About 300,000 Americans visit the emergency room each year due to workplace eye injury. Out of all eye injuries sustained on the job, 40 percent happen in the fields of manufacturing, construction and mining, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The personal and economic toll of eye injuries at work is alarming. These injuries range from simple eye strain to severe trauma that can cause permanent damage, vision loss and blindness. Injuries on the job often require one or more missed work days for recovery. In fact, in 2013 more than 25,000 workplace eye injuries required time off from work (PDF). In total, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace eye injuries cost an estimated $300 million a year in lost productivity, medical treatment and worker compensation.
The most important thing you can do to protect your vision at work is to always wear appropriate protective eyewear, which can prevent more than 90 percent of serious eye injuries.
"As Ben Franklin once said, 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,'" said ophthalmologist Anne Sumers, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "It takes very little effort to protect yourself from on-the-job hazards that can cause blinding eye injuries. We strongly advise workers and their employers not to let their guard down when it comes to eye protection."
Watch Out for Eye Dangers
Common causes for eye injuries are:
- Flying objects (bits of metal, glass);
- Any combination of these or other hazards.
Protecting Your Eyes
There are three things you can do to help prevent an eye injury:
- Know the eye safety dangers at work.
- Eliminate hazards before starting work. Use machine guarding, work screens or other engineering controls.
- Use proper eye protection.
Wear protective eyewear whenever there is a chance of eye injury. Anyone working in or passing through areas that pose eye hazards should wear protective eyewear. This is particularly true of workers involved in welding, which poses a high risk of on-the-job eye injury.
The type of safety eye protection needed depends on the hazards in your workplace and should be compliant with OSHA regulations for eye and face protection. OSHA also provides information about the types of filter lenses required for specific welding and cutting activities (PDF 181 KB), and cautions about the danger of eye irritation from welding fumes (PDF 405 KB) as well. If you are working in an area that has particles, flying objects or dust, you must at least wear safety glasses with side protection (side shields). If you are working with chemicals, you should wear goggles. If you are working near hazardous radiation (welding, lasers or fiber optics) you must use special-purpose safety glasses, goggles, face shields or helmets designed for that task.
Always be sure your eye safety wear is OSHA-compliant and has been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to meet their eye protection standards.
If an eye injury occurs, see an ophthalmologist or go to the emergency room immediately, even if the eye injury appears minor. Delaying medical attention can result in permanent vision loss or blindness.
Learn How to Recognize an Eye Injury
Because eye injuries can cause serious vision loss, it’s important to be able to recognize an injury and appropriately respond to it. DO NOT attempt to treat a serious eye injury yourself.
If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone else, get medical help right away.
- The person has obvious pain or trouble seeing.
- The person has a cut or torn eyelid.
- One eye does not move as well as the other.
- One eye sticks out compared to the other.
- The eye has an unusual pupil size or shape.
- There is blood in the clear part of the eye.
- The person has something in the eye or under the eyelid that can't be easily removed.
Learn What to Do For an Eye Injury at Work
If you or a coworker injure your eye, follow these important care and treatment guidelines for eye injuries.
Contributing writer: Shirley Dang. Updated on Mar. 8, 2015.