Flying objects. Tools. Particles. Chemicals.
More than 90 percent of eye injuries could be prevented with the use of goggles, face shields, safety glasses or full-face respirators, according to The Vision Council.
“Whether it’s a chemical or a liquid or a metal foreign body, whether it’s from cutting metal or a baseball, everything needs to be considered when we’re protecting against eye injuries,” says Dr. Rachel Bishop, chief of the National Eye Institute’s consult service.
The impact of eye injuries to businesses is an estimated $300 million annually, which includes medical bills compensation and downtime, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Despite the high price tag to companies and risk for permanent vision damage for workers, employers still face the daunting task of getting workers to wear the proper eye protection.
A FOGGY ISSUE
Part of Dr. Bishop’s experience included providing ophthalmic care to thousands of soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. She says the biggest cause of those soldiers not wearing their PPE was due to fogging or other wear issues.
“If you’re a soldier in the field in Iraq and you’re wearing eye protection and [the goggles] get foggy, you just can’t do your job,” she explains. “Goggles work for protecting the eye, but they’re more challenging for maintaining good vision under difficult work environments. It’s not the easiest thing to find the perfect level of eye protection.”
The Vision Council corroborates Dr. Bishop’s first-hand account. In a brief published in conjunction with the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), the organization cites research about factors that influence why workers choose not to wear proper eye protection.
The study, which included manufacturing, construction, service and retail workers, found that 100 percent of participants did not wear personal protective eyewear due to fogging issues, and more than half (55 percent) said that an antifogging solution would increase usage.
“By taking the necessary measures to reduce the fogging of protective eyewear, employers will likely see an increase in compliance with eye protection recommendations and increased worker safety,” The Vision Council says.
Some injuries can happen even when wearing the proper eye protection. Dr. Bishop pointed to one incident in which a patient had a piece of metal slip under his/her safety goggles despite use.
“Even when you’re wearing the proper eye protection, it’s still not perfect, but it blocks a lot of projectile injuries to the eye,” she cautions. “Where employers need to be aware is that sometimes the work environment makes it challenging to use certain types of eyewear.”
Eye injuries can be deceiving. While damage could seem minor, failing to take immediate action could result in vision loss and additional lost work days.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the following basic steps for all eye injuries:
- Do not touch, rub or apply pressure to the eye.
- Do not try to remove the object stuck in the eye.
- Do not apply ointment or medication to the eye.
See a doctor as soon as possible, preferably an ophthalmologist.
In the case of chemical contact, the first effort is to rinse the eye with water.
The goal is to dilute and rinse away the chemical that makes contact with delicate eye tissues, Dr. Bishop recommends.
In addition, special caution should be taken to not rub the eye during cleaning.
If it’s grass or sawdust, Dr. Bishop says to take the nearest water source, such as a bottle, and to rinse the eye and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Again, caution should be taken to not apply pressure or contact.
“You don’t want to touch the eye. You don’t want to press something on the surface, maybe it’s lodged part of the way in, further into the eye,” she says.
Eye injuries that involve lodged objects require extra care. The first step is to find something to cover the eye so there is protection from further damage, should the eye be bumped or touched.
“You’re creating a cage around it so that the person can get urgent care,” she says. “This way, it can be removed in a controlled setting rather than pushing the object in further and scrambling the contents of the eye.”
Delaying medical attention can cause the damaged areas to worsen and could result in permanent vision loss or blindness.
“At the end of the day most eye injuries really are preventable,” Dr. Bishop says. “For the workers doing the task, if something’s not working for you, speak up. Let your manager know. Tell them that you can’t do what you need to do with the gear you have.”
AN EYE ON TREATMENT
Eye injuries require immediate medical treatment to prevent vision loss. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends
seeking medical attention as soon as possible if the following signs are observed:
- The person has obvious pain or
- The person has a cut or torn eyelid.
- One eye does not move as well
as the other.
- One eye sticks out compared
to the other.
- The eye has an unusual pupil
size or shape.
- There is blood in the clear part
of the eye.
- The person has something in
the eye or under the eyelid
that can’t be easily removed.
In addition, the organization states that attempting to treat a serious eye injury on your own could result in further damage or permanent vision loss.