Just like most working days, this one started off exactly the same the others. It was a Friday, and I was looking forward to the weekend. I had planned on taking my ten year-old son to see his first football match, and both of us were getting quite excited about it.
Not the Weekend I Had Planned
The task I had been given on that Friday morning involved cleaning out chemical tanks in a paper-making factory. We use strong acids to clean the tanks, a job that is done twice every year. As usual, the supervisor reminded me that I needed to get dressed in a chemical suit and that safety goggles were mandatory.
As I was putting on the personal protective equipment, I noticed my safety goggles were badly worn; the rubber seals around the goggles had deteriorated badly. I went to the stores department to get a new pair, however the stores engineer was busy with someone else, and so I decided not to hang around waiting for him. One of the biggest mistakes of my life!
I set off to do the task – using the old goggles.
The job was progressing well. I was using a high pressure jet that contained a combination of water and sulphuric acid to clean the insides of the tank. As sure as day follows night, there is always a stubborn bit to get cleaned and I had to get really close to the walls of the tank to see if I had missed any bits. While inspecting the walls of the tank, I inadvertently pressed the trigger of the jet washer. Because I was so close the tank side, and because the jet of water was so strong, water hit the tank wall and splashed back onto my goggles.
It was one of those slow motion moments. At first everything seemed ok. No initial pain was a good thing. And then it all changed. The pain in my left eye started slowly, gradually building to a pain that I could only describe as that of a hot poker being thrust into my eye socket.
I quickly removed my personal protective clothing, including the goggles. Rushing to the emergency eye wash station I doused my whole face and eyes for five minutes. But each time I stopped the flow of water, the pain returned. Suffering no more pain, I called for help – two of my colleagues ran to provide assistance.
It is a slight pun, but the next 24 hours were really a blur for me and my family. I was taken to the local hospital, where doctors checked everything out. The medical teams that treated me decided I needed specialist care and transferred me to the specialist eye clinic. Visits from consultants and senior registrars and numerous technicians performing numerous tests occupied the next two days. Finally, the consultant told me the news – permanent scarring to the tissues of the left eye and permanent loss of sight in that eye.
How had I been so stupid? Actually, it is quite easy. It takes a moment to make a decision that will change your life forever. On that Friday morning I decided that it would take too long to get a new pair of goggles from the stores engineer, so I decided to use the existing pair. I knew they were badly damaged. It was that decision that changed my life forever. It was later concluded that the damaged seal on the goggles had allowed the chemical to get into my eye.
Personal protective equipment is there to help. It is important that such equipment is in good condition and, if it isn’t, then a task should not be started until replacement equipment is found. Had I waited for a new pair of goggles, my weekend would have probably progressed the way I had intended it – taking my son to that football match.