Safety in the Workplace

Why is eye safety at work important?

Eye injuries in the workplace are very common. Each day hundreds of people will injure their eyes at work and about 20% of these injuries will cause temporary or permanent vision loss. Experts believe that the right eye protection could have lessened the severity or even prevented 90% of accidental eye injuries at work.

What causes eye injuries at work?

The most common causes for eye injuries are:

  • Flying objects (bits of metal, glass)
  • Tools
  • Particles
  • Chemicals
  • Harmful radiation

How to avoid an eye injury

There are three things you can do to help prevent an eye injury at work.

  • Do an eye hazard assessment and know the eye safety dangers.
  • Eliminate hazards before you start work with special protections like machine guards or work screens.
  • Wear proper eye protection for the eyes and face designed to prevent or lessen the severity of injuries to workers.

What eye protection should you wear?

The type of safety eye protection you should wear depends on the hazards in your workplace and your specific job. Often this will require a primary and a secondary protective device.

Impact Hazards

The majority of impact injuries result from flying or falling objects, or sparks striking the eye. Most of these objects are smaller than a pin head and can cause serious injury such as punctures, abrasions, and contusions.

While working in an area where the worker is exposed to flying or falling objects wear safety spectacles with side shields or goggles as primary protection. Secondary protective devices such as face shields are required during severe exposure to impact hazards.

Heat Hazards

Heat injuries may occur to the eye and face when workers are exposed to high temperatures, splashes of molten metal, or hot sparks. Burns to eye and face tissue are the main concern when working with heat hazards.

To protect your eyes from heat when workplace operations involve pouring, casting, hot dipping, furnace operations, and other similar activities requires goggles or safety spectacles with special-purpose lenses and side shields. Many heat hazards also require the use of a face shield in addition to safety spectacles or goggles.

Chemical Hazards

A large percentage of eye injuries are caused by direct contact with chemicals. Serious and irreversible damage can occur when chemical substances contact the eyes in the form of splash, mists, vapors, or fumes. When working with or around chemicals, it is important to know the location of emergency eyewash stations and how to access them with restricted vision. When fitted and worn correctly, goggles protect your eyes from hazardous chemicals. A face shield may also be required in areas where workers are exposed to more severe chemical hazards.

Dust Hazards

Dust is present in the workplace during operations such as woodworking and buffing. Working in a dusty environment can causes eye injuries and presents additional hazards to contact lens wearers. Either eyecup or cover-type safety goggles should be worn when dust is present. Safety goggles are the only effective type of eye protection from nuisance dust because they create a protective seal around the eyes.

Optical Radiation Hazards

Laser work and similar operations create intense concentrations of heat, ultraviolet, infrared, and reflected light radiation. A laser beam, of sufficient power, can produce intensities greater than those experienced when looking directly at the sun. Unprotected laser exposure may result in eye injuries including retinal burns, cataracts, and permanent blindness. When lasers produce invisible ultraviolet or other radiation, both employees and visitors should use appropriate eye protection at all times. The selection of laser protection should depend upon the lasers in use and the operating conditions

What to Do if There’s an Accident

When wood or metal bits get into your eye, they can scratch or tear the cornea. This is very painful and could affect your vision permanently.

If this happens, call your eye care practitioner immediately for instructions. Depending on the situation, he or she may want you to flush your eye with water or saline solution. Or it may be better to get to the hospital immediately. If you wear contact lenses, tell the doctor, who will instruct you as far as removing them or leaving them in.

Hazard Assessment

A hazard assessment should determine the risk of exposure to eye and face hazards, including those which may be encountered in an emergency. Conduct a thorough analysis of your workplace including inspections of work areas, shipping and receiving areas and equipment. Identify operations and areas that present eye hazards.

Emergency Area

If you work with harmful chemicals, your workplace should have a sink area set up in case they get in your eyes and you need to flush them out in a hurry. Additionally, special face shields may be worn to protect against chemical splashes. Establish first-aid procedures for eye injuries. Make eyewash stations accessible, particularly where chemicals are used. Train employees in basic first aid and identify those with more advanced first-aid training.

Personnel Vision Screening

Uncorrected vision problems contribute to accidents. Incorporate vision screening n your hiring and regular employee physical examinations.

Require Compliance

For maximum protection against eye injury, establish a 100 percent mandatory program that requires eye protection throughout your workplace. Provide the means for maintenance and require each worker to be responsible for her own eyewear.

Train and Educate

Conduct ongoing educational programs to reinforce the need for protective eyewear. Include eye safety in your regular programs and new employee orientation. Regularly review and revise accident prevention strategies. Aim for the elimination of all accidents and injuries.