Eye fatigue is the physical response of the eye to a stressful condition. Symptoms can include dry eyes, irritated eyes, blurred vision, headaches and light sensitivity. These symptoms often lead to low productivity and an unsafe workplace. A number of factors can contribute to these stressful conditions: psychological, environmental and occupational.
Mental condition can lead to stress that will affect vision. In occupational situations, other work related stressors can influence eye fatigue: problems with co-workers, perceptions of underutilization and overall job satisfaction. These job stresses will compound, and one symptom of these stresses is eye fatigue.
The most significant part of the work environment that can influence eye fatigue is the lighting. Industrial lighting comes in many forms: halogen, incandescent, fluorescent, LED and mercury vapor. Employees in new facilities, or buildings with updated/upgraded lighting, often are not accustomed to the new, brighter lighting. The visual discomfort they experience can result in lost productivity and a less safe work environment.
The General Services Administration (GSA) commissioned a study of five buildings that revealed 45 percent of workers found the lighting to be uncomfortable. This dissatisfaction dropped by 1/3 after workers were able to individually adjust the light output at their workspace to their own comfort level.
Safety glasses with a gradient tint can alleviate eye strain from bright overhead lights. Gradient tint is a mirror finish that is darker on the top of the lens, and gets clear at the middle and bottom portions. This prevents excess overhead light from reaching the eye, without impacting the visibility when looking down or straight ahead. The work area is not darkened, and surroundings are clearly visible, maintaining a safe environment.
Historically, human vision has been used for intermediate or distance-oriented tasks. As technology advanced, we have gradually moved the majority of visual tasks closer to the eye. Consider what occupations would be common at a time before reading, writing or being stationary were requirements for the work, and it is clear how little near vision was used in daily life. The working population is aging, and employees are retiring at an older age than previous generations. As people get older, there is a greater need for magnification for near vision work. Safety reading glasses are a great solution for those who need the additional power to see up close, and still have eyewear that meets safety requirements.
Digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome is a frequent complaint amongst workers in office settings. In fact, OSHA ranks computer-related vision issues as the number-one complaint of office workers. While the industrial worker is typically the main concern of the safety manager, there could be dozens of office employees within the same company that could be more productive if they could alleviate digital eye strain.
A contribution to digital eye strain is the amount of blue light that electronic screens emit. Blue light is the most intense and most harmful light in the visible light spectrum, causing damage to the retina after prolonged exposure. Lens treatments that are specifically designed to block levels of blue light can help alleviate digital eye strain. It is important to remember that the lenses should not be too dark for indoor applications, so sunglass lenses should be avoided unless working outside.
Employees who have visually intensive tasks are also likely to experience eye fatigue. One study indicated that inspection procedures at a close distance (8 in.) can cause greater eye fatigue, compared to procedures at an intermediate distance (23 in.). This resulted in an inspection procedure taking twice as long, because the stress symptoms affected productivity.
Anti-reflective coatings have been used in the optical industry for decades, and are now available for safety eyewear. The coating is engineered to diffuse light bouncing off of the lens and reflecting back into your eye. The result is better visual acuity and improved light transmission through the lens. Less visual “noise” helps the worker focus and see better. Anti-reflective coated eyewear is a perfect end-user solution for any visually intense occupation: quality control, glass manufacturing, building inspection, automotive and marine manufacturing applications.
While special lens treatments will alleviate and prevent many symptoms, there are additional steps that can be taken to fight eye fatigue. Ergonomics play a large role in worker comfort and productivity. Review what improvements can be made to alleviate head and neck pain, as this can directly affect eye comfort.
Eyes need a break from their work. If a worker is using near vision for their task, they should occasionally be letting their eyes take a break by focusing on something 20 feet away. This only needs to be for 20-30 seconds, but if done every 20 minutes, it can reduce eye fatigue and help maintain productivity.
Factors that cause eye fatigue will always vary, depending on the work environment and job task. After recognizing and defining the causes, it is much easier to find solutions that will create a safer and more productive workplace.
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