Why Take a Chance? Eye Injuries are Preventable

Karen O’Hara, Director, Contributor

This article by WorkCare, Inc., a U.S.-based, physician-directed occupational health services company, features recommendations to help prevent and manage eye injuries. Effective eye injury prevention relies on common sense and consistent use of appropriate personal protective equipment.

Eye Protection
Safety glasses may look similar to “dress” eyewear, but have impact-resistant frames and lenses that may or may not have transparent side shields blocking access to the outer perimeter of the eye. (Photo courtesy of WorkCare, Inc.)

Many activities require the use of safety glasses, goggles and/or a face shield to help prevent eye injuries. However, even with the widespread availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for work, hobbies and sports, hundreds of thousands of preventable eye injuries occur annually in the U.S.

In the workplace, it is estimated that more than 2,000 people a day injure their eyes, resulting in an average of 19,400 lost work days a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In about 90% of incidents, minor to severe eye injuries and permanent vision loss could have been prevented by properly fitted, appropriate PPE and training on its use.

In a U.S. population survey1 (n=28,913), researchers examined the characteristics of work-related eye injuries associated with one or more lost work-days:

  • The overall prevalence rate was 4.4%
  • The highest rate, 6%, occurred in the age range of 45 to 54 years
  • Men had a rate of eye injury more than four times higher than women

Awareness is Critical

Eye injury hazards include exposure to flying objects, dust particles, heat, chemicals and optical radiation. Working overhead or with moving parts when welding, using power tools; or handling live circuits, pressurized air, liquids or gas increases injury risk.

Liquids or foreign bodies in the eye, flash burns and corneal scratches are among the most commonly occurring eye injuries. Blows to the face from accidents and contact sports and objects, such as firecrackers, ammunition, darts and materials with springs or elasticity, are also associated with eye injuries. In addition, people in certain occupations must take precautions to reduce exposure to contagious diseases that can be spread through contact with infected blood or respiratory droplets via eye mucous membranes, or from touching eyes with contaminated fingers.

Injuries to the eyes and face typically occur when people neglect to wear protective gear, or it is not properly fitted. It’s also important to have situational awareness whenever hazards may be present.

Eye Protection Regulations

Eye Protection
Goggles are primary protectors intended to fit the face immediately surrounding the eye. (Photo courtesy of WorkCare, Inc.)

U.S. employers in regulated industries are required to provide PPE at no cost to employees who are exposed to certain workplace hazards. OSHA’s eye and face protection standards apply to general industry, shipyard employment, longshoring and construction. For example, under general industry standards, covered employees are required to use:

  • Appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.
  • Eye protection that provides side protection when there is a hazard from flying objects; detachable side protectors (e.g., clip-on or slide-on side shields) are acceptable.

Protective eye and face devices must meet one of the following consensus standards in order to comply with OSHA regulations:

  • ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices, incorporated by reference in §1926.6
  • ANSI Z87.1-2003, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices, incorporated by reference in §1926.6
  • ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R-1998), Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection, incorporated by reference in §1926.6

Selecting PPE

The selection of PPE depends on likely exposure hazards. Protective eyewear may be made of glass, plastic or polycarbonate. Glass is scratch-resistant; suitable for prescriptions; and may be used around harsh chemicals. However, it can fog and be heavy or uncomfortable. Plastic lenses are lighter weight, protect against splatter and are less likely to fog, but they are more prone to scratches. Polycarbonate lenses are often preferred, because they are more impact-resistant than glass or plastic, although not as scratch-resistant as glass.

Optimally, face and eye protection selected for work-related or personal use is durable, cleanable and comfortable. It should never restrict vision, movement or use of other equipment.

The following face and eye protection equipment is recommended for specific conditions.

For impact hazards:

  • Safety glasses: May look similar to “dress” eyewear but have impact-resistant frames and lenses that may or may not have transparent side shields blocking access to the outer perimeter of the eye.
  • Goggles: Provide eye protection from hazards coming from above, below and the sides.
  • Face Shields: Offer frontal protection, but they should only be used in conjunction with safety glasses; they don’t sit close enough to the eyes to act as an adequate safeguard on their own.

For heat/spark hazards:

  • Safety Glasses: Primary protectors intended to shield the eyes from a variety of heat hazards.
  • Goggles: Primary protectors intended to fit the face immediately surrounding the eye.
  • Face Shields: Secondary protectors intended to protect the entire face, in addition to the eyes, from certain heat hazards.

For chemical exposures:

  • Goggles: Primary protectors intended to shield the eyes against liquid or chemical splash, irritating mists, vapors and fumes.
  • Face Shields: Secondary protectors intended to protect the entire face against exposure to chemical hazards.

For dust exposures:

  • Goggles: Primary protectors intended to protect the eyes against a variety of airborne particles and harmful dust.

For optical radiation:

  • Wearing protection with the correct filter shade number helps protect workers’ eyes from sources of radiant energy.

Injury Management

Eye Protection
For a chemical splash, immediately flush the eye with water for at least 15 minutes. Place the eye under a faucet or shower; use a garden hose; or pour water into the eye from a clean container. (Photo courtesy of WorkCare, Inc.)

If an eye injury occurs, quick action helps prevent permanent disability. Emergency eyewash stations should be placed in all hazardous areas, along with first aid instructions. Employees must know where the closest eyewash station is and how to get there with restricted vision.

For all types of eye injuries, do not touch, rub or apply pressure to the eye. The following are recommended first aid measures for minor eye injuries:

  1. For a particle in the eye, lift the upper eyelid over the lashes of the lower lid. Blink and allow tears to flush it out.
  2. For a foreign body visible in the white part of the eye, carefully use the tip of a tissue or moist cotton swab to remove it. Do not brush over the cornea.
  3. For grit, flush with clean water or saline solution. Remove contact lenses before rinsing.
  4. For a chemical splash, immediately flush the eye with water for at least 15 minutes. Place the eye under a faucet or shower; use a garden hose; or pour water into the eye from a clean container. Do not try to neutralize the chemical with other substances and do not bandage the eye. Seek immediate medical attention after flushing.
  5. For a minor blow to the face or eye, gently apply a cold compress or ice.

Get immediate medical attention for:

  • A floating or imbedded foreign body that cannot be safely removed
  • Larger foreign bodies, metal fragments or feeling something in the eye after flushing
  • Bleeding, cuts or swelling around the eyes, mouth or other parts of the face
  • Pain, oozing, tearing, blurred vision or blind spots
  • Suspected concussion from a blow to the face and head

Consistent compliance with personal protective measures is essential. By assessing current practices and providing training and as-needed refresher courses, employers can reduce eye injury incidence rates and improve quality of life for employees. WMHS

About the author: Karen O’Hara is Director, Marketing & Communications, at WorkCare, Inc.

References: 1“Epidemiology of Lifetime Work-Related Eye Injuries in the U.S. Population Associated with One or More Lost Days of Work;” K Forrest and J Cali; Ophthalmic Epidemiology, Vol. 16, Issue 3, July 8, 2009.