Tips to Prevent Workplace Eye Injuries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20,000 eye injuries happen in the workplace each year. That’s enough to concern any employer, without adding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) price tag for those injuries: $300 million annually in lost productivity, medical treatment, and workers’ compensation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has also found that a large number of workers who suffered eye injuries weren't wearing protection at the time of their accident. Employees should always be aware of how serious eye injuries can be, and that they can result in hospitalization, missed work, or even permanent damage, vision loss, and blindness.
By taking the right steps to protect employees, employers can help prevent the vast majority of workplace eye injuries. Here are several things to keep in mind while considering what safety measures you can put in place.
Know Your Workplace
The first step to prevent eye injuries in the workplace is a full assessment of the work environment. Possible eye hazards are different in every industry and in every workplace. No single solution will be the perfect fit for every workplace, so take the time to look carefully at your own operations. Common hazards to look out for include:
- dust, concrete, and metal particles
- falling or shifting debris, building materials, and glass
- smoke and noxious or poisonous gases
- chemicals (acids, bases, fuels, solvents, lime, and wet or dry cement powder)
- cutting or welding light and electrical arcing
- thermal hazards and fires
- blood-borne pathogens from blood, body fluids, and human remains
Be sure to consult OSHA eye and face protection standards for your industry to ensure the safety equipment you provide your employees is compliant.
Types of Protection
While wearing protection decreases the likelihood of eye injuries, employees must wear the right type of protection for their job for it to be truly effective.
- Safety glasses provide a minimum level of protection for general working conditions, but they should have side shields or wrap around the face to protect the eyes from all angles.
- Goggles can provide more protection and coverage, and there are various styles available that are specialized for certain types of work or hazards.
- Secondary types of protection like face shields can be worn over goggles or glasses to guard both the face and eyes from chemical splashes or debris.
- Full-face respirators and helmets could even be required for especially hazardous jobs like welding.
All protective eye-wear should be fitted by an eye care professional. This isn’t just an issue of comfort, but also of safety; poorly fitted eyewear won’t fully protect the eyes from some hazards.
Eye Injury First Aid
After you assess your workplace for potential hazards, use the information you gather to put safety procedures in place. This could include posting guides for eye safety best practices at the worksite, or installing eyewash stations that are easily accessible from areas where injuries are most likely to happen. Take time to train workers in these first aid procedures, like the ones below, that they can use in the event of an eye injury.*
- For specks in the eye: don’t rub the eye, and flush it out with plenty of water. If the speck doesn’t wash out, or if your eye is still red and painful, seek medical attention.
- For cuts, punctures, or foreign objects in the eye: don’t attempt to wash out the eye or remove the foreign object. Seek medical attention immediately.
- For chemical burns: immediately flush the eye out with water, or clean it at an eyewash station. Open the eye as wide as possible. Continue flushing the eye with water for at least 15 minutes.
- For blows to the eye: apply a cold compress to the eye without pressure. Seek immediate medical attention if pain continues, if vision is reduced, or if blood or discoloration appears in the eye.
Even if an eye injury seems minor, seeking medical attention is always a good idea. Sometimes a delay in treatment could cause permanent vision loss or blindness.
July is National Eye Injury Prevention Month, so take time now to think about how you can improve eye safety for your employees. Knowing the risks your workforce faces and adapting safety procedures accordingly could help you eliminate eye injuries in your workplace. Remember that education and proper equipment are the most important tools you have in keeping your employees safe, healthy, and productive.
*If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately. The information in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a qualified health care provider about any medical condition or issues.
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