Each year, thousands of Americans suffer on-the-job eye injuries that result in vision loss. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace eye injuries cost more than $924 million in workers’ compensation each year. Most on-the-job eye injuries can be prevented with the proper selection and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the eyes and face. Employers, site managers and workers should work together to implement safety practices and protocols to mitigate the risk of eye injuries in the workplace. Amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, special considerations and precautions should be taken to reduce the spread of the virus between workers as well as the public they’re serving.

Common workplace eye injuries

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each day, roughly 2,000 workers suffer eye injuries in the workplace that require medical care. Eye injuries can vary based on the severity and the area damaged. Workers in industrial, construction and trade industries may be at higher risk of eye injuries, including:

  • Scrape or Strike: This injury is commonly caused by getting poked in the eye or rubbing it while a foreign body is present. Often dust, sand, splinters, metal, wood fragments or worksite debris can cause these injuries in the workplace. Workers may be at higher risk of scrape or strike injuries working close to or using heavy equipment or machines, working outdoors with wind gusts or objects falling from above.
  • Foreign Objects in the Eye: Small sharp particles such as metal may become embedded in the cornea, the surface of the eye but not penetrate through. These foreign bodies may cause a rust ring or significant scarring, so it is important to have an eye doctor remove them as quickly as possible.
  • Penetration: This injury occurs when a foreign object pierces the eye, which can cause a tear in the cornea or sclera. On the job, working with cut wires, nails, metal shards and wood fragments pose risk to workers. These injuries are serious and may cause partial or total vision loss.
  • Chemical Burn: Workers may be exposed to industrial chemicals, toxins and harsh disinfecting products that can pose risk of chemical burns. Splashes or sprays may result in chemical exposure to the eyes. Injuries may also occur when workers rub their eyes and transfer chemicals from their hands to their eyes or aerosol spray is released. Chemical burns can be minor, resulting in irritation, or may be severe enough to cause eye damage or blindness.
  • Thermal Burn: These injuries may result from UV exposure from arcs and flashes such as by welding accident, fire or explosion. Thermal burns can result in damage to the eyes as well as the surrounding tissue.
  • Blunt Force Trauma: Injuries may occur from a blow to the eye socket with a hard object, which can result in damage to the eye, eyelid, bone or muscles that surround the eye. If the eye injury is mild, a worker may experience swelling or bruising. With serious injuries, there may be bleeding inside the eye.

Tips to keep workers safe

Employers and site managers should set the standard of safety by creating protocols and practices to mitigate the risk of eye injuries within the workplace. A few tips they should consider implementing include:

  • Conduct regular hazard assessments to identify risks.
  • Provide proper PPE to workers, including face and eye protection that is specific to the worker’s duties and present hazards.
  • Utilize administrative controls to restrict access to certain areas on the job site to keep off-duty workers safe from risks posed from active work zones. Keep all walkways clear and accessible in case of an emergency.
  • Implement engineering controls, including machine guarding, to reduce the risk of flying particles. Welding curtains should be used to protect workers from thermal burns caused by arc flashes.
  • Ensure that all workplace Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards are met.
  • Workers should do their part to reduce the risk of injury on job sites, including:
  • Always wear PPE, including goggles or safety glasses, when working with or in close proximity to hazards.
  • Use the appropriate equipment for the job task.
  • Ensure that all goggles, face shields, safety glasses, respirators and welding helmets fit securely and properly to the face and do not obstruct vision.
  • Be mindful of any nearby hazards that could pose a risk. Always use caution when walking through an active worksite.

COVID-19 considerations

With COVID-19 being a health and safety risk for workers, it is important that employers and site managers update safety procedures and protocols to reduce the risk of virus transmission in the workplace. Tips to mitigate COVID-19 risk on the job include:

  • Do not delay medical treatment for injuries. Workers may have concerns going to a hospital or doctor’s office for concern of exposure to the virus. However, eye injuries are serious and delaying medical treatment can result in permanent eye damage or blindness.
  • Workers should avoid rubbing or touching their eyes. If they have an itch, need to adjust their glasses or touch their face,they should use a tissue instead of their fingers.
  • Use safety goggles and eye protection that extend to protect the sides of the eyes. Protective eyewear that does not include side shields or has a gap between the glasses and face may not protect the worker from viral transmission by sneezes as well as other risks from splashes and sprays.
  • Wash hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds with soap. Workers should always wash their hands before touching their face or eyes and inserting or removing contact lenses.
  • Properly disinfect PPE using CDC guidelines.

Steps to take after a workplace accident occurs

Even if all safety guidelines are met, there is a chance that an accident can still occur. In the event a worker suffers an eye injury, it should be treated as a potential emergency and they should seek immediate medical attention. It is important for workers to remain calm and call an eye doctor’s emergency number or 911.

Once the injury has been evaluated and treated by a medical professional, the worker should file a workplace accident report as soon as possible. In the case that the worker needs to recover lost wages, pay medical expenses, collect disability or other benefits, he or she should file a workers’ compensation claim.

If the worker was injured due to a third party’s negligence, outside of an employer, he or she might wish to consider filing a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages resulting from the accident. In this instance, workers may wish to consult the guidance of an experienced personal injury attorney who can review the details of their case and advise them of their legal rights and remedies.

Eye injuries can be severe and can result in permanent damage to vision. Most eye injuries can be avoided with safety guidelines and practices in place to mitigate risk in the workplace and proper use of PPE. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace protocols should be reviewed and updated to reduce transmission of the virus on the job.

Individuals who suffer from eye injuries should seek immediate medical evaluation and treatment. Workers may recover damages and financial losses due to the injury through a workers’ compensation claim. Those who are injured as a result of a third party’s negligence may wish to pursue a personal injury lawsuit to recover losses.