harmful ultra violet and infrared rays given off by molten metals.

Walter King's efforts were recognized by the American Museum of Safety when it awarded him its Gold Medal in 1916, in recognition of all the measures to protect the eyesight of industrial workers, developed by his company. It was a unanimous vote, "the eyes have it!"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to provide your comment on this topic. We welcome comments on your experiences in safety & health, as well as additional safety ideas and resources. Please remember to keep it clean and be respectful of others. We reserve the right not to include comments that do not pertain to the posting.