Prevent Blindness America, a volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness, reports that each year 800,000 eye injuries occur on the job, including 36,000 that require the injured employee to take time off from work. The organization’s mission is to encourage employers and employees to make eye protection a top priority every day.
Prevent Blindness America isn’t alone in its objective to educate the public about the need for preventing workplace eye injuries. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is sponsoring a national initiative called “Healthy Vision 2010,” whose goal is to reduce the number of work-related eye injuries by involving both the public and private sectors. In its handbook titled Educating Your Community about Occupational Eye Injury, HHS lists the following as the most common types of workplace eye injuries:
- Corneal abrasion – Flying material particles such as grit, plastic bits, or metal flakes can fly into your eye, causing irritation or a scratch on the cornea. These particles can be as small as a pinhead and still cause significant damage.
- Blunt trauma – Falling or misdirected objects, or collisions with objects swinging from a fixed position, like tree limbs, ropes, chains, lumber, or tools can damage eyes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) names this as the leading cause of work-related eye injuries.
- Chemicals burns – Hazardous chemicals can splash into eyes, damaging them. BLS says that chemical burns account for 20% of all workplace eye injuries.
- Radiation burns – Ultraviolet light from welding torches can cause burns to the eyes and their surrounding tissue.
- Infections – Bacteria in fertilizers, waste, body fluids, and human remains can cause eye infections.
- Eye strain – Glare, poor lighting, and inadequate rest can cause eye fatigue, soreness, and headaches.
In spite of the numerous opportunities for eye injuries in the workplace, Prevent Blindness America says that 90% can be prevented. Here are the organization’s tips for keeping your eyes safe at work:
- Be aware of potential eye safety hazards at work.
- Wear safety glasses or goggles at all times whenever eye hazards are present.
- Be sure all safety eyewear is clearly marked “ANSI Z87.”
- Ask for prescription glasses or goggles if you have impaired vision.
- Know the location of the nearest eye wash station and how to use it.
- Notify your supervisor immediately if new safety hazards are discovered.
- Have regular eye exams to make sure your vision is adequate to work safely.