Eye injuries in the workplace occur daily. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), about 2,000 U.S. workers per day sustain job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment. However, safety experts and eye doctors believe proper eye protection can prevent 90% of these eye injuries.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workers to use eye and face protection whenever there is a reasonable probability of injury. Personal protective eyewear, including goggles, safety glasses, face shields, and sometimes even full-face respirators must be used when an eye hazard exists.
Chemicals or foreign objects in the eye and scratches on the cornea are common eye injuries that occur at work. Other common eye injuries come from fluids splashed in the eye, burns from steam, and ultraviolet or infrared radiation exposure. In addition, health care workers and other workers may be at risk of acquiring infectious diseases from eye exposure. This can occur through direct contact with splashes of blood, respiratory droplets generated during coughing, or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects.
Other occupations with a high risk for eye injuries include:
- Auto repair
- Electrical work
It is vital for employees to know the requirements for their work environment. The type of eye protection needed depends on the workplace hazards. Safety glasses with side shields are appropriate for a workplace with particles, flying objects, or dust. However, goggles are required when working with chemicals. In a workplace with hazardous radiation (welding, lasers, or fiber optics) special-purpose safety glasses, goggles, face shields, or helmets designed for that specific task provide better protection for workers’ eyes. It is important to note that side shields placed on conventional glasses do not offer enough protection to meet the OSHA requirement for many work environments. In addition, employers need to take steps to make the work environment as safe as possible.
The type of necessary eye protection depends upon:
- The type of hazard
- The circumstances of exposure
- Other protective equipment used
- Individual vision needs
Two main reasons for eye injuries at work include not wearing proper eye protection and wearing the wrong kind of protection for the job. A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of workers who suffered eye injuries revealed that nearly three out of five were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident. Most of these workers reported that they believed protection was not required for the situation.
Steps for preventing eye injuries in the workplace:
- Assess: Inspect all work areas and equipment for hazards to the eyes. Identify operations and areas that present eye hazards
- Protect: Select protective eyewear designed for a specific duty or hazard. Protective eyewear must meet the current standards.
- Fit: Workers need protective eyewear that fits well and is comfortable. Provide repairs for eyewear and require each worker to be in charge of his or her own gear.
- Plan for an Emergency: Set up first-aid procedures for eye injuries. Have eyewash stations that are easy to get to, especially where chemicals are used. Train workers in basic first-aid and identify those with more advanced training.
- Educate: Conduct ongoing educational programs to highlight the need for protective eyewear. Add eye safety to your regular employee training programs and to new employee orientation.
- Support: Management support is key to having a successful eye safety program. Management can show their support for the program by wearing protective eyewear whenever and wherever needed.
- Review: Regularly review and update your accident prevention policies. Your goal should be NO eye injuries or accidents.
We offer an Eye Safety Training Course that will familiarize your staff with good eye safety practices. The topics included in our eye safety training class are potential eye hazards, hazard assessment, and implementing an eye safety protection program. Further, this training will cover appropriate OSHA-approved personal protective equipment and how to use it and assess eye danger in various situations appropriately.