Eye Safety in Your Workplace

by | Oct 2, 2018

The sad fact of the matter is this: Eye injuries in the workplace are extremely common. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, an average of 2,000 U.S. workers require medical treatment for job-related eye injuries every day. That’s almost 750,000 people per year! Clearly, this is a big problem. Fortunately, it’s not a completely unavoidable problem. Many safety experts agree that proper eye protection can potentially prevent 9 out of 10 of those eye injuries (or at least reduce their severity). This conclusion was likely reached by considering that there are two major reasons for workplace eye injuries:
  1. Employees not wearing eye protection.
  2. Employees wearing the wrong kind of protection.
In the first case, employees might be provided proper protection—but they make the choice not to use it. This is something that can be remedied through the creation, implementation, and enforcement of work policies. In some instances, employees don’t wear eye protection because it’s not provided. The good news in this regard is that employers are becoming increasingly aware of how important this is, and are making sure employees have access to appropriate safety glasses. This leads to that second reason for on-the-job eye injuries—ensuring that provided eye protection is appropriate for the job. To that end, an increasing number of employers hire “safety” professionals who are charged with reducing workplace injuries and creating safer environments for workers (and site visitors). Employees in these roles are typically expected to verify that the company is in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines and regulations. OSHA requires employees to use equipment protecting their eyes and faces wherever there’s a reasonable chance that injuries can be prevented with proper protection. The specific equipment—safety glasses, goggles, face shields, full-face respirators, etc.—will depend on the nature of the work being performed and must be worn when an eye hazard exists. So what kinds of eye hazards can be found on a job site? Naturally, this will depend on the specific circumstances for every respective job and work site, but some common examples of potential eye hazards include:
  • Projectiles. When machines create particles—dust, wood, metal, concrete, etc.—to spray into the air, it’s an obvious situation where contaminants can affect eye health and safety.
  • Chemicals. In these situations, chemical products are either a risk due to splashing or fumes. Often, eye protection will be part of a mask that also protects employees from breathing in harmful chemicals.
  • Radiation. Light is important in many different regards, but it can also be potentially harmful to eye health as well. Ultraviolet radiation, lasers, and infrared radiation are particularly concerning.
  • Bloodborne pathogens. Your eye tissues are mucous membranes, which means they can enable pathogens found in blood and body fluids to potentially enter the body, thereby creating health problems.
These respective hazards aren’t necessarily isolated. Depending on the work site and job, there might be different kinds entailed—projectile and radiation hazards might both be found in a manufacturing facility that uses lasers, for example—and multiple threats within the same kind of hazard (such as a medical facility where both blood and body fluid pathogens are present). With that being the case, proper eye protection needs to take all possible hazards into consideration. This list of occupations that contain a high risk for job-related eye injuries is fairly extensive and includes: construction, manufacturing, carpentry, welding, mining, auto repair, maintenance, plumbing, and office jobs that require ample computer usage. In all likelihood, you would reasonably expect to see many of those kinds of job in such a list, but might be surprised by the inclusion of office jobs. Well, we hope it isn’t that much of a surprise. After all, there has been an increasing awareness of Digital Eye Strain (or Computer Vision Syndrome) over the past two decades or so. Those terms refer to a group of vision-related problems that stem from using electronic devices—like computers, tablets, phones, etc.—for prolonged periods. Given that the average American worker spends around seven hours every day using a computer (both in the office and at home), it’s probably easy to consider how this can be a problem—one that is only increasing as our world becomes more “digital” in nature. As with more-traditional measures for eye protection, employers are becoming aware of the issue and are taking measures to educate employees on best practices. In this case, you can reduce digital eye strain by taking a 20-second break from electronic screens to look at something about 20 feet away every 20 minutes (the “20-20-20 rule”). Employers have a certain degree of responsibility for creating a safe work environment for the men and women who need to be there, but there are also things you can do as well. These include taking actions like:
  • Being aware of the eye safety dangers in your job, and bringing them to management attention (if they aren’t already aware of potential risks).
  • Addressing possible eye hazards before starting your work for the day (such as by making sure you have guards and screens in place).
  • Actually wearing your eye protection—since safety glasses aren’t particularly helpful sitting on a work bench or hanging out in your locker.
  • Keeping your eye protection in good condition and replacing it if there’s any damage or impaired functionality.
No matter if you are using proper eye protection or not, there’s still always a chance that an emergency can develop. (That’s just life.) If one does, you need to know the correct first aid steps to take. A responsible employer will have first aid steps established and provide periodic training—so employees can know what can be done until professional medical assistance arrives. The nature of first aid for an eye injury at work will vary greatly depending on the nature of the injury, the environment, and other considerations. That being said, below you will find some general guidelines for various situations that can (and do happen) at workplaces. If you have particles in an eye:
  • Avoid the temptation to rub your eye. Doing so can push a foreign object further in or scrape valuable eye tissues.
  • Irrigate your eye with tear drops. If you don’t have artificial tear solution handy, your natural tears may be able to wash the speck out.
  • In some instances, you might be able to remove the particle by lifting your upper eyelid outward slightly and then down.
  • In the event you cannot get the particle to wash out, keep your eye closed, bandage it lightly, and seek professional medical care.
If your eye or eyelid has been cut or punctured:
  • Do not wash out your eye or attempt to remove an object stuck in it.
  • Cover your eye with a makeshift shield that is rigid, such as the bottom half of a paper cup.
  • Seek immediate medical care.
If your eye has been struck by a solid object:
  • Without putting pressure on your eye, gently apply a cold compress (like a plastic bag filled with crushed ice) to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
  • Seek immediate medical care if you have reduced vision or severe pain.
If your eye has been splashed with a chemical:
  • Immediately flush your contaminated eye(s) with running water from a faucet, shower, or garden hose—or continually pour water into your eye from a clean container (if you don’t have better options)—for at least 15 minutes.
  • If you wear contacts, remove them as soon as you can can after initially flushing the eye. (They may have actually come out on their own during the flushing process. )
  • Do not try to neutralize the chemical with other substances or bandage the affected eye.
  • After flushing with water, seek immediate medical care.
If you are employed on a full-time basis, you spend a lot of time at work. When you’re there, you should take every precaution possible to maintain your eye health and stay safe from potential hazards. Hopefully, your employer has worked hard to create a safe environment, including taking considerations with eye safety. In the event you observe any possible concerns in this regard, you should bring them to the attention of management. Additionally, it is important to do the things you can to maintain your own health and safety. For more information about job-related eye concerns—or if you are having eye or vision problems due to your employment (or otherwise)—contact Sight Eye Clinic by calling (616) 772-2020. One of our team members will be happy to answer any questions or help you schedule an appointment!