Eye Injuries Send 35,000 Workers Home Each Year

According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor, close to 35,000 Americans required time off from work due to eye injuries in one year alone. It is estimated that eye injuries total more than $300 million a year in lost production time, medical expenses and workers' compensation.

Ninety percent of all job-related eye injuries can be prevented by simply wearing the proper eye protection. That's why Prevent Blindness America has designated March as Workplace Eye Health and Safety Month. Workers are encouraged to protect their vision every day.

Prevent Blindness America maintains an anectdotal record of employees whose eyesight was saved by the use of safety eyewear:

  • Buddy and Willie were working on an electrical substation when it exploded. Both employees received second-degree burns on their heads and hands. The only parts of their faces that were not burned were protected by their safety glasses.
  • Jay and Jason were at work when they inadvertently struck a 6-foot fluorescent light bulb overhead. Fortunately, both employees were wearing safety goggles, which prevented the falling glass from entering their eyes.
  • Diana was assisting in the hook-up and removal of a die from a flatbed semi-tractor trailer. She slipped and fell to the ground, where her safety glasses were struck by the end of a pipe. Had she not been wearing her safety glasses, the pipe would have penetrated her eye, causing significant damage.

In 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 1.2 million American workers were injured and required recuperation away from work. Of that number, 34,740 were eye injuries.

The report also showed that painful chemical burns were the most common eye injury, followed by cuts, lacerations and punctures.

But beyond the emotional and physical toll of these injuries is the financial one. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that eye injuries totaled more than $300 million a year in lost production time, medical expenses and worker compensation.

"Whether you're on a job site or working behind a desk, it is so important to protect one of your most valuable assets - your vision," said Daniel Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America.

Although most eye injuries occur in manufacturing, production and construction industries, those that work with computers for long periods of time may also notice changes in their vision. Computer screens give off little or no harmful radiation, but workers who use them every day may feel their eyes are sore, irritated or fatigued. Prevent Blindness America offers these tips to help create a more comfortable workspace:

  • Place your computer screen 20 to 26 inches away from your eyes and a little below eye level to ease neck strain and to help keep your eyes from drying out.
  • Change the lighting to lower glare and harsh reflections.
  • Take breaks to stretch, stand up and rest your eyes to reduce eye and muscle fatigue.
  • Try to remember to blink often and keep eye drops at your desk to keep eyes lubricated.
  • If you notice any changes in your vision, see your eye doctor right away to make sure your eyes are healthy.

Prevent Blindness America offers several free fact sheets and brochures to safety managers and consumers including Eye Safety is No Accident, Workplace Safety Quiz and Computers & Your Eyes. Employers also may request information on the Wise Owl safety education program by calling (800)331-2020 or by visiting www.preventblindness.org.

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