There is a very personal element to my writing of this article.
In February 2023, I (yet again!) suffered a severe corneal tear – a surface of the eye/eye lens tear. One that necessitated four hospital visits and an extremely painful eye scrape procedure to ensure healing and the restoration of sight in the eye.
Two weeks later, now back at my desk with sight restored and the terrible pain subsided, an email landed in my inbox from Health and Safety International asking if I would write an article on preventing eye injuries. A perfect case of eye-rony? I think so!
So, dear reader, I can confidently inform you from personal experience eye injuries are to be avoided. At. All. Costs. They are nasty, excruciatingly painful and extremely debilitating injuries. At one point during my recovery I had no sight at all for 48 hours and required constant assistance to help me with even the most basic of tasks.
Aside from this recent corneal tear, which was caused by accidently poking myself in the eye when washing my face one morning, I have suffered two other corneal tears to the same eye in the last ten years too! All caused by similar innocuous and small incidents. All leading to the same massive pain and complete lack of sight or very limited vision for a number of days.
When it happened for the third time, I felt like the worlds most unlucky lady. I have since learnt that I have a previously unbeknownst underlying eye condition called “recurrent corneal erosion”. This condition makes it much more likely for me than for the average person to suffer severe eye damage when these small incidents occur.
My current status is that sight is now returned to the damaged eye but not to the level that it was previously. The long term prognosis for my sight in that eye is unclear also. I will almost certainly require glasses now when I did not previously.
Take it from me, when doctors say that eye injuries require immediate treatment to prevent permanent eye damage, such as vision loss, they mean it! It is essential to seek treatment immediately.
So now that we’ve ascertained that eye injuries are to be avoided at all costs, and before we move onto prevention, let’s first understand what kind of eye injuries can occur and under what circumstances. Starting with my old favourite… corneal abrasion.
Common causes of eye injuries at work
Eye injuries affect about 2.5 million people worldwide every year. They are often simply avoided. For example, 90% of eye injuries can be avoided just by wearing safety goggles.
Many of the common injuries that are outlined above can happen in a working environment. Some of the most habitual causes are:
- Where there are fast moving objects.
- Injuries caused from flying debris. Such as chiselling or angle grinding activities.
- Welding arc flashes causing overwhelming to the eye and causing pain.
- Blunt objects hitting the eye.
- Excessive computer use can cause a wide variety of eye disorders including the below.
- Worsening of already poor vision:
- One of the leading causes of eye issues at work. If an employee already has weak eyesight and is required to continuously strain their eyes further this can easily result in greater deterioration.
- Furthermore, deteriorated eyesight preventing an employee from doing their work properly can result in small miscalculations with potentially serious effects. Including the creation of accidents and incidents.
Reducing workplace eye injuries
Whilst not all accidents can be avoided. Many accidents in the workplace, which includes workplace eye injuries, can be avoided or their consequences reduced by developing and implementing safe working procedures.
- Begin with risk assessments. Think specifically of what eye injuries could occur from the tasks that the employee(s) are undertaking. Look at the list of types of eye injuries above to give you some food for thought.
- Ensure that employees are made aware of the outcomes of those risk assessments and what risks to their health and safety, including eyes, were identified.
- Train employees on the injuries that could occur and how to avoid them.
- Provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment, such as goggles. Ensure that this protective equipment is worn at all times.
- Ensure that employees are aware of the potential consequences of eye injuries and the steps to take should one occur.
- Make immediate first aid available. This includes saline eyewash or clean water.
Eye problems related to computer work
One of the biggest causes of eye strain is the use of computer screens or digital devices such as smartphones or tablets. This may also be referred to as digital eye strain.
Eye strain is caused by excessive computer work, or undertaking computer work with poorly set up work stations. This can lead to blurry vision, headaches, dry itchy or irritated eyes.
Causes of digital eye strain from using screens or devices includes:
- Failure to blink as often as normal.
- Having the screen or digital device too far away or too close.
- Being exposed to excessive amounts of the blue light which is commonly emitted from devices.
- Viewing a screen which does not have properly adjusted lighting such as dim lighting or with excessive glare.
- Being exposed to dry, moving air. Such as from a fan or air conditioning system.
- Viewing the screen or device for too long a period of time without taking a break.
“one of the biggest causes of eye strain is the use of screens or digital devices”
How can you reduce these problems?
Try the 20-20-20 rule
Eyestrain can occur when you engage in a single activity for too long a time without taking a break. Move your focus to something else every 20 minutes. Focus on something 20 feet away. Look at it for at least 20 seconds.
Check your screen positioning
Ensure you look at the screen or device in the proper position, about an arm’s length. View the screen eye level or slightly below. Don’t forget that you can adjust your text size if necessary.
Use the right lighting
Too dim or bright lighting can cause eyestrain. Ensure that the light comes from behind you if you’re focusing on a screen or reading. Adjust the brightness on screens and devices to avoid glare.
Take care when multitasking
You may need to use printed materials when working on a computer or device. If you do, position them to avoid moving your eyes, neck and/or head too frequently. A document stand may help.
Wear the eyewear you require
Take an eye test to determine if you need eyewear to help to reduce eyestrain. These can include devices, glasses or lenses. Find the right ones that help your eyes.
“spending a large amount of time on any focused activity puts you at risk for eyestrain”
Who’s at risk for eyestrain?
Spending a large amount of time on any focused activity puts you at risk for eyestrain. You may have an increased risk for eyestrain if you work on computers as part of your job. Children who spend lengthy amounts of time on digital devices may also experience eyestrain or other conditions, such as irritability or behaviour problems.
How to treat eyestrain
In many cases, changes like the ones noted previously in “Reducing Eye Problems Related to Computer Work” are all you’ll need to make to treat eyestrain. If you experience eyestrain that’s severe or lasts a long time, discuss the condition with your doctor. You may need corrective lenses, or it could be a symptom of
a more serious condition.
- Utilise vision friendly computer screens and clear lighting to avoid eye strain.
- Encourage employees using computers to undertake yearly eye tests and wear glasses if needed.
“treat all eye injuries as potential emergencies”
Maintaining and ensuring your eye health is the key to the reduction of potentially more serious vision problems in the future. See a doctor or optician annually to have your eyes checked. Or visit more often if you experience any troubling symptoms or frequent or long-lasting eyestrain. Use some of the above methods to reduce eyestrain symptoms or prevent them altogether.
Treat all eye injuries as potential emergencies. Never hesitate to see a doctor or go to the Emergency Department in a hospital immediately. Do not take risks with your eyesight. Remember, you have only one pair of eyes.