Visual impairment and blindness affect millions of people. Common causes include macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts. One of the most preventable causes is eye injury. In an effort to raise awareness about this largely avoidable hazard, July has been designated as Eye Injury Prevention Month. From playing sports to doing home repairs, vision can be damaged in many ways. On-the-job dangers result in thousands of eye injuries every year, which cost an estimated $300 million in lost productivity, medical treatment, and worker compensation.
As one of the five senses, many of us take being able to see for granted. However, eye injuries are often very serious and can have permanent consequences. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that approximately 2,000 U.S. workers a day have a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment, with about one-third of the injuries serious enough to be treated in hospital emergency departments and over 100 resulting in at least a day of lost work. Of course, some occupations carry a higher risk of eye injury than others. Those who work in industries such as construction, vehicle repair, electrical, welding, mining, and manufacturing are more likely to be exposed to chemical splashes, flying particles, hot sparks, and other potentially eye-damaging situations. However, even office workers can suffer eye problems caused by falls, overexposure to ultraviolet rays, and computer usage.
The eyes are one of the most vulnerable body parts, yet their protection is often overlooked. According to the National Eye Institute, employers should:
- Conduct an eye-hazard assessment
- Remove or reduce all eye hazards where possible
- Provide appropriate safety eye protection for the types of hazards at the worksite
- Require all employees in hazardous situations to wear the appropriate eye protection
- Keep eye protection in good condition and assist workers with attaining the proper fit
- Keep bystanders out of work areas and/or behind protective barriers
- Use caution flags to identify potential hazards such as hanging or protruding objects
- Provide emergency sterile eyewash solutions/stations near hazardous areas
- Post first-aid instructions and information on how to get emergency aid.
The biggest way you can help prevent getting an eye injury on-the-job is by wearing appropriate safety protection. This varies based on the type of work, but you should not rely on prescription eyeglasses. Instead, individuals that need corrective eyewear should have protection that is certified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as ANSI Z87. Make sure it fits properly, and keep the lenses clean to maximize visibility.
If you do experience an eye injury:
- DO NOT touch, rub, or apply pressure to the eye.
- DO NOT try to remove an object stuck in the eye.
- Do not apply ointment or medication to the eye.
- See a doctor as soon as possible, preferably an ophthalmologist.