Eye injuries in the workplace are surprisingly common. Jerry Traer, of Workplace Safety North talks us through the many options available to employers to help safeguard their employees’ sight. While his viewpoint is formed from a pulp and paper background, his observations are applicable to a huge variety of industries where workers’ eyesight may be endangered by workplace hazards.

Every year in Ontario, Canada alone, 3,000 people sustain eye injuries on the job, resulting in lost time, and in some cases vision loss, either temporary or permanent.

According to NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), each day about 2,000 US workers have a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment. About one third of the injuries are treated in hospital emergency departments and more than 100 of these injuries result in one or more days of lost work.

There are 2.5 million eye injuries annually in the United States alone. Out of this group, 50,000 people permanently lose part or all of their vision1. Eye injuries are the number two leading cause of blindness, second to cataracts. The most staggering realisation about these statistics is that 90% of eye injuries can be prevented by wearing protective eye equipment.

Eye injuries cost industry billions of dollars in workers’ compensation claims, lost work days and lost productivity. Injuries to the face, including disabling and non-disabling eye injuries, can cost an average of $17,187 per total claim and account for 33,010 lost work days in the United States2. On top of the cost to industry, eye injuries have a devastating effect on the injured worker as well as your workforce. Without any in-depth explanation needed, the trauma of losing one’s eyesight is devastating. It also affects the morale of co-workers. Employees who lose some or all of their eyesight may never be able to work in the same occupation again. It will completely affect his or her life, both at work and personally, forever. These figures are sobering given that the majority of eye injuries are preventable.

Introduction to the eye

The eyes are wonderful sensory organs. They help people learn about the world in which they live. Eyes see all sorts of things – big or small, near or far, smooth or textured, colours and dimensions. The eyes have many parts – all of which must function in order to see properly.

Inside the eye

In addition to the many sections of the eyeball itself, muscles are attached to the outer walls of the eyeball. The eye muscles are attached to the eyes so that we can move our eyes. If anything goes wrong, like diabetic eye disease, an individual might not be able to see as well.

A complete picture

Visual information from the retina travels from the eye to the brain via the optic nerve. Because eyes see from slightly different positions, the brain must mix the two images it receives to get a complete picture. What we think of as seeing is the result of a series of events that occur between the eye, the brain, and the outside world. Light reflected from an object passes through the cornea of the eye, moves through the lens which focuses it, and then reaches the retina at the very back where it meets with a thin layer of colour-sensitive cells called the rods and cones. Because the light criss-crosses while going through the cornea, the retina ‘sees’ the image upside down. The brain then ‘reads’ the image right-side up.


• Aqueous Humour: a clear, watery fluid that fills the front part of the eye between the cornea, lens and iris

• Choroid: the middle layer of the eyeball which contains veins and arteries that furnish nourishment to the eye, especially the retina

• Conjunctiva: a mucous membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the front part of the eyeball

• Cornea: the transparent outer portion of the eyeball that transmits light to the retina

• Fovea: A tiny spot located in the macula that is the area of clearest vision on the retina

• Iris: the coloured, circular part of the eye in front of the lens. It controls the size of the pupil

• Lens: the transparent disc in the middle of the eye behind the pupil that brings rays of light into focus on the retina

• Macula: is a small area of the retina located near the optic nerve at the back of the eye. It is responsible for our central, most acute vision

• Optic Nerve: the important nerve that carries messages from the retina to the brain

• Pupil: the circular opening at the centre of the iris that controls the amount of light into the eye

• Retina: the inner layer of the eye containing light-sensitive cells that connect with the brain through the optic nerve. It also contains retinal blood vessels which feed the retina and which can be affected by diabetes

• Sclera: the white part of the eye that is a tough coating which, along with the cornea, forms the external protective coat of the eye

• Vitreous Body: a colourless mass of soft, gelatin-like material that fills the eyeball behind the lens

Causes of eye injuries at work

Common causes for workplace eye injuries include:

• Flying objects, such as bits of metal, glass, stone or wood

• Unsafe handling of tools

• Chemical splashes

• Radiation

• Sparks and slag from welding and cutting

• Pipes and wires sticking out of walls

• Objects hanging from ceilings

What you can do: protect your eyes

Luckily, there are things you can do to decrease these dangers on the job. First and foremost is the identification of areas where flying parts or debris are a common occurrence. In these areas, engineering controls, where appropriate, should be used to limit the objects’ movements. Shields and vacuum devices will help lessen the chance of objects in the air.

Once engineering controls are exhausted, then the next step would be the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Choose protective eyewear that is designed for the specific duty or hazard, and make sure it fits and is worn consistently. Protective eyewear used in Canada must meet Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standards. The European Union and associated countries also have comprehensive legislation regarding the performance requirements and use of PPE, and this covers all forms of safety eyewear.

It is a requirement that safety eyewear must be assessed and CE marked before it can be supplied into the European market. It has now been illegal for many years to place an item of PPE on the market in a European Member State unless it carries the CE mark.

Know your rights and responsibilities

Workers have the right to:

• Know about hazards in the workplace

• Participate in keeping the workplace safe

• Refuse unsafe work

Workers’ responsibilities include:

• Always practice safe work procedures

• Report unsafe conditions to your supervisor or employer

• Properly wear any protective equipment the job requires

• Do not do anything on the job that will endanger yourself or others

Employers must:

• Take every reasonable precaution to protect a worker’s health and safety

• Make sure necessary safety equipment is provided, used properly and maintained

• Inform workers and supervisors of any hazards and how to handle them

• Ensure that procedures are followed in the workplace

• Provide information, instruction and competent supervision to protect the health and safety of workers

Supervisors must:

• Take every reasonable precaution to protect a worker’s health and safety

• Inform workers of job hazards and ensure they are trained to do their jobs safely

• Ensure that workers work safely and use the equipment and protective devices properly where required

Causes of eye injuries

• Flying objects, such as bits of metal, glass, stone or wood

• Unsafe handling of tools

• Chemical splashes

• Pipes and wires out of walls

• Objects hanging from the ceiling


• Workers – always practice safe work procedures; report unsafe conditions; wear proper protective equipment

• Supervisors – take every precaution reasonable; inform workers of eye injury hazards; ensure workers work safely

• Employers – take every precaution reasonable; make equipment safe, ensure it is used properly and well maintained; inform workers and supervisors of eye injury hazards in the workplace; ensure proper procedures are followed; provide information and instruction, so that jobs are done safely

Controlling eye hazards

• Engineering controls: shields, barriers and guards for high velocity flying objects; vacuums and exhaust systems for lighter particles

• Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): safety glasses (prescription/non-prescription); goggles/face shields; full face respirators

Excuses for not wearing PPE

• I’m in a hurry (“It will only take a few seconds”)

• I left them at my work station

• They distort my vision

• They’re uncomfortable, hot and they fog up

• I’ve worked here 25 years without an injury, I don’t need them

• I look like a geek when I wear them

All the excuses in the world won’t, however, stand up to the power of the image on page 58. Protect yourself – don’t let this happen to you! ?


1 United States Eye Injury Registry Summary Report, 1998-2002 2 Injury Facts, 2010

Published: 05th Apr 2012 in Health and Safety International