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Protecting Your Eyes at Work
Cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are the leading causes of visual impairment and acquired blindness in the U.S., and are key quality of life issues among millions of aging Americans.
Eye injuries in the workplace are very common. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain job-related eye injuries that require medical treatment each day. However, safety experts and eye doctors believe the right eye protection could have lessened the severity or even prevented 90% of these eye injuries.
Simply using the proper eye protection on the job could prevent thousands of eye injuries each year.
Common eye injuries occurring at work can result from chemicals or foreign objects in the eye and cuts or scrapes on the cornea. Other causes of injuries include splashes with grease and oil, burns from steam, ultraviolet or infrared radiation exposure, and flying wood or metal chips.
In addition, health care workers, laboratory and janitorial staff, and other workers may be at risk of acquiring infectious diseases from eye exposure. Some infectious diseases can be transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eye as a result of direct exposure to blood splashes, respiratory droplets generated during coughing, or from touching the eyes with contaminated fingers or other objects.
Two major reasons workers experience eye injuries on the job are because they were:
A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey of workers who suffered eye injuries revealed that nearly three out of five were not wearing eye protection at the time of the accident. These workers most often reported that they believed protection was not required for the situation.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the use of eye and face protection whenever there is a reasonable probability of injury that could be prevented by such equipment. Personal protective eyewear, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full face respirators must be used when an eye hazard exists. The eye protection chosen for specific work situations depends upon the type of hazard, the circumstances of exposure, other protective equipment used, and individual vision needs.What are the potential eye hazards at work?
Potential eye hazards against which protection is needed in the workplace are:
Some working conditions include multiple eye hazards. The proper eye protection takes all hazards into account.
The best methods of eye protection differ for each type of hazard. The protector must be matched to the potential hazard. High risk occupations for eye injuries include:
The type of safety eye protection you should wear depends on the hazards in your workplace:
In addition, employers need to take steps to make the work environment as safe as possible. This includes:
Your optometrist can assist your employer and you in evaluating potential eye hazards in your workplace and determining what type of eye protection may be needed.How can I protect my eyes from injury?
There are four things you can do to protect your eyes from injury:
Selection of protective eyewear appropriate for a given task should be made based on a hazard assessment of each activity. Types of eye protection include:
One way to ensure that safety glasses provide adequate protection is to be sure they fit properly. Also, eye protection devices must be properly maintained. Scratched and dirty devices reduce vision, cause glare and may contribute to accidents.
Protective eyewear works best when you know how to use it properly. Combined with machine guards, screened or divided work stations, and other engineering controls, using the correct protective eyewear can help keep you safe from any type of eye hazard.Can contact lenses be worn safely for industrial jobs?
While contact lenses cannot provide significant protection from ocular hazards in the workplace, the improved vision many patients experience can have a positive impact on workplace safety.
Contact lenses can't provide significant protection from eye hazards in the work place. However, there is no evidence that the wearing of contact lenses increases the risk of eye injury.
Contact lenses may actually contribute to worker safety and productivity because they often provide improved vision in the workplace. Individuals who wear contact lenses usually obtain a wider field of vision than with eyeglasses and often have less visual distortion, especially with higher power lens prescriptions. In addition, wearing contact lenses instead of eyeglasses can provide a better, more comfortable fit of eye safety equipment, such as goggles and full face respirators.
The American Optometric Association believes that workers should be permitted to wear contact lenses in most eye hazardous environments. However, eye protection must be worn over contact lenses exactly as would be required of all workers performing the same job.
Contact lenses may be worn safely under a variety of environmental situations. In some cases, such as when hazardous chemical fumes are present, a determination of contact lens wear may need to be made on a case by case basis. Check with your employer on their safety policy regarding the wearing of contact lenses. Your optometrist can assist your employer and you in determining whether you can safely wear contact lenses in your workplace.What should be done in an eye emergency?
Seek medical attention as soon as possible following an injury, particularly if you have pain in the eye, blurred vision, loss of vision or loss of field of vision. There are several simple first aid steps that can and should be taken until medical assistance is obtained.
First aid for eye emergencies:
Chemicals in the eye
Particles in the eye
Blows to the eye
Cuts and punctures to the eye or eyelid
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