Protecting your eyes in the workplace
Written by Seamus Flynn, Optometrist
Eye injuries in the workplace are a very common occurrence and protecting your eyes should be a priority for both the employer and employee.
Approximately 2,000 U.S. workers suffer eye injuries in the workplace every day.
Using the correct protective equipment can significantly reduce the number of ocular injuries and also lessen the severity of the injuries that occur.
The most common eye injuries are
- Corneal scratches or abrasions
- Foreign bodies stuck in the eye
- Chemical burns
- Burns from UV and radiation exposure
Healthcare workers are also at risk of exposure to infectious diseases through the eyes from direct contact with blood splashes, respiratory droplets or contaminated fingers touching eyes that are not protected.
The official definition of when safety eyewear is needed in the workplace according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is when there is a reasonable possibility of eye injury occurring that could be prevented from wearing protective equipment.
Types of eye hazards
The most common hazards to look out for are
- Flying objects/substances (wood chips, metal particles, dust etc)
- Radiation (UV, IR, lasers etc)
- Infectious pathogens (from blood splashes, respiratory droplets)
Computer Vision Syndrome
Eyestrain from exposure to blue light from digital screens is becoming a big problem as more and more people are working and studying from home and therefore being exposed to this harmful blue light on a regular basis.
The blue light wavelengths are short, high energy wavelengths which causes a stress on the visual system and leads to tired eyes, headaches and eyestrain.
Workers who are using digital screens for an hour or more a day should be encouraged to follow the 20-20-20 rule. This guidance is that your every 20 minutes screen time they should look up from the screen and focus on an object 20 feet away. This takes the strain off the eyes and reduces the chances of experiencing eyestrain. Wearing blue light glasses is also a good idea as they block the blue light from the digital screens and protects the eyes from its harmful effects.
Safety Audit in the workplace
It is important that all employers carry out a eye hazard audit of their workplace to identify potential sources of eye injury and to mitigate those risks both in terms of minimising the chances of they occurring and providing the appropriate protective equipment to their employees.
Various protective equipments are required depending on the level of hazard present.
Safety glasses with protective side shields are required for small, low grade flying particles such as dust, flying wood chip or other particles. These glasses are made of reinforced materials and the side protections are also very important to include.
Goggles are necessary in situations where there is potential of high velocity impact. Like the safety glasses they are also made from reinforced materials to provide extra protection. They are generally fitted tight on the eyes to provide protection from particles in every possible direction.
Face shields, in addition to googles and safety glasses are necessary for chemical and blood splashes. Helmets are required in conjunction with these protective measures when welding or dealing with molten materials.
90% of workplace eye injuries occur due to poorly fitted or no protective eyewear being worn. Its very important that safety glasses and other protective equipment are fitted specifically for the intended user. Poorly fitted safety eyewear can lead to injury through gaps left by inadequate fitting procedures. Its also important to fix or replace any equipment that may have scratches or permanent smudges what would cause glare or reduce visibility and potentially contribute to accidents.
Contact lenses are permitted to be worn in almost all hazardous settings but safety glasses and other protective equipment most also be worn. They can be beneficial as they have a wider field of view and are a little less cumbersome than wearing prescription glasses beneath safety glasses. Safety glasses can have prescription lenses incorporated into them and this is recommended where appropriate. The only situation where contact lenses may potentially not be permitted is when dealing with chemical splashes and fumes. In such a situation if the chemical did come into contact with the eye and with the contact lenses the blink reflex is not as effective in clearing the hazard and it can become concentrated on the eye through the contact lens.
Dealing with ocular injuries in the workplace.
Workplace eye injuries need to be taken very seriously and immediate action is required. A medical professional must be called and the action taken depends on the source of the injury.
In cases of chemicals coming into contact with the eye it is important to wash the affected eye out with water for at least 20 minutes in order to dilute the chemical and minimise the chances of the chemical burning the eye. This can be done by using a faucet, filling up a sink or using a shower. It is very important to open your eyes and move it around in all directions to ensure the all the chemical is washed out. You may need to use your fingers to physically open your eye lids.
It is important not to bandage or put any pressure on the eye and to call a medical professional for assistance.
Foreign bodies injuries
It is very common to get foreign bodies such as wood chip, dust or small particles in the eye.
The first step is to wash the eye out with saline. Washing out the entire eye is important so you would need to look in all directions and pull back the eyelids when immersing in saline solution. It is important not to rub the eye as this could make the situation worse.
If the particle does not wash out it is important to keep the eye closed and to bandage it lightly.
Assistance form a medical doctor or an eyecare professional should be sought.
Penetrating injuries to the eye
If an object is has penetrated the ocular surface it is important not to wash the eye out or rub the eye as it can cause the object to penetrate the eye further and risks more extensive damage. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to remove the object.
In this situation a hard shield should be placed over the eye if it is available and the person needs to get to the emergency department as soon as possible.
American National Standard for safety eyewear
The national standards for the quality of safety glasses, goggles, side shields and face protectors are laid out in ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2020: American National Standard For Occupational And Educational Personal Eye And Face Protection Devices.
The ANSI creates uniform testing standards and guidelines for safety equipment.
Safety equipment with the ANSI markings show that they reach the safety standards for impact, non-ionizing radiation and liquid splash exposures and it is important for employers to make sure that the equipment that they are providing meets these standards and are of sufficient quality to protect the eyes adequately.