Each year, more than 2,000 workers suffer eye injuries in the workplace that require medical treatment, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). A third of all reported occupational eye injuries require trips to the emergency room, and at least 100 of these incidents result in one or more days away from work.
One of the most at-risk groups of workers is those within the construction and labor trade industries. With this being a common and serious injury on construction sites, it’s important for both employers and workers to come together to mitigate risks and know what steps to take should an accident occur.
Types of Eye Injuries on Construction Sites
Workers in the construction industry, as well as other trades like electrical, welding, carpentry, and plumbing, are often at a heightened risk of injuries due to the nature of their job tasks. Depending on the severity, eye injuries can result in total, partial or permanent vision loss. Accidents on the job that result in damage to the eye are often caused by one of the following:
● Scrape or strike
● Impact or penetration
● Chemical or thermal burns
The majority of eye injuries are due to scrapes or strikes and can result from objects or debris coming in contact with the eye. This may include but is not limited to dust, cement chips, wood particles or wood slivers. These particles are often projected by tools, picked up by the wind or may fall on the worker from above. Impact and penetration injuries are serious and often require emergency medical intervention. Things like staples, nails, wood chips or pieces and metal slivers can pierce the eyeball.
On job sites, workers may be exposed to industrial chemicals or cleaning products that drip, squirt or splash into the eyes, causing burns. Laborers who work with tools that emit heat, such as blowtorches, casters or furnaces, or hot surfaces, such as metal forks and rods, may be at risk of thermal burns. Welders also face the risk of burns from the arc welding process that emits UV rays, bright flashes and even sparks that can harm the skin and eyes.
Safety Tips for Employers, Workers
Under Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) law, employers have a responsibility to provide a reasonably safe work environment and take steps to prevent accidents that cause injuries. For this reason, it’s important that employers and safety site managers take the lead in implementing awareness initiatives and risk mitigation tactics on job sites to keep workers safe.
Assess Hazards on Job Sites
Employers and/or safety site managers should scan the work area for potential risks prior to workers performing job duties. This means taking regular walk-through audits of the site to help identify hazards and assessing tools to make sure they are functioning properly and being used correctly by workers.
Proper Use of PPE
The use of proper protective eyewear and safety gear while performing work tasks is key. In the construction industry, many workers are advised to use safety goggles or glasses while performing job tasks. Protective eyewear should cover the worker’s eyes without leaving gaps between the seal and their skin. The eyewear should be construction-grade material and able to withstand a blow or puncture. In addition, welders will need welding lenses and goggles specifically designed to safeguard them against sparks, heat, radiation and debris.
Invest Time and Resources Into Training
Before beginning work tasks, it’s important that the employer or manager goes over the latest safety procedures, potential risk hazards and steps to take should an accident occur. Managers should discuss the tasks that need to be completed for the shift and what PPE is required to perform them. Workers should test their protective eyewear to ensure it fits snuggly to their face and against the skin with no gaps. All training guides and instructions should comply with local, state and federal safety regulations.
Steps to Take Following An Accident
Should a worker suffer an eye-related injury while on the job, it’s important that they follow emergency procedures and protocol. If the worker has debris in their eye, it’s important to advise them not to rub, touch or put pressure on the eye as it could further damage its surface. If the debris is small, like sand or dust, and hasn’t caused severe damage to the eye, consider flushing the eye with sterile water or eye wash solution. If the debris cannot be removed by flushing out the eye, place a patch or lightly bandage the eye until the worker can see a doctor.
Some injuries should be considered medical emergencies. One is if an object has penetrated or cut the eyeball. Always advise the worker not to try to remove the object themselves. Another would be if an eye has had direct exposure to chemical solutions. If the worker gets chemicals in their eyes, have them use sterile water or an eye wash solution. Even if the worker initially says that they are okay after these incidents, consider that they may be in shock and unaware of how serious the damage is. If the injury is severe and emergency care is needed, do not hesitate to call 911.
In many instances, if the worker suffers an eye injury while performing workplace duties, they may be able to recover financial losses for medical expenses, lost wages, and disability coverage by filing a workers’ compensation claim. While laws vary from state to state, in many jurisdictions, a worker may be able to file for workers’ compensation benefits, regardless of whether the worker or employer was at fault.
Suppose the injury occurs due to a third party’s negligence outside of an employer. In that case, a worker may consider pursuing a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages associated with the condition sustained. Damages awarded in these claims are provided to make victims "whole.” They can include compensation for medical expenses, lost income, future wages or diminished earning potential, pain and suffering, as well as mental anguish, quality of life loss, and other emotional injuries. Those seeking to pursue legal action against a negligent third party may wish to seek the guidance of an experienced workplace accident lawyer.
David Perecman is the founder and lead trial attorney at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.