Every year, doctors and nurses across the UK attend to thousands of eye injuries, many of which are caused due to dangerous work environments and accidents occurring due to negligence in the workplace. Causes of eye injuries can range from flying debris and exposure to harmful chemicals or fumes, to excessive straining of the eyes while performing assigned tasks, among others.
Here are some of the more common causes of eye injuries in the workplace:
Eye Injuries From Flying Debris
In many working environments, employees can work in conditions where there is flying debris. Some examples include jobs involving demolition, engineering, and building work such as chiseling or angle grinding out old pointing from brickwork, mixing lime and cement and other substances. If employees working on such jobs are not provided with proper protective eyeglasses, they are at high risk of eye damage from pieces of flying debris. The debris does not even have to be very large to cause irreparable eye damage. Even the smallest piece of grit not bigger than a speck of dust can scratch the cornea and can even result in permanent loss of vision.
Even if the damage is not abrasive, grinding or cutting of metals can cause highly heated particles to fly around and if they enter the eye, the heat itself can be sufficient to cause significant damage to the eye. This type of injury is a thermal burn.
There are certain jobs that require exposure to food, spices, flowers, detergents, perfume and other substances that can cause an allergic reaction called allergic conjunctivitis. They may cause a membrane between the inside of the eyelids and eyeball to swell and cause irritation, pain, and burning of the eyes. The only treatment for allergic conjunctivitis is removing the irritant from the immediate environment.
Radiation is harmful to our bodies if it exceeds safety limits. Anyone who works outdoors for extended periods of time without protective gear is at high risk of being exposed to UV radiation in quantities that exceed limits that are considered safe. This is of great relevance now, especially due to the reduction of the ozone layer, which would otherwise reflect a large amount of UV radiation back into space.
Exposure to UV radiation has been linked to a large number of eye disorders including but not limited to reddening of the eyes, excessive watering, itching, dryness and carcinomas of various parts of the eye.
There are several tools used in different types of jobs that can cause a variety of eye disorders. For example, excessive usage of the computer can cause a vast range of eye disorders from pain and dryness of the eyes to altered vision.
Employees who work in biology-related labs often have to use radiation lamps to kill germs, bacteria and other contaminants. Working under such conditions for extended periods of time can expose lab workers to radiation levels that are considered dangerous. This over-exposure is harmful overall and can do extensive damage to the eyes as well.
A similar phenomenon is seen with welding arcs, which are known to damage the eyes due to the emission of UV radiation during the process of welding. The brightness of the flash during welding also overwhelms the eye and can cause pain, which, while it may not be permanent, can become very tiresome if it is a regular occurrence.
Accidental contact with any type of corrosive chemicals can cause extensive damage to the eyes. Sometimes significant damage occurs even if the eyes only come in contact with the chemical’s fumes. The effects may range from slight burning or watering of the eyes to permanent loss of vision.
Objects Hitting The Eye
As with any other organ, the eyes can be badly damaged when an object hits them with sufficient force. While pointed objects can easily pierce and damage the eye, even blunt objects can cause internal bleeding and damage the eye, which may lead to loss of vision in severe cases.
This is among the leading causes of eye injuries at the workplace. This usually occurs when a worker or employee already has weak eyesight. If the job requires the worker to continuously strain their eyes further, they may try to compensate by moving forward or leaning in further to better see what they are doing. This can easily result in further deterioration of the condition and affect eyesight significantly.
Another way that this situation can cause injuries is when the worker already has deteriorated eyesight that prevents them from properly seeing what they are doing. A small miscalculation can potentially result in an accident injuring everybody around them.
Reducing Eye Injuries In The Workplace
While not all eye injuries can be prevented, many accidents that result in eye damage can be avoided just by implementing and enforcing proper safety protocols in the workplace. Below are just some of the basic precautions that employers and workers can put in place to minimise the risk of eye injuries in the workplace.
- Perform hazard assessments regularly to reduce the possibility of accidents occurring in the first place. Just making sure that all equipment is working properly and that machine guards, boiler covers and work screens are in place can go a long way in reducing incidents.
- Provide workers with the appropriate protective equipment and make sure that they are worn at all times. Depending on the type of workplace and the job being performed, personal protective equipment may include safety goggles, wrap around goggles, and face shields or hoods with respirators.
- Workers should be properly trained and educated with regards to the possible injuries and measure to avoid them.
- Availability of immediate first aid is another step that cannot be stressed enough. All workplaces must have saline eyewash or clean water readily available to minimise damage to a worker’s eyes in case of accidental exposure to debris, corrosive chemicals or certain types of allergens.
- Installing vision friendly computer screens and proper lighting is essential to prevent straining of eyes while working. Employees working on computers should also be educated on the side effects of computer overuse and they must be informed about ways to prevent excessive strain on the eyes.
When it comes to eye injuries, prevention is better than cure. If you work in any industry that puts you at high risk of eye injury, it is a good idea to educate yourself on the potential risks and what you can do to protect yourself.
Did you know that if your eye injury happened in your workplace and was caused due to negligence, you may be able to claim compensation? Read our advice on eye injury at work compensation claims for more information.