Workplace Eye Safety: Best Practices

Every year, approximately 20,000 eye-related workplace injuries occur in the US. From dust and flying objects to chemicals and laser radiation, eye hazards are prevalent across various industries. Employers must prioritize eye safety. OSHA mandates eye protection when hazards are present (OSHA standard 1910.133). Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) options include general safety glasses, laser safety glasses, and chemical goggles, chosen based on the specific hazards workers face. Promote awareness of potential dangers, encourage regular eye exams, ensure correct PPE use, and provide thorough training to safeguard employees from occupational eye injuries. Prioritize eye safety for a healthier, safer workplace.
eye safety

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20,000 eye-related injuries occur annually in the American workplace. Eye injuries can cause discomfort, strained vision, and even blindness. Workplace eye safety should be a consideration of concern for employers.

This article will discuss the most common eye hazards in the workplace, necessary personal protective equipment, and some of the best practices for occupational eye safety.

Common Eye Hazards in the Workplace

Eye hazards are present in nearly every industry. In particular, the construction, manufacturing, and automotive industries are highly exposed to such hazards. Dust is the most common eye hazard in the workplace. If these particles contact the eye, they can cause painful scratches and blurred vision. If improper and promptly treated, such an injury could lead to blindness. Flying objects, like wood chippings, are a similar hazard to dust but on a larger scale. 

Welding and other occupations that utilize lasers have high exposure to optical radiation. The heat, UV rays, and infrared rays can burn the retina and cause cataracts. Additionally, chemical splashes, vapors, and fumes can cause severe eye damage. Even everyday items such as all-purpose cleaners, gasoline, and paint thinners can do damage when mishandled. A common hazard for office workers is screen exposure.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

OSHA standard 1910.133 requires employers to provide eye protection for employees when hazards are present.

Types of PPE 

There is a variety of personal protection equipment (PPE) available for eye safety. General safety glasses or goggles are the minimum levels of eye protection. They generally provide front eye coverage and some side coverage and typically look like a normal pair of glasses or sunglasses. Alternatively, laser safety glasses and goggles provide additional protection against visual radiation by using specially tinted lenses. Chemical goggles look similar to swim goggles and provide all-around eye protection. This helps users avoid chemical splashes.

Choosing the Right PPE

Employers must choose and provide the right kind of PPE for their employees. When choosing eye protection for employees, employers must consider the type of hazards they are exposed to. For example, a welder is frequently exposed to optical radiation. After determining the most frequent hazards, employers must provide this eye protection to every employee for every shift.

Best Practices for Eye Safety

There is no one answer to eye safety, rather it takes a series of actions to prevent injuries in the workplace.

Awareness of Potential Hazards

Identification and awareness of hazards in the workplace is the first step in addressing them. Most eye hazards can be identified by a workplace walk-through during operating hours. Be on the lookout for projectiles, like dust and flying objects, chemicals, and the usage of lasers or high heat. This identification process will help employers eliminate unnecessary hazards and select the correct PPE for unavoidable hazards.

Regular Eye Exams

A comprehensive, annual exam can identify eye disease and prevent long-term vision loss. Accessibility to eye exams is also important. Employers should be aware of their health insurance’s vision allowances and provide additional support if needed, like an annual, on-site eye clinic.

Proper Use of PPE

Proper use of PPE is essential if it is to be effective. First, the eyewear must fit properly and not distort or block an employee’s vision. Wear eye protection before hazard exposure. Regularly clean eye protection using soap and water or eyeglasses cleaner to ensure that employees have a clear line of sight. If eye protection is scratched or damaged in any way, discard it immediately.

Reporting Incidents and Hazards

OSHA prohibits employers from preventing employees from reporting hazards and incidents. Be sure employees know their rights and feel comfortable reporting hazards and injuries to you and OSHA, if necessary.

Training and Education

Eye safety comes down to proper training and education. Proper education should include the identification of eye hazards and discussions on how to reduce hazard exposure. Effective training of employees with respect to the proper use of PPE is essential.

Eye safety is incredibly important in the American workplace. Many industries, like construction and welding, obviously, face eye hazards daily. It is essential for employee health that employers provide proper protective equipment and training to employees to prevent occupational eye injuries. 

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Dr. Glen Cheng

A physician-attorney with a dedication to healthcare innovation, informatics, and digital health.

  • Currently spearheads employee health protection and promotion within the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System.
  • Trained in residency at Harvard, achieving board certification as a physician; also a licensed patent attorney with experience as FDA regulatory counsel.
  • Co-founded Acceleromics, a consulting firm providing clinical and regulatory guidance to digital health startups.

Erin Davis

 Chief Clinical Officer at Work Health Solutions, certified in Adult-Gerontology (AGNP-C) and Athletic Training (ATC).

  • Oversees clinical operations and ensures high clinical standards across the company’s national field staff.
  • Former Manager of Clinic Operations and Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner at Stanford University Occupational Health Center (SUOHC).
  • Specialized in treating occupational injuries and illnesses, and provided medical surveillance and travel medicine consults at Stanford and SLAC National Accelerator Lab.
  • Dedicated to sports and occupational injury treatment and prevention.
  • Assistant Clinical Faculty at UCSF, mentoring students in clinical rotations within the Adult Gerontology and Occupational and Environmental Health Program.
  • Holds leadership roles as Treasurer and President Elect of the California El Camino Real Association of Occupational Health Nurses (CECRAOHN), affiliated with the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN).

Dr. Robert Goldsmith

Founder and President of NBS Healthcare Group, with a focus on innovation in healthcare consulting.

  • Previous role as Executive Director for Employee Health at Novartis Services, Inc., leading health services and clinical support.
  • Instrumental in creating an integrated healthcare system at Novartis.
  • Former private practice in internal medicine in Stamford, Connecticut, and Medical Director consultant for GTE Corporation.
  • Transitioned to GE as a Global Medical Director in 2000.
  • Holds a medical degree from Albert Einstein College, an MPH from the University of Connecticut, and completed training at Greenwich Hospital and Yale-New Haven Medical Center.
  • Assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the Vagelos School of Medicine, Columbia University.
  • Serves as a team physician for high school athletes in Stamford.
  • Published works on occupational health risks, primary prevention, and exercise-induced asthma.