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Workplace Eye Safety: Practice Safe Sight on the Job

Did you know March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month? And did you know roughly 2,000 U.S. workers a day sustain a work-related eye injury that requires medical treatment? And you know what's worse?

About 90% of those injuries could have been lessened or prevented with the right eye protection.

EYE HAZARDS

Most occupational eye injuries happen when the eye is exposed to flying debris or scrap materials (dust particles, metal, glass, etc.), chemicals, bodily fluids, or radiation.

You may be thinking you're immune because you work in a "safe" place like a store or a restaurant. Think again.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top seven industries for occupational eye injuries in 2007 were:

  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Retail Trade
  • Accommodation and Food Services
  • Health Care and Social Assistance
  • Wholesale Trade
  • Transportation and Warehousing.

AVOIDING EYE INJURIES

What's the best way to avoid eye injuries on the job? According to the organization Prevent Blindness America, it's pretty simple:

  1. Assess the eye safety dangers at work. 
     
  2. Eliminate as many hazards as possible before starting the task.
     
  3. Use controls such as machine guarding and work screens, and/or protective eyewear, such as safety glasses, goggles, or eye shields whenever you're exposed to eye hazards. 

If they're so easy to avoid, why are we still seeing 2,000 eye injuries a day? Scientists at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety (LMRIS) in Hopkinton, MA, wondered the same thing. They've conducted a variety of studies aimed at understanding the best ways to protect workers from eye injuries, but they also examine the barriers to use—in other words, why people fail to use eye protection.

Here are some facts about eye injuries, taken from the LMRIS Newsletter, From Research to Reality:

  • Airborne metal or wood slivers, dust, cement chips, nails, or staples are common hazards among construction laborers, automotive technicians, maintenance personnel, and production workers.
  • Welders also face the risk of eye injury from flying debris, but with the added dangers of ultraviolet radiation and photochemical burns.
  • Workers who use chemicals on the job, including janitors, cleaners, and production workers, can suffer chemical burns if the eyes are exposed and not promptly treated with proper eyewash procedures.
  • Similarly, health care workers face eye hazards from infectious contaminants such as blood splashes and respiratory droplets, which can expose them to diseases ranging from conjunctivitis to HIV.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES...

So, why don't workers use protective eyewear when there's so much at risk? The Liberty Mutual researchers found that the top issues cited are:

  • Discomfort or poor fit
  • Lack of availability
  • Wrong style
  • Inconvenience
  • Interference with eyeglasses
  • Cost
  • Inappropriateness for the task.

In addition, they've learned that workers tend to skip eye protection if they don't perceive the task to be high-risk, if it will only take a short time to complete the task, or if the employer doesn't provide the right eyewear along with consistent encouragement, training, and enforcement (a.k.a. safety culture).

Don't make excuses, and don't be one of the 2,000 workers a day who thought it would never happen to them. A workplace eye injury can threaten your vision, your employment, or both.

Practice safe sight—Use protection every time!

We'd like to hear from you. Have you ever suffered an eye injury or a near-miss at work? Do you use protective eyewear whenever the task calls for it? If not, what stops you? Leave a comment below!


RELATED LINKS
Made a Mistake at Work? It's the Recovery That Matters
March is Optimism Month: Be Positive!
Wellness Programs: Good Investment or Corporate Waste?
 

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