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Workplace Eye Safety in High-Risk Industries

September 2, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that roughly 2,000 workers daily sustain a job-related eye injury that requires medical attention. This can lead to many different encounters with your doctor including vision correction procedures. While you might not think about eye safety at work all that often, in reality, many eye injuries take place in both office environments and high-risk situations.

Regardless of your occupation, eye safety at work is incredibly important. Make sure to talk to your doctor about different high-risk scenarios that could result in eye injuries. We’ve also outlined additional information below.

Types of Eye Risk

The eyes are naturally vulnerable to many different hazards, especially while you are working. Your eyes are made from soft tissue, making them susceptible to different physical elements such as sharp objects or small particles. While their light sensitivity is essential to their functionality, your eyes are also vulnerable to bright light and heat. Workplace chemicals can potentially impact the fragile moisture and pH balance in your eyes as well.  

Impact and Dust

Physical dangers such as blunt trauma with an object, or getting dust particles in your eyes can often result in serious injuries. These scenarios have the potential to scratch or puncture the natural thin layer that provides a protective coating over the eye. 

While you might automatically think of large objects causing injury to the eye, in reality, there are small chips, particles, or fragments that may be airborne that can also cause damage. Corneal abrasions are one of the most common types of eye injuries, especially in workplaces that have dusty environments. Minor scratches can heal in a few days but, severe abrasions could result in permanent damage. 

Light and Heat

Another consideration for eye safety at work is light and heat. Burn damage to the eyes can happen all at once or over time if your eyes are frequently exposed to bright lights or high temperatures. 

This could stem from welding torches, fires, furnaces, sparks, or molten metals. If there is UV radiation in the 295-325nm range, it can result in photochemically induced opacities to your eye lenses. If there is radiation above 315nm, it can cause cataracts. If you work a desk job, know that prolonged blue light exposure can damage the eye receptors and impact your overall health and well-being. 

Chemical Exposure

The soft tissue of the eyes is naturally vulnerable to different chemicals found both at home and in the workplace. There are strong solvents, acids, alkalis, and cleaning agents that are used in many settings. For example, hairspray or bleach can cause serious damage if they make it into the eye. Short exposures to vapors, mists, and fumes from industrial chemicals could be so strong that they cause irreversible eye damage. According to the BLS, contact with chemicals results in one-fifth of eye injuries at work. 

6 Industries with High Risk of Eye Injury

Of course, workplace eye safety is more crucial in some industries than others. Here are some industries with a high risk of injury: 

#1 Office

You might not think of office jobs as posing a risk to your eye safety, but blue light exposure can accumulate and cause significant damage. Computer screens emit a blue light that results in digital eye strain in addition to retina damage. More and more office workers are spending time in front of their computers or cell phone to execute their work, resulting in higher blue light exposure every year. 

Regardless of your industry, if you are exposed to screens all day, make sure to take the necessary steps to protect your eyes. An estimated 90% of all workplace injuries can be significantly reduced by using the right safety eyewear. 

#2 Construction

Construction eye injuries are an important consideration and eye injuries are not uncommon. On many construction sites, crews are working with many dangerous tools that can threaten the health of the user’s eyes. There is also the additional threat of a blunt force injury that pokes the eyes, not to mention debris floating in the air at any given moment. Be on the lookout for sawdust, cement chips, metal fillings, and more, all of which can cause significant damage. These teams need to invest in construction eye protection to keep them safe.

#3 Manufacturing

Manufacturers can also experience eye injuries at work as many different projectiles are present. It’s possible for metal, dust, wood, and other debris to get into your eyes and cause damage. Whenever possible, protective eyewear should be worn, and, always be aware of your surroundings. If you’re part of a manufacturing project that doesn’t require protective eyewear, it is likely too dangerous to take on. Always put care of your eyes and your vision before a project!

#4 Healthcare

eye safety at work

Healthcare workers are not immune from developing workplace eye injuries. In this industry, there is less risk surrounding flying debris or contact trauma and more of an emphasis on viral or bacterial infections that could come into contact with the eyes. 

