Our eyes are one of our most important organs but also one of our most fragile. Sight is arguably our most important sensory process, critical to navigating our modern lifestyles. We rely on sight when we walk and drive, when we read and write, and when we work and play.
There are increasing levels of exposure to heat and light, dust and chemicals, as well as biological contaminants in a wide variety of industrial and commercial workplace settings. These and other factors may lead to a range of eye injuries, from simple eye strain to severe eye damage making day-to-day activities more challenging or changing someone’s life completely.
Types of eye risk
Impact & Dust
The eyes are vulnerable to physical dangers such as sharp objects that could scratch or puncture the thin natural layer that protects the eye. This includes tools and materials that can pierce the eye. However, there is also a risk from small chips, fragments, particles, sand and dirt that may be made airborne through wind and other processes.
This small and potentially sharp particle may get caught in the eye causing punctures, abrasions and contusions of the cornea. In fact, corneal abrasions are the most common type of eye injury, especially in dusty environments. Damage to the eye may range from minor scratches that can heal in several days to more severe abrasions that can cause permanent damage.
Light & Heat
Our eyes are also sensitive to radiation in the form of light and heat. Burns can occur immediately or cumulatively when the eyes are exposed to bright light or high temperatures. This could be from fires, furnaces, welding torches, molten metal or sparks. “UV radiation in the 295-325nm range can cause photochemically induces opacities of the lens of the eye. Radiation above 315nm also causes cataracts,” says a 2016 study by Gregg M. Stave, Peter H. Wald.
The eye’s soft tissue is vulnerable to many chemicals that are common at home and in the workplace. Acids, alkalis, strong solvents and cleaning agents are now used in a variety of settings. Even a splash of bleach or hairspray, for example, could have serious implications if it entered the eye.
Even short exposure to the mists, vapours and fumes of many industrial chemicals could be strong enough to cause irreversible eye damage. Contact with chemicals caused one-fifth of eye injuries in the workplace, according to the BLS.
Industries where eye protection is critical
Constructions sites encompass many of the dangers listed above. Sharp tools and materials are everywhere, being used and moved in potentially unpredictable ways. Construction sites are extremely dusty environments with many forms of dangerous particulate matter. Mandatory use of hard hats help protect workers but for the best defence against workplace hazards, eye protection is also essential.
The manufacturing industry is broad and diverse but generally involves the assembly and finishing of physical products in the presence of human workers. Almost half of the injured workers were employed in manufacturing in one way or another. While over 30% of the total eye injuries were working as operatives of assemblers, sanders, and grinding machines, according to the BLS.
The eyes of workers in manufacturing facilities may be at risk of impact by tools, machinery or materials.
According to the BLS, more than 40% of workplace eye injuries occurred among craft workers, like mechanics, repairers, carpenters, and plumbers. A large section of this comes from automotive repair where welding, for example, can cause an acute condition called photokeratitis if the eyes are not protected. Not only are these workshops dangerous environments, but they also have a reputation for a relaxed approach to eye safety.
Protecting eyes in the workplace
While eyewear is a key element of protection when it comes to your vision, there are many other things you can do to ensure you are safe from potential hazards. Reducing hazards in the workplace is essential and there are tools made to help do so.
Much can be done to reduce hazards in the workplace. All areas should be assessed for potential risks to eye health. Efforts should be made to reduce falling and flying debris, as well as smaller particles like chips and dust. Lighting should be adapted to better suit worker health and wellbeing. First-aid kits should be readily available, and eye wash stations should be carefully positioned around the facility. Eye safety policy, training and drills will help educate and reinforce eye health best-practice.
Our better understanding of eye health is leading to stricter rules and standards within occupational health, namely for the use of appropriate protective eyewear. This is for good reason, all the evidence suggests that glasses and goggles designed for specific workplaces are the best way to protect eyes from the wide range of hazards.
An estimated 90% of eye injuries are preventable with the use of proper safety eyewear, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. While BLS reports that approximately three out of every five workers injured were either not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident or wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job. They also confirmed that more than 50% of workers injured while wearing eye protection thought the eyewear had minimized their injuries.
Some eyewear may protect against debris but dust and microscopic particles can also cause serious eye problems. “Safety goggles are the only effective type of eye protection from nuisance dust because they create a protective seal around the eyes,” according to OSHA.
Disclaimer: The information provided through Greenham Pulse is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Greenham Pulse is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.