Workplace eye injuries 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 eye injuries that require medical treatment, and thousands of people are blinded each year from workplace 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 do not wear proper eye protection. 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 whenever there is a reasonable probability of an eye or facial injury that the correct equipment could prevent.
Workers must utilize personal protective eyewear when an eye hazard exists. The type of eye protection required depends on the individual’s vision needs, the exposure circumstances, the specific type of hazard present, and other protective equipment in use. Equipment can include (but isn’t limited to) certified and OSHA-approved items such as:
- Safety glasses
- Side/Full face shields
- Full face respirators
Both doctors and safety experts believe proper selection and use of eye protection at work could prevent 90% of such eye injuries.
Most Common Eye Hazards in the Workplace
The hazard level depends on the job site/workplace, including what work is being done, the current conditions, and the type of materials and tools present. Different industries carry a higher risk of varying 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 or reduction of eye hazards wherever possible
- Providing appropriate safety eyewear
- Requiring employees to comply with rules for protective eyewear use
- Providing complete education for employees about eye hazards at work
Employees can also help manage their risk of 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
- 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. Therefore, workers in an area with projectiles should, at a minimum, wear safety glasses with side protection.
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 face additional eye risks from specific sources such as visible light, lasers, infrared radiation, and ultraviolet radiation. Welders or workers using lasers should wear helmets or goggles with special filters to protect the eyes from exposure to optical radiation. Workers should combine face shields and helmets 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 bodily fluids. Goggles and face shields can help protect healthcare and lab workers from splashes that could contain bloodborne pathogens or chemicals used during their work.
Office Worker Eye Protection
Digital eye strain encompasses a range of eye and vision-related problems caused by prolonged exposure to digital screens, whether workers are in a physical office or a remote location. Digital eye strain can lead to dry or irritated eyes, blurred vision, and headaches. Fortunately, following the 20-20-20 rule can alleviate these symptoms; every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus briefly on something 20 feet away.
Following these tips can help reduce work-related eye injuries. In addition, routine eye exams can spot any eye issues promptly and allow appropriate treatment to be received. So remember to schedule your annual eye exam!