Vision and Safety Experts Offer Best Practices to Prevent Eye Injuries

Dec. 15, 2010
Each day, nearly 2,000 American workers suffer the pain of avoidable workplace eye injuries that require medical treatment. Yet, despite the risk of eye injury, many workers bypass appropriate precautions to protect their eyes.

The Vision Council, in conjunction with the 100-year-old American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), announced the release of a new issue brief, “Eye Safety At-a-Glance: Protecting Your Vision at Work," which discusses the importance of workers protecting their eyes while on the job.

In addition to the physical toll exacted by workplace eye injuries, they also come at great cost to businesses. An estimated $300 million annually in medical bills, compensation and downtime is the result of workplace eye injury. Lost productivity is another significant consequence, with more than 27,000 reported days away from work among private industry employees in 2008.

“Although workplace eye injuries can be devastating, there is a positive story to tell about prevention when workers consistently use the right protective eyewear,” said Ed Greene, CEO of the Vision Council. “The Vision Council developed this issue brief to ensure that business owners and workers are aware that using the proper eye protection, such as safety glasses, goggles, face shields and helmets, can prevent countless eye injuries and cases of vision loss.”

Potential eye hazards can be found in nearly every industry. While 61 percent of eye injuries occur in manufacturing, construction or trade jobs, threats like chemical exposure are present in hospitals, laboratories and many other types of workplaces. Research also shows that nearly three out of every five workers injured were wearing either the wrong kind of eye protection or no protection at all. The Vision Council has partnered with ASSE to develop this issue brief in order to spread the message that workplace eye injuries are largely preventable.

Many job activities have the potential to cause eye injury; some are more obvious than others. Common causes of eye injuries include:

  • 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 bodily fluids including blood

OSHA requires the use of eye and face protection whenever there is a reasonable probability of injury that could be prevented by such equipment. The eye protection chosen for specific work situations should depend upon the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, other protective equipment used and individual vision needs. Safety eyewear protection includes: non-prescription and prescription safety glasses; goggles; face shields; welding helmets; and full-face respirators.

Employers are required by law to assess eye safety hazards in the workplace and take measures to ensure employee safety through compliance with government regulations for eyewear and emergency eyewash stations. But employees also should be aware of the potential for eye injury and ways to protect themselves.

Eye hazards and vision safety in the workplace have been a top focus of ASSE members. ASSE serves as secretariat for several American National Standard Institute (ANSI) standard projects and was formerly secretariat for the Z87 standard, which focuses on vision safety, eye and face protection in the workplace and provides guidelines for eye protection design and construction. Eye protection in the workplace is very important to ensure employees return home injury and illness free to their families each day.

The brief offers advice for emergency eye care, including these lists of things to do and things to avoid:

Do:

  • Protect the eye from further damage by holding a folded cloth over the eye, having it act as a shield.
  • Seek eye care immediately.
  • Bandage any cuts around the eye to prevent contamination or infection.
  • Flush the eye with water in the case of a chemical burn or if there is small debris in
  • the eye.
  • Use a cold compress to treat a blunt trauma injury such as a black eye, but be careful not to apply additional pressure.

Don’t:

  • Do not remove any objects that are stuck in the eye as this could worsen the injury.
  • Do not wash out the eye when dealing with cuts or punctures to the eye.
  • Do not attempt to self-medicate, apply ointments or take any medications, including over-the-counter drugs.
  • Do not rub the eye or apply pressure. Doing so may cause more damage.

To view or download a copy of the Vision Council’s Eye Safety At-a-Glance: Protecting Your Vision in the Workplace issue brief, visit http://www.thevisioncouncil.org/consumers.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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