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A Total Eclipse of the Heart (and Employer Liability)

The biggest astronomical event in 99 years will arrive on Monday in the form of a total solar eclipse. The rarity of an eclipse makes for one fascinating spectacle, which is why we often can’t help but look up at the sun, even though we know it’s dangerous to do so without special solar filters. For employers, the eclipse offers a unique opportunity for on-the-job injuries and workers’ compensation claims.

Sentinel is urging our clients and partners to be proactive by issuing clear and concise employee communications prior to the eclipse. The following information and risk management best practices are developed in conjunction with solar safety experts at NASA:

  • Do not host eclipse viewing parties for employees.
  • Do not provide glasses or equipment to view the event; there is liability if the glasses are not approved or not used properly.
  • Refer to the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers page for a list of manufacturers and authorized dealers of eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers verified to be compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for such products.
  • For employees whose job involves their spending part or all of the day working outside, attendance should be communicated as “optional” by the employer.
  • Because observing an eclipse is “peculiar” to most employment, observing or looking at the sun is outside an employee’s duties and doesn’t advance an employer’s business objectives. However, this defense isn’t as strong if you are a camera man for a news organization or a professor of astronomy leading a class. Each employer should be evaluating their employees’ job tasks and make a decision on the exposure and controls they plan to put in place.
  • The best solution for contractors, construction, delivery drivers, etc. (employees working outdoors within the scope of employment), is to dismiss early. The safety concern they could opt to share would be that the eclipse is creating an unsafe environment to begin with (darkness outside) and therefore employees cannot operate safely. This will take the employee out of the scope of employment and becomes a voluntary event should they decide to participate in it.
  • If employers continue to require the employees to work, then please review the basic safety information at NASA’s website: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.