“Begin with safe eyes, finish with safe eyes” is a common slogan about eye safety. This cannot be overemphasized because eyesight is one of our most important senses, the loss of which may cause significant changes in our daily lives. It remains imperative, therefore, to keep the eyes safe in the place we spend much of our time – the workplace.
Every day in America, more than 2,000 people suffer an eye injury on the job, with more than 700,000 of such injuries happening every year. This implies that about a million Americans have experienced impaired vision as a result of eye injury. For employers and organizations, this translates to more than $934 million in productivity loss, health costs, fines, and employee compensations.
Work-Related Eye Injuries
Work-related eye injuries are not isolated to outdoor or physically-demanding jobs such as construction work, engineering, or landscaping; almost all occupations expose you to the risk of eye injuries. As a matter of fact, simply working in an office, at your computer desk places you at risk of sustaining injuries to your eye.
Common work-related eye injuries range from cuts or punctures to the eye, chemical burns, and eye damage resulting from exposure to bright ultraviolet light, such as welding flashes. As a result, jobs that involve handling chemicals and excessive exposure to bright lights or ultraviolet lights, machines and tools that weld, spray, or cut are high-risk jobs for eye injuries.
For the majority of employees in the corporate workplace, blue light remains a common eye hazard. More than 60 percent of people spend over 6 hours of their day in front of electronic devices that use LED backlight technology. These devices include digital screens (cell phones, computers, flat-screen televisions, and tablets), fluorescent and LED lighting, and electronic devices.
A recent survey by The Vision Council showed that 87 percent of respondents used digital devices for more than two hours each day, with more than 52 percent using two such devices simultaneously every day. This suggests a high daily exposure to blue light among many workers.
While blue light may have its benefits, such as elevating mood and boosting alertness, prolonged exposure to it may cause digital eyestrain syndrome (which has become the most common computer-related complaint among workers) and retinal damage, which may lead permanent vision loss. A Harvard study states that this High Energy Visible (HEV) blue light, from these electronic devices, is the most dangerous light for the retina.
Preventing Eye Injuries in the Workplace
Fortunately, almost all eye injuries workers sustain in the workplace care preventable. The risk of work-related eye injuries is reduced with proper preventive strategies. However, this responsibility falls on both employers and employees.
What Employers Can Do
Managers and supervisors can control potential eye hazards by putting the following in place:
Provide Appropriate Eye Protection
It is not enough to provide eye protection to workers; employers should provide eye protection appropriate for tasks. This requires knowing which job tasks require low-, medium-, and high-impact eye protection.
Low-impact protection such as safety glasses, eyecup goggles, and face shields are appropriate for jobs that involve chipping, riveting, and hammering a strap under tension. Medium-impact protection may be needed for tasks that involve wire handling, scaling and grinding metals, and brick cutting.
Jobs that involve the use of nail guns and explosive power tools require high-impact protection that includes face shields and filters, as do tasks that involve handling chemicals.
Ordinary eyewear such as prescription glasses, contact lenses, and sunglasses do not protect the eye adequately and are not considered appropriate eye safety aids in the workplace. In fact, contact lenses may even pose a risk of eye injury; for instance, if a chemical splashes into the eye, it may localize within the contact lens, concentrating the consequent eye injury.
Eliminate Potential Hazards
Eliminating potential eye hazards from the worksite reduces the risk of work-related eye injuries. Possible ways of doing this include:
Isolate high-risk equipment
Maintain workplace equipment, ensuring their safety devices are in proper positions and good working conditions.
- Maintain workplace equipment, ensuring their safety devices are in proper positions and good working conditions.
- Where possible, replace toxic chemical substances and high-risk equipment with safer alternatives.
- Use exhaust hoods or extractor fans to manage dust or fumes in the work site
- Install safety barriers with the use of work site equipment
- Ensure adequate ventilation and humidification for dusty environments.
- Ensure all workplace equipment operators follow the manufacturer user instructions and safety guidelines.
Raise Awareness about Workplace Eye Safety
It’s one thing to offer eye-protection for workers; it’s another thing for workers to be aware of the risks of not using them. Supervisors should coordinate regular training sessions on eye safety for workers. Supervisors should also run regular eye hazard assessments for workers, to determine their level of awareness of the potential hazards of eye injuries in the workplace.
Another way to demonstrate that eye safety is a priority in the workplace is by placing eye safety posters around the workplace. Put up“Wear Eye Protection” signs in the areas of the workplace where they are needed.
Employers may also include information and tips about eye safety in the company’s newsletter or have it posted at strategic locations in the workplace.
What Employees Can Do
For the worker, these simple tips will help maintain eye-safety in the workplace:
- Use an anti-glare screen for your computer screen
- Adjust your computer screen at a right-angle, away from a direct source of light.
- Do not stare at your screen for a long time; take breaks off the screen every 20 minutes.
- Over-the-counter artificial tears may be necessary, to prevent the eyes from becoming dry.
- Visit the eye clinic for regular comprehensive eye examinations at least once a year.
We are exposed to more risks of eye damage than we might think, and since we spend much of our time at work, this is where we may be at the highest risk of eye injury. Considering how invaluable our eyesight is to our quality of life and productivity at work, it behoves workers and their employers to take proactive steps to ensure the safety of the eyes at work.