3 most common workplace eye injuries — and how to avoid them
March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month
When new hires or temporary staff members join your team, it isn't enough to simply lay out the plan, give them their tools and expect them to get to work. In fact, failing to educate your team on proper safety protocols is exactly the kind of negligence that often leads to workplace eye injuries — or worse.
When it comes to eye injuries, the numbers are astonishing. In the U.S., more than 2,000 workers injure their eyes on the job every single day, with roughly one out of every 10 of those injuries resulting in employees missing work in order to recuperate. That's a drain on your bottom line to the tune of $300 million in medical bills, compensation and time off annually — and that's something you just can't afford.
Fortunately, a little preparation can go a long way. This March, ring in Workplace Eye Wellness Month by familiarizing yourself with the following most common workplace eye injuries. Plus, we'll arm you with some ways you can help your team members avoid them.
Small particles — dust, cement chips, slivers of metal, wood chips, you name it — frequently get kicked up in the course of day-to-day work at construction, manufacturing, and other heavy-duty environments. Once loosened, these airborne particles can harm workers in any number of ways, whether they fall from above or are simply carried by the wind. And when larger objects come loose, they can wreak even more serious havoc, inflicting significant trauma to eyeballs, eye sockets and more.
Best practice: Simple safety precautions can make a world of difference when it comes to preventing striking- or scraping-related injuries. For starters, make sure that your site has signs indicating when hazardous work is going on nearby or overhead and that all workers are trained in proper techniques. Finally, because dust and small particles pose respiratory risks as well, make sure affected workers are not only equipped with (and wearing) hardhats and protective goggles at all times but also respirators that meet the workplace respiratory standards established by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA).
Tools and machinery
If you've ever seen an especially well-orchestrated manufacturing line or construction site, you know the degree of coordination between workers can sometimes resemble ballet. But it only takes one errant hand motion or simple miscommunication to send everything into chaos. And when you're working with heavy-duty tools and machinery, the consequences can be grave.
Best practice: Tools and machinery should have built-in safety mechanisms — fail-safe switches, safety locks and so on — but these preventative aids aren't any good unless all workers are properly trained on how to use them. Plus, this training should be specialized for each task and tool: Just because someone has been taught to use a jigsaw one day doesn't mean they're qualified to drive a forklift the next. At the end of the day, robust ongoing training related to tasks and safety procedures is the only panacea to help protect against injuries from tools and machines.
Chemicals can strike fast — and they can also do so invisibly, critically harming skin and lungs even before physical symptoms appear. And given the fact that today's workplace is home to an estimated 650,000 different chemical products, the threat posed by chemicals is something you need to take seriously.
Best practice: It's difficult to overstate the potential risks involved for anyone working with dangerous chemicals on a day-to-day basis, so special safety precautions must be taken in order to counteract them. For starters, make sure everyone on your worksite knows what chemicals are in play, where they are and how to safely handle them. And be sure you have specific policies in place governing how to properly handle and transfer chemicals, as these often involve different steps. Chemicals should also have designated storage containers where they can be stored safely when not in use.
When it comes to chemical hazards, you'll need to be extra-vigilant — a "one-and-done" approach simply isn't going to cut it. That's why you should continually be in touch with front-line managers and other supervisors to verify that all safety protocols related to chemicals are being adhered to. For example, it isn't uncommon for workers to take off protective eyewear if they feel it doesn't fit properly or isn't comfortable, so training and an ongoing focus on compliance should be high on your list of safety priorities.
Approximately 300,000 workers report to emergency rooms with eye injuries sustained on the job each year. Yet, in the overwhelming majority of cases — 90 percent, by some estimates — those injuries are preventable. So if you want to be a safety leader and save on potentially catastrophic bottom-line costs, it's essential for you to get proactive. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) goes so far as to define a safety and health management program as "a proactive process" [emphasis added]. Nothing short of that will do.
Start by conducting an eye-safety audit across the entire workplace, identifying and eliminating hazards as much as possible. In addition, you should provide your team with appropriate safety eyewear and make ongoing safety training mandatory for all employees — no matter if they're temp workers or experienced full-time employees. By getting the jump on eye-safety risks this March, you should be able to look forward to a more productive, loyal and healthy workforce all year-round.