In hospitals particularly, the risk of infection is high due to splashed bodily fluids including blood. Other adjacent careers such as dentists and dental hygienists are also at risk, resulting in most professionals wearing eye protection when they are caring for patients. 

#5 Automotive Repair

Those who work in automotive repair shops are exposed to various eye-related dangers while they are working, especially as they are on their backs looking up at the under-portion of cars. Examples include sparks, dust, airborne metal particles, welding torches, or bench grinders. 

Even though the risk of eye damage in the automotive repair industry is prevalent, there are many reports from the American Academy of Optometry that note that many mechanics do not wear the necessary eye protection due to inadequate training or a lack of availability. 

#6 Professional Sports 

Professional athletes work incredibly hard to reach their levels of success, but in a swift flurry of knees, elbows, or hands, an eye poke can cause lasting damage. Eye protection is an integral part of many different sports including football, basketball, and baseball. 

Players such as Horace Grant took strides to make protective eyewear part of their signature look. It’s important that professional athletes take the steps they need to keep their eyes safe during practice and games, and this is particularly important in fast-paced contact sports.  

Workplace Eye Safety Tips

Now that we’ve identified some of the industries that often experience eye injuries, let’s explore some eye safety tips at work that can help keep you safe. With the right knowledge, you can reduce your risk of becoming injured. 

Manual Work Eye Safety

construction eye protection

Protecting your eyes at work doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated and there are many steps that you can take to reduce workplace hazards. When you’re working, make sure to assess all areas of your job to identify potential risks. 

  • If there is flying debris or a risk of falling material, take note of this. 
  • Lighting should always be taken into consideration, there should be adequate lighting to help you execute your job accurately.
  • Make sure that first-aid kits are readily available to increase eye safety in the workplace.
  • Install eye wash stations strategically around the facility to help injured personnel get immediate care and relief.
  • Implement an eye safety training policy to help educate your team.
  • Regular eye exams can help remind you to be safe and to practice good habits while doing your job. They will also make sure there hasn’t been any damage during your time on the job.
  • Wear protective eyewear such as glasses and goggles that are designed for specific workplaces to reduce your risk of becoming injured.
  • Keep the lenses of your protective eyewear clean so you can see clearly.
  • Make sure that first aid kits are always available near you regardless of your working location as you never know when they will come in handy.
  • In the case that your goggles or glasses become cracked, scratched, or broken, make sure that you replace them immediately.

Office Safety

Whether you’re working from home or at an office, make sure to take the essential steps to keep your eyes healthy and free from injury. Here are some tips to consider for improving your eye safety at home:

  • According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), you should keep your computer screen at least 40 inches in front of your eyes to reduce strain, eye fatigue, neck pain, and back pain.
  • While you should have enough lighting to see the text on your screen, it doesn’t need to be so bright that it causes glare. If it does, consider purchasing an anti-glare cover that goes over your monitor or screen.
  • Blinking automatically reduces when you’re staring at a screen which can result in dry, tired, and burning eyes. Make sure to take frequent vision breaks, and use artificial tear drops if you experience persistent dryness.
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule to reduce eye strain; take a break every 20 minutes, stare at a spot that’s 20 feet away, and hold your gaze for at least 20 seconds
  • Use blue-light glasses to filter out blue light that comes from your screen

Conclusion

Although workplace eye safety might not cross your mind all that often, it’s an essential step to keep your eyes safe and healthy for years to come. If you’re interested in learning more about workplace eye safety or you’re curious about our services in Chicago and surrounding areas, get in touch with our team at the Kraff Eye Institute today!

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Dr. Colman R. Kraff

Committed to advancing new technologies in the field of ophthalmology, Dr. Colman Kraff helped to pioneer laser vision correction. In February of 1991, as part of a five-site, U.S., FDA clinical trial team, Dr. Kraff successfully performed the first excimer laser procedures in the Chicagoland area using the VISX Excimer Laser.

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