Reality TV star and ice road trucker Todd Dewey comes from a long line of truckers and loggers who made their living working in extreme environments. As one of the stars of the HISTORY® channel’s hit show “Ice Road Truckers,” Dewey can be seen driving his truck to faraway destinations in Canada—Wasagamack, Manitoba and Big Trout Lake, Ontario, to list a couple — always in the coldest and often the most perilous conditions.
It is a job that pushes him to the limit, and it is one he loves doing. But for Dewey, as with his relatives before him, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), like eyewear, often takes a backseat to getting the job done.
“I was never thinking about eye protection or how important my eyes really are,” Dewey said.
That is until an accident changed his outlook forever.
In November 2016, near a rock pit on his property in Forks, Washington, Dewey was helping one of his drivers fix a tire after it had popped off the bead of his dump truck. As he had done hundreds of times before, Dewey used a common trucking trick that involves spraying starting fluid on the bead and lighting a match to inflate it back up. But it didn’t go as planned.
“When I lit that tire, it blew up like a stick of dynamite,” Dewey said. “It blew up right in my face, and it blew me clear off my feet.”
When the dust settled, Dewey was in pain and could not see. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found rock fragments embedded in both eyes—a total of 46 pieces.
Dewey was sent to an ophthalmologist who performed three surgeries on his eyes within a week, removing the fragments one piece at a time. As he recovered from each surgery, dark thoughts crossed Dewey’s mind: Would he ever be able to see again? What would happen to his family business and his 35 employees? How would he support his wife and four daughters? Fortunately for Dewey, his eyesight returned and he was able to watch his teenage daughter graduate high school the following summer.
“I realized that one of the most important things in your life is your eyesight,” Dewey said. “I also realized how dumb a guy can be for not picking up a pair of safety glasses and saving himself all that trouble.”
The Importance of Eye Protection
Eye safety is an increasingly important—and sometimes overlooked—issue for companies whose workers specialize in often dangerous jobs. More than 20,000 eye injuries happen on the job each year, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health(NIOSH). These injuries can be costly: Workers typically require one or more missed working days to recover. Overall, eye injuries cost U.S. businesses an estimated $300 million a year in lost productivity, medical treatment and worker compensation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
PPE for the eyes and face is designed to shield workers from a wide range of hazards, such as flying debris, heat, chemicals, dust and optical radiation. In fact, wearing proper safety eyewear can prevent 90 percent of all workplace eye injuries, according to Prevent Blindness, a consumer advocacy group. OSHA requires that all employers provide eye and face protection in the workplace whenever necessary—especially when the worker is exposed to work hazards like molten metals or potentially injurious lights—as well as relevant training.
“When a worker’s vision is affected, it’s not only a serious personal injury, but adds a risk that other injuries may occur,” said Daniel Shipp, president of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA).
As the eyes are sensitive organs that are vulnerable to work hazards, reducing these risks through engineering and administrative controls can only go so far.
“It’s essential to have a barrier between the eyes and those things that could hurt them,” Shipp said. “That’s the role of protective eyewear.”
An ISEA survey on PPE use in the construction industry found that the key reason why workers did not wear or use proper PPE was the result of supervisors not requiring these employees to wear them. But when supervisors do enforce safety eyewear policies, more often than not, workers will comply. And when they do, it can prevent significant physical and financial harm.
“It’s jobs where exposure to hazards is likely to be incidental or unexpected where workers may slip into carelessness,” Shipp said.
Dewey admits that he was “scared straight” by his experience and is now never without a pair of Jackson Safety* Nemesis* Safety glasses – whether it’s on his face when he is on the job or on top of his hat when he is not.
He has implemented a mandatory protective eyewear policy at his own logging company, requiring his truckers to wear them at all times while they’re working.
“I’m very lucky to still have my eyesight, to be able to see my family and to be able to take care of my family,” Dewey said.