When you consider just how important our vision is to our independence and ability to perform our designated duties at work, you can understand the need to protect that sight from all of the hazards which threaten it. About 2,000 injuries to the eyes are reported to OSHA every day in the United States and many of these injuries occur either because the worker was not wearing eye protection or the protection worn was not appropriate for the hazards present on the job. Wearing safety goggles can greatly reduce your risk of injury and protect your vision if you the eye protection you are provided is designed to protect you from the hazards you are most likely to encounter.
Work Hazards and Causes of Eye Injuries
Different forms of hazards may be present at each work site, depending on the type of industry and material used to complete assigned tasks. While the lack of eye protection is cited in many accidents, the improper eyewear is also a major contributing factor to numerous eye injuries. When workers wear the wrong eye protection, they could have a false sense of confidence and injure themselves as a result. Following are some of the most common hazards to the eyes found at various workplaces.
- Chemicals. Many of the chemicals used on the job have corrosive properties and can quickly damage the eyes when the substances come in direct contact. The chemicals do not always need a direct route to the eyes, however and their fumes may be sufficient to cause damage.
- Projectiles. Actions such as grinding, cutting and drilling can throw particles into the air where they are either inhaled or become irritants to the eyes. It is extremely important that workers protect their eyes when in the presence of machinery that kicks these projectiles into the air, as even the smallest of particles can cause severe injuries to the eyes.
- Radiation. Most people are unaware of just how damaging ultraviolet light, infrared radiation and lasers can be to the eyes. When these forms of radiation are present, proper protective eyewear should be worn to reduce the effect that radiation may have on your eyes.
- Biohazards. When working in the presence of bodily fluids, the eyes can become an entry point for toxins and disease. It is possible to contract hepatitis or HIV from blood infected with these viruses if it comes into contact with the eyes, for example.
- Computers. When people think about injuries to the eyes due to workplace injuries, they imagine incidents involving construction workers, machinists, factory workers and trade workers. Office work that requires extended periods of time in front of computer screens can cause eye strain and visual impairment. There is even a disorder classified as Computer Vision Syndrome that is the culmination of strain and stress caused by looking at a computer screen for hours at a time.
How You Can Protect Your Eyesight on the Job
While it is the responsibility of your employer to provide a safe workplace and to offer all of the protective equipment needed to ensure your safety, you should also take active measures to protect yourself. If you do the following, you will be able to identify safety issues to present to your employer and reduce your risk of eye injury.
- Perform an eye hazard evaluation of your work station and surroundings. If hazards are present, determine whether they can be removed and what equipment is appropriate to protect yourself.
- Remove any hazards that can be removed to reduce your exposure to potential hazards. If a hazard cannot be removed, make sure that you have the right equipment to protect yourself.
- If particle or projectile hazards are present, you must wear safety glasses or goggles that offer side shields. Many of the particles that reach the eye come from the side rather than from directly in front of the worker.
- Goggles must be worn if you are working with or near chemicals. This presents injury from splashing as well as from fumes.
- If radiation is present, you need to wear special protective equipment that is specifically designed to protect the eyes from harmful radiation. Depending on the type and level of radiation, you may need to wear goggles, a face shield or a helmet that will limit the radiation which reaches your eyes through a special filter.
- If you work on a computer or view a screen for extended periods of time, take time to reduce eye strain by looking at an object about twenty feet away for about twenty seconds at regular intervals of twenty minutes. This strategy is often referred to as the 20/20/20 rule. This simple technique may help protect your eyes from the damage caused by prolonged exposure to screens.
Knowing how to respond when you or a coworker is injured will help reduce the likelihood of severe injury. In the event that chemicals make contact with the eyes, flush them with water for at least fifteen minutes and seek medical attention. Never rub your eyes when they’ve been injured by chemicals or particles as this can worsen the injury. Most particles will exit the eye through your tears, but if your eye remains irritated, you should seek medical attention to make sure the eye has not been cut or punctured. Never pull an object out of the eye.
Protective goggles and education can go a long way toward reducing the number of eye injuries experienced on the job. If hazards are present at your workplace, make sure that your equipment provides adequate protection and do not be afraid to demand proper protective measures if your employer has not provided a safe environment.