The personal and economic toll of eye injuries at work is alarming. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20,000 eye injuries occur in the workplace each year. Injuries on the job often require one or more missed work days for recovery. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace eye injuries cost an estimated $300 million a year in lost productivity, medical treatment and worker compensation.
These injuries range from simple eye strain to severe trauma that can cause permanent damage, vision loss and blindness.
The most important thing you can do to protect your vision at work is to always wear appropriate protective eyewear. This can prevent more than 90% of serious eye injuries.
“As Ben Franklin once said, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,'” said ophthalmologist Anne Sumers, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “It takes very little effort to protect yourself from on-the-job hazards that can cause blinding eye injuries. We strongly advise workers and their employers not to let their guard down when it comes to eye protection.”
Know the Dangers in Your Work Environment
Use machine guarding, work screens or other engineering controls to protect your eyes from hazards such as:
- Flying shards of metal or glass;
- Tools that slip or malfunction;
- Particles such as wood splinters, metal shavings or crystalline silica;
- Spattered chemicals;
- Any combination of these or other hazards.
Choose the Right Protective Eyewear
Shield your eyes in areas where there is the slightest chance of eye injury. Anyone passing through those areas should also wear protection. This is particularly true for welders, who face a high risk of on-the-job eye injury.
The eyewear you need depends on the hazards you face. Wear:
- Safety glasses with side protection (side shields) if you work around particles, flying objects or dust;
- Goggles if you handle chemicals;
- Specially designed safety glasses, goggles, face shields or helmets if you work near hazardous radiation, such as welding, lasers or fiber optics.
All protective eyewear should comply with OSHA regulations for eye and face protection. OSHA also provides information about the types of filter lenses required for specific welding and cutting activities, and cautions about the danger of eye irritation from welding fumes as well. Your gear should also meet the eye protection standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Learn to Recognize an Eye Injury at Work
Workers and employers should know how to recognize an eye injury and get help right away. Delaying medical attention can result in permanent vision loss or blindness. If you or a coworker injure your eye, follow these important care and treatment guidelines for eye injuries. It’s best to the emergency room immediately, even if the eye injury appears minor.
Get medical help right away if you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone else:
- The person has obvious pain or trouble seeing;
- The person has a cut or torn eyelid;
- One eye does not move as well as the other;
- One eye sticks out compared to the other;
- The eye has an unusual pupil size or shape;
- There is blood in the clear part of the eye;
- The person has something in the eye or under the eyelid that can’t be easily removed.