Eye injuries in the workplace are very common. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that every day about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment. However, safety experts and eye doctors believe the right eye protection can lessen the severity or even prevent 90 percent of these eye injuries.
Chemicals or foreign objects in the eye and cuts or scrapes on the cornea are common eye injuries that occur at work. Other common eye injuries come from splashes with grease and oil, burns from steam, ultraviolet or infrared radiation exposure, and flying wood or metal chips.
In addition, health care workers, laboratory and janitorial staff, and other workers may be at risk of acquiring infectious diseases from eye exposure. Some infectious diseases can be transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eye. This can occur through direct exposure to blood splashes, respiratory droplets generated during coughing, or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects.
Workers experience eye injuries on the job for two major reasons:
- They were not wearing eye protection.
- They were wearing the wrong kind of protection for the job.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of workers who suffered eye injuries revealed that nearly three out of five were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident. These workers most often reported that they believed protection was not required for the situation.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workers to use eye and face protection whenever there is a reasonable probability of injury that could be prevented by such equipment. Personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses or full-face respirators must be used when an eye hazard exists. The necessary eye protection depends upon the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, other protective equipment used and individual vision needs.
Workplace eye protection is needed when the following potential eye hazards are present:
- Projectiles (dust, concrete, metal, wood and other particles).
- Chemicals (splashes and fumes).
- Radiation (especially visible light, ultraviolet radiation, heat or infrared radiation, and lasers).
- Bloodborne pathogens (hepatitis or HIV) from blood and body fluids.
Computer Vision Syndrome, also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. The average American worker spends seven hours a day on the computer either in the office or working from home.
The type of safety eye protection you should wear depends on the hazards in your workplace:
- If you are working in an area that has particles, flying objects or dust, you must at least wear safety glasses with side protection (side shields).
- If you are working with chemicals, you must wear goggles.
- If you are working near hazardous radiation (welding, lasers or fiber optics) you must use special-purpose safety glasses, goggles, face shields or helmets designed for that task.
Know the requirements for your work environment. Side shields placed on your conventional (dress) glasses do not provide enough protection to meet the OSHA requirement for many work environments.
In addition, employers need to take steps to make the work environment as safe as possible. This includes:
- Conducting an eye hazard assessment of the workplace
- Removing or reducing eye hazards where possible
- Providing appropriate safety eyewear and requiring employees to wear it
Your optometrist can assist your employer and you in evaluating potential eye hazards in your workplace and determining what type of eye protection may be needed.
There are four things you can do to protect your eyes from injury:
- Know the eye safety dangers at your work.
- Eliminate hazards before starting work by using machine guards, work screens or other engineering controls.
- Use proper eye protection.
- Keep your safety eyewear in good condition and have it replaced if it becomes damaged
Dr. Patrick Utnehmer, Promenade Optometry & Lasik, (951) 296-2211.