How can I prevent eye injuries in the workplace?
Responding is Bob Risk, national sales manager, safety, first aid and emergency preparedness, Staples Facility Solutions, Framingham, MA.
A person’s eyesight is often taken for granted. It’s easy for employers and employees to overlook the dangers to our eyes that we encounter every day. Unfortunately, eye injuries in the workplace are very common. More than 1,000 U.S. workers sustain job-related eye injuries each day that require medical treatment, and one-third of these injuries require hospital emergency room care and result in lost work time. These injuries collectively cost U.S. businesses more than $300 million per year – not to mention the toll on the injured and their families.
Eye injuries can happen at any time and from a variety of sources. Common eye injuries at work can be the result of chemical splash, dusty environments, excessively bright lights, ultraviolet radiation exposure, compressed air tools or welding.
These injuries can quickly mount costs for employers – both in terms of lost productivity as well as in medical and workers’ compensation costs. Most importantly, the goal should be to prevent injuries that can cause traumatic and lasting impact on employees – before they happen.
First and foremost, it’s imperative to acknowledge the risk. Although some occupations carry more risk than others, of the thousands of eye injuries reported annually, nearly half occur in manufacturing facilities. Other technical professionals, including construction workers, plumbers, electricians and pipefitters, encounter projectile particles that can be particularly hazardous to eye safety.
In addition, workers in the health care and sanitation industries may be at risk of acquiring infectious diseases from eye exposure. High-risk diseases can be transmitted through direct exposure to blood splashes, respiratory droplets generated during coughing, or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects.
Although not every industry carries significant risks, employers need to take steps to make the work environment as safe as possible. This includes conducting an eye hazard assessment of the workplace and reducing the risk of eye hazards to a minimum. Ultimately, the most important and easiest form of eye protection is the use of safety glasses or goggles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3 out of every 5 eye injuries happen to people who are not wearing eye protection. Safety experts and eye doctors believe that correct eye protection can lessen the severity of or even prevent 90 percent of eye injuries.
Fortunately, modern safety glasses are much more wearer-friendly, as they tend to be more comfortable and more fashionable than ever before. Upgrades in aesthetics make eye glasses more desirable to wear.
Safety glasses are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and styles, and even offer options for prescription or reader lenses. Employers and employees should look for a Z87 mark on the lens or frame to ensure they meet the standards of the American National Standards Institute. Lens shades, side shield styling and new added protection against penetration under the lens make today’s safety eyewear even more effective and more desirable to wear. If workers can get something that is comfortable and looks good, they’ll be happy to wear the protection.
It’s far easier to prepare for an accident than to explain why you didn’t. Eye injuries in the workplace – especially in high-risk professions – can cause permanent damage to the employee and cost employers millions, so it’s critically important that employers and employees work together to make eye safety a priority. For employers, this means providing occupants with the appropriate protection equipment and supplies. It also means instituting safety policies and educating the staff on these policies. While employers need to provide a safe working environment, employees must also take responsibility for their own eye safety by ensuring they’re following employer safety policies and using eye protection equipment correctly.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.