Mark Ruchman, MD, Chief Medical Officer
Eye injuries in the workplace are one of the most common and health-threatening risks when it comes to workplace safety. Every day, around 2,000 U.S. workers suffer job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment, and thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries. The cost of eye injuries sustained at work runs an estimated $300 million a year in lost productivity (including workdays missed for recovery), medical treatment, and worker compensation claims.
Causes of Eye Injuries at Work
Most workers who experience eye injuries on the job were either not wearing eye protection or wearing the wrong kind of eye protection. Three out of five workers injured while wearing no eye protection say they didn’t believe eye protection was required for their situation.
However, the standards for eye and face protection on the job are detailed and comprehensive, as laid out by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards and associated State Plans in 28 states. OSHA requires workers to use eye and face protection any time there is a reasonable probability of an eye or facial injury that could be prevented by the use of the correct equipment.
Personal protective eyewear must be provided for and utilized by workers when an eye hazard exists. The type of eye protection required depends on the vision needs of the individual, the circumstances of the exposure, the specific type of hazard present, and other protective equipment being used. Equipment can include (but isn’t limited to) certified and OSHA-approved items such as:
- Safety glasses
- Side/full face shields
- Full face respirators
It’s believed by both doctors and safety experts that proper selection and use of the correct eye protection at work could lessen the severity or even prevent 90% of such eye injuries.
Most Common Eye Hazards in the Workplace
The type of hazard depends on the job site/workplace, type of work being done, current conditions, type of tools being used, and type of materials present. Different industries carry a higher risk of different eye hazards.
Employers can help reduce the risk of eye injury in the workplace. Steps to take include:
- A workplace eye hazard assessment conducted by a qualified professional
- Removal and/or reduction of eye hazards wherever possible
- Providing appropriate safety eyewear, including safety glasses, goggles, side and face shields and helmets
- Requiring employees to comply with rules for protective eyewear use at all times
- Providing complete education for employees about eye risks at work
Employees can help manage their risk to eye hazards at work. Steps to take include:
- Knowing what eye safety dangers exist at their workplace
- Eliminating or reducing hazards by using engineering controls such as work screens or machine guards
- Wearing proper eye protection at all times when a hazard may exist
- Keeping safety eyewear in good condition and requesting a replacement for damaged equipment
Construction workers are at high risk of eye injury from projectiles such as dust, concrete, metal, wood, or particles from other materials like old asbestos, which poses additional hazards. Workers in an area that has particles, flying objects, or dust should be wearing — at a minimum — safety glasses with side protection (side shields).
Factory workers and janitorial staff can be subject to many of the same dangers as construction workers, as well as chemical dangers such as liquid splashes or hazardous toxic fumes. Workers handling chemicals should always wear goggles.
Machinists and welders also face added eye risk from specific sources such as visible light, lasers, heat or infrared radiation, and ultraviolet radiation. Welders or workers who use lasers should wear helmets or goggles with special filters to protect the eyes from optical radiation exposure. Face shields and helmets should be combined with safety glasses or goggles for moments when the helmet or face shield is lifted or removed.
Bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis or HIV can be transmitted through contact with the eyes from blood and body fluids. Goggles and face shields can help protect healthcare and lab workers from splashes that could contain bloodborne pathogens or chemicals used in the course of their work.
Some working conditions may present multiple eye hazards, which must all be taken into account when selecting the best eye protection.
Remote Worker Eye Protection
With more and more people working from home, the effects of too much work-related screen time are becoming more common and serious. Computer Vision Syndrome/Digital Eye Strain encompasses a range of eye and vision-related problems caused by prolonged exposure to computers, tablets, e-readers, and cellphone screens.
American workers spend an average of seven hours a day on the computer, whether they work in a physical office or from home. The strain from staring at a screen can cause dry eyes, worsen distance vision, and lead to aching eyes and headaches.
Digital eye strain during working hours can be reduced by following the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, workers should take a 20-second break and focus briefly on something 20 feet away. Eye drops can help reduce physical symptoms like dry eyes or itching. A cool compress, once work is done for the day, can ease discomfort and irritation and reduce puffiness or swelling around the eyes.
Following these tips can help improve workplace eye wellness and prevent eye injuries at work. Annual eye exams and routine vision checks can spot any eye issues promptly and allow appropriate treatment to be received. To learn more about eye wellness, contact Versant Health today.
Mark Ruchman, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer at Versant Health. Dr. Ruchman provides all medical and clinical oversight, which includes quality improvement, clinical guidelines, and accreditation standards.