The eye is a complex organ that can be injured easily. Furthermore, eye injuries and hazards are very common in the workplace. There are reports that indicate that 2000 workplace eye injures require medical assistance per day in the USA alone, according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (Be Wise, Protect Your Eyes, 2021)
Types of eye injuries
There are many types of eye injuries and hazards, the most recognisable of which include:
- Chemical burns to the eyes
- Exposure to harmful substances
- Blunt force trauma to the eyes
- Allergic conjunctivitis
- Eye diseases associated with ultraviolet radiation exposure
The chemicals in workplaces can cause serious damage to the eye. This can lead to pain, swelling, blurred vision and other symptoms. Workers are at a high risk of this occurring if they are not wearing the proper protective gear. A few examples of these harmful substances are mercury vapour or chlorine gas.
Another type of eye hazard is a blunt force trauma to the eye can cause internal bleeding. This injury can lead to vision loss or blindness. For instance, a getting struck by a heavy object directly to the eye may not seem like it would do much damage, but it can burst blood vessels and cause internal bleeding that may result in blindness.
Additionally, allergic conjunctivitis is common amongst outdoors workers. Workers that manipulate vegetables and fruits may have symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. Similarly, outdoors workers who are extensively exposed to UV radiation can develop allergic conjunctivitis.
There were more than 100,000 work-related eye injuries in the USA in 2002. Workplace eye injuries mostly occur when workers are welding, using tools, or working with adhesives. Since the purpose of this article is to explore risks and prevention methods, each workplace-related eye injuries group will be discussed in detail.
Welders are at risk of eye injury from three risk factors: penetration, blunt force, and arc radiation. The first two injuries often result from a direct blow to the eye and eye socket area.
On the other hand, arc radiation can occur on direct or indirect reflected light. Welders are exposed to visible, ultra-violet (UV) and infrared (IR) lights. Consequences of said exposition can result in painful eye injuries like a sunburn to the cornea. If multiple injuries occur, they can lead to permanent blindness. In these, it is recommended to provide workers EN 170 for UV1 or EN 171 for IR2 safety spectacle or goggles.
Also, a quality auto-darkening helmet may help reduce eye injures since workers tend to leave these helmets “down” more often than the normal helmets (Baker, 2010a).
There are many different things that can cause eye injuries and they range from common household items to more serious hazards. It is highly recommended that you read each tool’s manual thoroughly in order to ensure your own safety.
Generally, it is advisable to use the right PPE in accordance with EN 166:20013 for each tool during usage.
Some eye-related accidents may occur when using adhesives, e.g. super glue. Fortunately, the agents in those products do not penetrate the cornea. However, some symptoms of the adhesive exposure may persist for days. In this case, it is advisable to wear gloves when handling adhesives and dispose of them as users finish working with adhesives.
Most eye related work accidents for lawn mowers are caused by fragments of rocks or twigs thrown from the mowers.
In order to prevent this, workers operating lawn mowers can:
- Remove sticks, stones, and other objects from the work area
- Make sure that bystanders are at least 10 yards away from the mowing area
- Wear eye protection gear while working. Please, review ANSI Z87 to ensure the right eye protection
When working in construction, there is a whole range of risks for the eyes. These include blunt force traumas, but also small particles of dust. This can cause irritation or inflammation and can affect a person’s vision. To combat this, wearing approved (EN 166:2002) safety goggles are essential.
The table below will help construction workers choose the most suitable PPE for each site.
Chemicals eye injuries can be divided into three categories: acids, alkalis, and other substances.
Alkali burns are the most dangerous because these chemicals have a high pH, and they tend to penetrate the surface of the eye and can provoke severe injury, both internally and externally.
Common alkali substances contain the hydroxides of ammonia, lye, potassium hydroxide, magnesium, and lime.
The second group are acid burns. They are not as damaging as the alkali group as they do not penetrate the eyes as rapidly.
The third group is the other substances that are irritants. They tend to have a neutral pH and cause more discomfort than the actual damage.
Additionally, industries using these substances may consider using showers and eye wash units in case of emergencies.4
Now that we have seen most eye injuries related to workplaces. It is recommended to learn how to prevent, recognise, and treat eye injuries.
Recognising an eye injury:
The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests that if you notice one or more of the following symptoms, get medical help immediately.
Signs of eye injury:
- Obvious pain or trouble seeing
- Cut or torn eyelid
- One eye does not move as well as the other
- One eye sticks out compared to the other
- An unusual pupil size or shape
- Blood in the clear part of the eye
- Something inside the eye that cannot be easily removed
Recognising workplace hazards and what to do:
The eye is a vital and fragile organ that can suffer from different hazards such as projectiles, radiation, and chemicals, etc. More than 2000 people experience eye injuries per day. Most of these injuries can be accounted to welding, using different tools, and chemical burns. To manage the risks, companies should consider the 10 practices to help prevent eye injuries.
- EN 170:2002. Personal eye-protection – Ultraviolet filters – Transmittance requirements and recommended use.
- EN 171:2002 Personal eye-protection – Infrared filters – Transmittance requirements and recommended use.
- EN 166:2001 Personal eye-protection – Specifications.
- These tables were taken from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Chemical-Eye-Injuries-in-the-Workplace%3A-Prevention-Lusk/28e8debd035d336716ef0be668189f3046c40c03/figure/2