The Importance of Eye Safety at Work

Work-related eye injuries impact both employees and employers, from physical and psychological effects to substantial financial costs. With common causes like flying debris, chemicals, radiant energy, and impact injuries, preventing such incidents is crucial. Employers should invest in personal protective equipment (PPE) like safety glasses and face shields, along with safety standards mandating their use. Safe work practices, including regular equipment inspections and proper procedure adherence, are equally vital. Providing comprehensive eye safety training ensures that employees can recognize hazards and respond appropriately. Prioritize eye safety to protect your workers and your company's bottom line.
eye safety

Eye safety at work refers to the measures taken to protect the eyes from potential hazards in the workplace. This includes avoiding or minimizing exposure to hazardous substances, physical hazards such as flying debris, and harmful radiant energy sources such as ultraviolet and laser light. Eye safety at work also involves providing workers with OSHA-approved personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses or face shields, and training and education to help them recognize and respond to potential eye hazards. The ultimate goal of eye safety at work is to prevent eye injuries and illnesses and ensure that workers can perform their tasks safely and effectively. This article will cover the most common causes of eye injuries on the job, the costs of these injuries, and how to prevent them.

Common Causes of Eye Injuries in the Workplace

With approximately 20,000 occupational eye injuries annually, it is important to understand the leading causes of these injuries. Here are some common causes of eye injuries at work:

  • Flying debris. These include small particles such as wood chips, metal fragments, and dust that can cause eye injuries if thrown or expelled from machinery or tools. This is particularly common in the construction industry.
  • Chemical exposure. Chemicals such as acids, bases, and solvents can cause eye injuries if they come into contact with the eyes. This can occur in almost any industry, from engineering to office work.
  • Radiant energy. Sources of radiant energy such as ultraviolet light, laser light, and infrared radiation can cause eye injuries if workers are not protected from exposure. Welders, automobile workers, and chemists are most prone to this.
  • Impact injuries. Workers can suffer eye injuries from blunt force trauma, such as being hit by a falling object or being poked in the eye by a tool.

These causes of eye injuries in the workplace highlight the importance of taking preventative measures to protect workers’ eyes.

Costs of Eye Injuries

Occupational eye injuries have adverse effects on both employers and employees.

Physical Effects

The physical effects of an eye injury can be short-term or long-term. Eye injuries can cause permanent or temporary damage to the eye, resulting in vision loss or complete blindness. About 10-20% of occupational eye injuries cause temporary or permanent blindness. Cornea scratches and damage can cause severe pain and discomfort, especially if the injury is severe or involves chemical exposure. Such damages can also cause disfigurements, like eye loss and scarring. 

Psychological Effects

Work-related eye injuries can take a severe toll on employee mental health. A work-related injury may make some employees experience depression or anxiety, particularly if the injury is severe. Additionally, injuries decrease productivity and employee morale, making it more challenging to retain good workers. 

Financial Costs

The financial costs of an eye injury to the employer may be astronomical. The total work-related injury costs for 2020 were $163.9 billion, including lost productivity. Eye injuries can require extensive medical treatment, including surgery, hospital stays, and rehabilitation. These expenses can be significant, especially if the injury is severe or requires long-term care. Employers may be responsible for paying workers’ compensation benefits to employees who suffer eye injuries on the job.  Finally, injuries can result in decreased productivity for both the affected worker and the company as a whole.

These financial costs of work-related eye injuries can be substantial, highlighting the importance of taking preventative measures to protect workers’ eyes in the workplace. By implementing effective eye safety programs and providing workers with appropriate protective equipment and training, employers can help to minimize the risk of eye injuries and reduce the financial costs associated with these incidents.

Preventative Measures for Eye Safety at Work

There are several measures employers should take to protect their employees from eye injuries. First, it is important to provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers should provide workers with safety glasses or face shields to protect their eyes from hazards in the workplace. The workplace should also have safety standards that require the use of such eye protection before walking onto the worksite.

Additionally, employers should implement safe work practices to minimize the risk of eye injuries, such as using machine guards, conducting regular equipment inspections, and ensuring that workers follow proper procedures when using tools or chemicals. This protects workers from injury and can prolong the life of machinery and tools.

Finally, employers must provide workers with training and education on eye safety, including how to recognize and respond to eye hazards, how to use PPE effectively, and the importance of reporting eye injuries or incidents. This training should also include first-aid information as well as information on how to report incidents.

By taking these steps, employers can help to ensure that workers can perform their tasks safely and effectively and can minimize the risk of eye injuries and illnesses in the workplace.

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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.