By Shelby Jenuwine, Contributor
Eye injuries in the workplace are fearfully prevalent. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that every day, nearly 2,000 workers in the U.S. alone sustain job-related eye injuries that demand medical attention. Safety experts and eye doctors believe that using correct eye protection can decrease the severity or even prevent up to 90% of these injuries.
Nearly one million Americans have lost some degree of their vision due to an eye injury. More than 700,000 Americans injure their eyes at work annually, and 10-20% of all work-related injuries will result in temporary or permanent vision loss. Luckily, 90% of all workplace eye injuries can be avoided by using safety eyewear. The best defense against eye injuries at home and in the workplace is by knowing the hazards and using proper eye protection.
To encourage workers in all industries to protect their eyes and ensure healthy vision, Prevent Blindness, the nation’s oldest volunteer eye health and safety group, has declared March as Workplace Eye Wellness Month. The goal of Workplace Eye Wellness Month is to equip employers and employees with free information on a variety of topics, ranging from eyestrain to industrial eye safety, in an effort to promote eye safety at work.
In honor of Workplace Eye Wellness Month, let’s take a closer look at how eye injuries can take place, both on the screen and off, and address injury prevention options.
On the Screen
Digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome, is a group of eye and vision-related complications that result from prolonged exposure to blue light. The largest source of blue light is sunlight. However, several other sources include digital screens (televisions, computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones), other electronic devices, as well as fluorescent and LED lighting.
There is concern about the long-term effects of blue light exposure, as too much exposure can damage the light-sensitive cells in the retina. Because the eyes are working particularly hard to cope with the high-energy visible light, individuals may begin to experience eye strain. Eye strain can cause changes that are similar to those of macular degeneration, which can result in permanent vision loss.
Extended use of computers and other digital devices is one of the most common causes of digital eye strain. Individuals who stare at displays for two or more consecutive hours every day have an increased risk of this condition. Many individuals might experience one or several symptoms, including dry eyes, blurred vision, headache, increased sensitivity to light and difficulty focusing.
To help prevent digital eye strain, consider adjusting the lighting in the room; taking occasional breaks to rest the eyes; limit screen time; use artificial tears to keep eyes from becoming dry; improve the air quality by using a humidifier; and choose the correct eye-wear, such as lenses designed specifically for computer work. Eyeglasses are available with lenses to enhance magnification, plus anti-reflective and blue light-filtering capabilities, as well as select contact lenses to help reduce symptoms of digital eye strain.
Individuals who work at a desk, using a computer for prolonged periods of time, can take additional self-care steps to help diminish eye strain. These steps include, but are not limited to:
- Blinking more frequently to refresh the eyes;
- Adjusting the lighting to reduce glare:
- Positioning the computer monitor to eye level; and
- Adjusting the contrast and brightness to a comfortable level.
Off the Screen
The most common work-related eye injuries include chemicals or foreign objects in the eye, as well as cuts or scrapes on the cornea. Other common eye injuries include:
- Splashes from grease and oil;
- Ultraviolet or infrared radiation exposure;
- Burns from steam; and
- Airborne wood or metal chips.
In addition, healthcare workers, laboratory and janitorial personnel, and many other workers are at an increased risk of acquiring infectious diseases from eye exposure. Many infectious diseases are transmitted through the mucus membrane of the eye. This transmission can occur through direct exposure to blood; respiratory droplets produced during coughing; or touching the eyes with fingers or other objects that many be contaminated.
Workers experience eye injuries in the workplace for two major reasons:
1.Failure to wear eye protection, and
2.Wearing the incorrect form of protection for the job.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of workers who endured eye injuries revealed that nearly three out of five workers were not wearing eye protection at the time of the injury. Many of these workers reported that they believed eye protection was not mandatory for the job.
OSHA requires workers to wear face and eye protection whenever there is reasonable likelihood of injury that could be prevented by implementing safety equipment. PPE, such as safety glasses, goggles, face shields or full-face respirators, must be used when an eye hazard exists.
The type of eye protection individuals should wear is dependent on the hazards in the workplace; circumstances of exposure; other protective measures in place; and the individual’s vision needs. If working in an area that has particulates, air-borne objects or dust, individuals must wear safety glass with side protection, also known as side shields. When working with chemicals, safety goggles must be worn.
To prevent an eye injury in the workplace, it is important to know the eye safety dangers. To help better understand the dangers, an eye hazard assessment can be completed.
Prevent Blindness is the people’s advocate for healthy vision. They work to bring awareness to vision and significant health issues, such as observation, access, prevention messaging, service integration, and program development and replication. Prevent Blindness supports the development of effective, state vision health systems across the U.S. An array of resources are available and can be found by visiting www.preventblindness.org, including:
The Focus Initiative—a virtual forum for those working in vision and public health. This professional network encourages the sharing of resources among the vision and health community.
Publications and Resources—includes current vision problems in the U.S., the cost of vision problems, the future of vision, public health reports and more.
Initiatives—a variety of events that aide in awareness of vision health and preserving sight. These include the Focus on Eye Health National Summit, which elevates the national dialogue around vision and significant public health issues; the Award of Excellence and Investigator Awards; and The National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health.
Training and Education—helps build awareness about eye and vision basics, common eye disorders, eye safety precautions and proactive behaviors to maintain healthy eye vision. Patient education materials, online training and certifications are available.