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Protecting your eyes at work

Eye injuries in the workplace are very common. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that every day about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment. However, safety experts and eye doctors believe the right eye protection can lessen the severity or even prevent 90% of these eye injuries.

Eye injuries in the workplace are very common. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that every day about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment. However, safety experts and eye doctors believe the right eye protection can lessen the severity or even prevent 90% of these eye injuries.

Female doctor wearing safety glassesChemicals 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, laboratory and janitorial staff, and other workers may be at risk of acquiring infectious diseases from eye exposure. Some infectious diseases can be transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eye. 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.

Workers experience eye injuries on the job for two major reasons:

  1. They were not wearing proper eye protection.
  2. They were 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. These workers most often reported that they believed protection was not required for the situation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires workers to use eye and face protection whenever there is a reasonable probability of injury that could be prevented by such equipment. Personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses or full face respirators must be used when an eye hazard exists. The necessary eye protection depends upon the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, other protective equipment used and individual vision needs.

What are the potential eye hazards at work?

Workplace eye protection is needed when the following potential eye hazards are present:

  • Projectiles (dust, concrete, metal, wood and other particles).
  • Chemicals (splashes and fumes).
  • Radiation (especially visible light, ultraviolet radiation, heat or infrared radiation, and lasers).
  • Bloodborne pathogens (hepatitis or HIV) from blood and body fluids.

Some working conditions include multiple eye hazards. The proper eye protection takes all hazards into account.

Computer vision syndrome, also known as digital eye strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged use of computers, tablets, e-readers, and cell phones. The average American worker spends seven hours a day on the computer, whether in the office or working from home.

March is Save Your Vision month and the American Optometric Association is working to educate both employers and employees on how to prevent digital eye strain in the workplace. To help alleviate digital eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule; take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

See helpful infographics about the 20-20-20 rule and digital eyestrain.

Occupations with a high risk of eye injuries include:

Construction.
Manufacturing.
Mining.
Carpentry.
Automatic repair.
Electrical work.
Plumbing.
Welding.
Maintenance.
The type of safety eye protection you should wear depends on the hazards in your workplace:

If you are working in an area that has particles, flying objects, or dust, you should at least wear safety glasses with side shields (side shields).
If you are working with chemicals, you must wear protective glasses.
If you are working near hazardous radiation (welding, lasers, or fiber optics), you must wear special safety glasses, goggles, face shields, or hard hats designed for that task.
Learn about the requirements for your work environment. Side shields attached to your conventional (dress) glasses do not provide enough protection to meet OSHA requirements for many work environments.

In addition, employers must take steps to make the work environment as safe as possible. This includes:

Conducting a workplace eye risk assessment
Eliminate or reduce eye hazards where possible
Provide appropriate safety glasses and require employees to wear them
Your doctor of optometry can help you and your employer assess potential eye hazards in your workplace and determine what type of eye protection may be needed.

How can I protect my eyes from injury?
There are four things you can do to protect your eyes from injury:

Know the eye safety hazards on the job.
Eliminate hazards before starting work by using machine guards, work screens, or other engineering controls.
Wear suitable eye protection.
Keep your safety glasses in good condition and replace them if they get damaged.
Men and women who wear safety glasses The selection of the appropriate protective eyewear for a given task should be made based on a risk assessment of each activity. Types of eye protection include:

Prescription and non-prescription safety glasses. Although safety glasses may look like regular dress glasses, they are designed to provide significantly more eye protection. The lenses and frames are much stronger than regular glasses. Safety glasses must meet the standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Look for the Z87 marking on the lens or frame.

Safety glasses provide eye protection in general work conditions where dust, chips, or flying particles may be present. Side shields and wrap-around style safety glasses can provide additional side protection.

Safety glasses are available in plastic, polycarbonate and Trivex™ materials. While all four types must meet or exceed minimum requirements to protect your eyes, polycarbonate lenses provide the highest level of impact protection.

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