More than 2,000 people injure their eyes at work each day, according to the nonprofit organization Prevent Blindness. About 1 in 10 injuries require one or more missed workdays to recover. Of the total amount of work-related injuries, 10-20 percent will cause temporary or permanent vision loss.
The most common causes for eye injuries are flying objects such as pieces of metal or glass, tools, particles, chemicals, harmful radiation or any combination of those or other hazards. There are three main steps an employee can take to prevent an eye injury at the workplace:
- Know the eye safety dangers at work by completing an eye-hazard assessment.
- Eliminate hazards before starting work. Use machine guarding, work screens or other engineering controls.
- Use proper eye protection.
First things first
Anyone working in or passing through areas that pose eye hazards should wear protective eyewear. More than 700,000 Americans injure their eyes at work each year — and 90 percent of all workplace eye injuries can be avoided by using proper safety eyewear, according to Prevent Blindness.
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 must at least wear safety glasses with side protection. If you are working with chemicals, you should wear goggles. If you are working near hazardous radiation, you must use special-purpose safety glasses, goggles, face shields or helmets designed for that task.
Basics of prevention
Prevent Blindness suggests ten ways to prevent eye injuries in the workplace:
- Assess: Inspect all work areas, access routes and equipment for hazards to eyes. Study eye accident and injury reports. Identify operations and areas the present eye hazards.
- Test: Uncorrected vision problems can cause accidents. Provide vision testing during routine employee physical exams.
- Protect: Select protective eyewear that is designed for the specific duty or hazard. Protective eyewear must meet the current OSHA standards.
- Participate: Create a mandatory program for eye protection in all operation areas of your plant. A broad program prevents more injuries and is easier to enforce.
- Fit: Workers need protective eyewear that fits well and is comfortable. Provide repairs for eyewear and require each worker to be in charge of his or her own gear.
- Plan for an emergency: Set up first-aid procedures for eye injuries. Have eyewash stations that are easy to get to, especially where chemicals are used.
- Educate: Create, maintain and highlight the need for protective eyewear. Add eye safety to your regular employee training programs and to new employee orientation.
- Support: Management support is key to having a successful eye safety program. Management should show their support for the program by wearing protective eyewear whenever and wherever needed.
- Review: Regularly review and update your accident prevention policies, with the goal of having no eye injuries or accidents.
- Put it in writing: Once your safety program is created, put it in writing. Display a copy of the policy in work and employee gathering areas. Include a review of the policy in new employee orientation.