At least 55% of all recorded eye injuries occur in the workplace and most require 2-3 days off work as a result. The best way to avoid eye injury is the use of eye protection on the job – experts believe that 90% of injuries could have been prevented with the correct eye protection measures in place.
At least 55% of all recorded eye injuries occur in the workplace and it is estimated that roughly 1-2000 workers sustain eye injuries daily. Of these injuries, at least 100 result 2-3 days off work. The best way to avoid eye injury is the use of eye protection on the job – experts believe that 90% of injuries could have been prevented with the correct eye protection measures in place.
A workplace eye injury can cause lingering, permanent vision damage, which has the potential to disable a worker for life. Even seemingly minor eye injuries can cause long-term problems and suffering, like recurrent and painful corneal erosion from a minimal scratch caused by sawdust, cement or drywall.
When you think about eye protection like this (and bear in mind that we each get one set of eyeballs to last us a lifetime!) it makes practical and financial sense to ensure that the right protection is available to workers while on the job.
How do eye injuries happen?
- Striking or scraping injuries: Most eye injuries happen when small particles or objects strike or scrape the eye. This can be: dust, cement chips, metal slivers, or wood chips. These hazards are often discharged by tools, blown in by wind or fall from an overhead worker. Large objects may also strike the eye or face, or a worker may run into an object causing blunt-force trauma to the eyeball or eye socket.
- Penetration injuries: Objects like nails, staples, or slivers of wood or metal can go through the eyeball and result in the permanent loss of vision.
- Chemical and thermal burn injuries: Industrial chemicals or cleaning products are common causes of chemical burns to one or both eyes. Thermal burns to the eye occur often among welders and such burns cause extensive damage to the eyes and surrounding tissue.
What about occupational eye diseases?
Eye diseases are often spread through the mucous membranes of the eye as a result of direct exposure to contaminants like blood splashes, and droplets from coughing or sneezing or from touching the eyes with a contaminated finger or object. Eye diseases can result in minor reddening or soreness of the eye or manifest in a life-threatening disease like hepatitis B or bird flu.
What can workers do to prevent eye injury and disease?
Aside from removing all hazards from the workspace, and ensuring a clean workstation, employees can wear personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full face respirators.
Things to consider when choosing eye protection:
- The nature and extent of the hazard
- The circumstances of exposure and other PPE used
- Personal vision needs
Quick tip: Eye protection should be fit to an individual or adjustable to provide appropriate coverage. It should be comfortable and allow for sufficient peripheral vision.
What can employers do to prevent occupational eye injury and disease?
Employers can make sure that engineering controls are applied within the workplace in order to reduce eye injuries and prevent exposure to infection. They should also conduct a hazard assessment to identify the appropriate type of protective eyewear that appropriate for a given task within their workplace, and make such protection available to workers.
Which is better: safety glasses or safety goggles?
For the purposes of eye protection, there are some cases when safety glasses will provide adequate protection, while there are other cases where safety goggles might be required for enhanced protection. But how do you determine when to wear which?
Here’s a quick explanation of the differences:
For most eye protection requirements, safety glasses will suffice. These are characterised by safety frames and safety lenses and they generally have side shields to provide protection from flying objects. These will help protect your eyes from objects that could bruise, pierce or damage your eyes, as safety glasses are tested to withstand high impacts.
While safety glasses protect the eyes from high impact hazards, they do not provide complete eye protection from all elements. This is because eye glasses have small gaps around the top, sides and bottom. There are many applications in which safety goggles would be a better choice to provide complete eye protection, as these provide complete 360-degree coverage around the eyes and includes a strap to help hold the goggles securely against the head.
Safety goggles are intended to form a seal against the face to protect the eyes by keeping contaminants out. They also usually contain ventilation slats to help with air flow and prevent misting. Safety goggles are often worn over safety glasses, for extra protection. If you require prescription glasses, it’s much easier to wear them with safety goggles. Safety goggles are held on to the head with a strap, which is important when you’re on-site and you can’t run the risk of having your protective eyewear unexpectedly fall off.
More information about eye protection in the workplace:
- When Should You Wear Safety Goggles Instead of Glasses?
- Eye Safety: Tips for Protecting Vision in the Workplace.
- Eye Safety Checklist.