Although most of us take good vision for granted, organizations like Prevent Blindness tell us that every day, over 2,000 people damage their eyes at work. Furthermore, about 10% of those injured must stay at home at least one or two days to recover. Some of these eye injuries are quite serious. In fact, roughly 10-20% of all work-related eye damage causes temporary or permanent vision loss.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that about one-third (33%) of workplace eye injuries require emergency room treatment. In addition to each injured person’s pain and suffering, these eye injuries cost America a great deal in terms of lost worker productivity and expensive medical bills.
Due to this serious health threat, we can each benefit by reviewing: (1) the most common types of workplace eye injuries, (2) safety guidelines for preventing them, and (3) specific types of safety gear that can help us keep our eyes in good condition.
Workplace Eye Injuries Are Caused by Different Types of Tasks & Duties
In addition to many dangerous construction jobs — firefighters, laboratory scientists, janitorial workers, medical professionals, landscape workers and others must all constantly guard their eyes to avoid incurring various eye injuries. Here’s a look at some of the most common types.
- Penetration injuries. These are often caused by flying nails, staples, metal slivers, wood chips, dust and cement chips. Landscape and lawn workers are also often injured by flying rocks and gravel;
- Blunt force trauma. When falling from one height to another on a construction site or when accidentally running into an object without seeing it first, our eyes can be seriously damaged;
- Chemical burns. A wide range of workers can accidentally splash cleaning products and industrial chemicals into their eyes;
- Smoke and various toxic burning substances. Firefighters and other first responders often encounter unusual gases and airborne substances when older structures or stored substances catch on fire;
- Thermal burns. Welders and others must stay alert and wear the best facial goggles and other gear available to avoid incurring either thermal or UV radiation burns.
Workers Need the Best Eye Protection Gear Available for Each Task
Injured workers have long told government researchers that most of their eye injuries occur while they’re actually wearing some type of eye protection. Therefore, it’s critical for employers to always provide the best protective gear available for the activity at hand.
Likewise, eye goggles and other facial protective gear must fit properly so that dangerous substances can’t slip around the edges and still damage the eyes. All safety eyewear should also feature proper side protection so that stray materials can’t still reach and harm the eyes in that manner.
- Look for the appropriate “Z87,” “Z87+” (or more updated) safety ranking. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes on one of its National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website pages that all protective eyewear should have this ranking stamped somewhere – usually on the frame or even one of the lenses. This holds true for many prescription and non-prescription glasses, tinted/non-tinted goggles, face shields, and welding helmets (among other similar gear);
- Use safety glasses or spectacles when appropriate. These are most frequently used as protection against impact and optical radiation;
- Make sure your protective gear has the proper tint. Torch soldering is one of many tasks that require workers to obtain the proper tint on their eye gear. Gas and arc welding also require unique tints. Employers must carefully explain all of this information to new workers and those moving into new positions requiring special eye safety gear. Jobs involving sawing, hammering, and drilling are among those that require special tints.
Finally, all workers must wear appropriate gloves and other safety gear, making sure to remove such items with great care so that any fluids or loose materials still attached to them won’t be accidentally rubbed into the eyes.
Online sources include: PreventBlindness.org; Centers for Disease Control; U. S. Department of Labor, OSHA Fact Sheet No. 92-03; The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), Eye Safety pages.