According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), each year, about 20,000 eye injuries occur in the workplace. Not only are eye injuries common on worksites, but they are also some of the most severe accidents that can occur. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), thousands of people suffer partial or total vision loss due to on-the-job eye injuries. Fortunately, eye injuries are preventable with the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and eye and face protection.
In recognition of October being Eye Injury Prevention Month, employers and workers should be aware of the dangers eye injuries can pose and take precautions to prevent related workplace accidents. Should an on-the-job incident occur, workers can consider filing a workers’ compensation claim or a personal injury lawsuit if the incident was caused by third-party negligence.
Identifying Common Workplace Eye Injuries
Eye injuries can range from a simple strain to significant trauma that can lead to permanent impairment. A key element of a safe working environment is risk awareness and prevention. Some of the most common workplace eye injuries and hazards include:
- Striking or scraping: The majority of workplace eye injuries are caused by small fragments or particles interacting with the eye. This includes splinters, dust, metal and wood fragments, and worksite debris. The particles can strike an unprotected eye due to outdoor winds, nearby use of heavy equipment or machinery, or objects falling from above.
- Blunt force trauma: Objects may strike the eye or face, or a worker may inadvertently come into contact with an object causing blunt-force trauma to the eye socket. This can also occur due to a fall from a height, slip, trip, or workplace auto accident.
- Chemical burns: Workers interacting with cleaning products, toxins, or industrial chemicals may be at risk for chemical-burn related eye-injuries. Even small amounts of chemicals coming into contact with the surface of an eye can cause severe injuries. Exposure usually occurs if the product is splashed or sprayed into the eye or by a worker accidentally touching their face without first properly cleaning their hands.
- Thermal burns: Shipfitters or workers who regularly use welding equipment may be at risk for thermal burns. On-the-job burns commonly result from UV exposure from welding accidents, fires or explosions.
- Penetration: Foreign objects like staples, nails or wood slivers or metal particles can go through the soft tissue of the eyeball and can result in a permanent loss of vision.
Safety First: Prevention Tips
Even minor eye injuries can cause long-lasting vision issues and suffering. A simple scratch to a cornea from a wood splinter or accidentally rubbing your eye without properly disinfecting your hands can be severe. Thus, it is vital for all managers and workers to be aware of the necessary safety precautions to prevent injuries from occurring.
Employers should take steps to set guidelines for all worksite personnel to follow in order to prevent even minor accidents and injuries, including:
- Provide proper PPE and job-specific eye and face protection to workers. PPE should be fit to the worker’s face and body and be appropriate for the nature of the hazard.
- Implement controls on machinery and equipment to prevent the escape of particles and debris; install welding curtains to protect against arc flashes.
- Restrict movement in potentially hazardous areas of the worksite to prevent unnecessary exposure to active work zones.
- Conduct hazard assessments in the workplace on a regular basis to identify potential safety risks.
- Ensure all eye and face protection meet OSHA standards, as well as all applicable local and state regulations.
Workers should ensure they always wear the correct protective eyewear. PPE should be chosen for the specific work situation and job function and should never impede your vision. Depending on the task at hand, PPE can include proper fitting goggles, safety glasses, face shields, welding helmets or a full-face respirator. In addition, anyone working in or passing through an area where work is being carried out with the potential to cause eye injuries should wear protective eyewear.
Considerations For Eye Protection Amid COVID-19
Given the global coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), workers should be mindful of personal safety measures while on the worksite, and employers should adapt existing safety guidelines to lessen the chance of exposure and spread of the virus. Key safety tips that can be implemented by all worksite personnel include:
- Wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with hot water and soap. This should be done by workers before any contact is made with the face, mouth or eyes.
- Ensure all eye and face protection are thoroughly cleaned and all necessary PPE is disinfected before and after use. Adhere to manufacturer instructions for cleaning and disinfection. If these guidelines are unavailable, follow the recommended CDC protocols for reprocessing eye protection.
- Avoid unnecessary contact with the face and eyes. Where possible, workers should use gloves or other material to adjust eyewear or itch the facial area.
- Consider using eye protection with extensions to cover the side of the eyes to ensure maximum coverage.
Steps to Take After an Eye Injury Occurs
Eye injuries can be severe and should be treated as emergencies. As with all workplace injuries, immediate medical attention should always be sought for the injured party. If an injury occurs outside of regular operating hours, contact an eye doctor’s emergency number. For major injuries such as chemical and thermal burns or penetration, call 911 immediately. As soon as possible, following medical treatment, the worker should file an accident report. If the worker needs to pay medical bills or recover lost wages, they may file a workers’ compensation claim.
If a worker suffers an eye injury due to the negligence of a third party, they may be able to secure compensation for damages sustained through a personal injury lawsuit. These lawsuits are intended to make the worker feel “whole” and can provide financial remedies for losses suffered due to negligence.
Workplace eye injuries can have long-lasting, deadly effects. In an ideal world, no eye-related incidents would occur; however, preventable accidents do happen. All workers, employers and managers should be aware of the potential risks and take steps to prevent accidents in the workplace. Workers who have suffered on-the-job injuries can secure compensation and legal remedies for damages through a workers’ compensation claim. They can also pursue a personal injury lawsuit if the injury was caused by third-party negligence.