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Eye Safety at Work—Again

Every March, year after year, eye health organizations make a concerted effort to educate Americans about eye protection in the workplace. And yet, year after year, we hear the same statistics. The personal and economic toll of eye injuries at work is alarming.

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20,000 workplace eye injuries happen each year. Those injuries often mean one or more missed work days for recovery. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that the result is an estimated $300 million a year in lost productivity, medical treatment, and worker compensation.

And yet if workers would just wear the appropriate protective eyewear, 90 percent of serious injuries could be prevented.

Signs of Eye Injury

Work-related injuries range from simple eye strain all the way to trauma, which may lead to permanent damage, vision loss, and blindness. It's no surprise that about 40 percent of serious injuries occur in construction, manufacturing, and mining where hazards like flying particles, molten metal, caustic liquids, and chemical gases or vapors are all in a day's work.

It's important to be able to recognize an injury and respond appropriately, but whatever you do, DO NOT try to treat a serious injury yourself. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone else, get medical help right away.

  • The person has obvious pain or trouble seeing.
  • 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.

Desk Jobs Not Exempt

Work-related eye injuries are not limited to physical labor in potentially dangerous settings. People who spend hours staring at a computer screen are at risk of eye strain that can lead to fatigue and headaches. This strain can also leave eyes parched and red, and even worse, dried out from lack of blinking. The simple reason is that computer screens, tablets, and other digital displays can reduce your blink rate by as much as 50 percent.

Tips to Protect Your Eyes at Work

The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers these tips to help avoid work place eye injury or strain:

  • Wear protective eyewear: Your eyewear must be American National Standards Institute ANSI-approved and OSHA compliant. You must use special-purpose safety glasses, goggles, face shield or helmet if you are near hazardous radiation welding, chemicals, lasers or fiber optics.
  • Position your computer 25 inches away: If you are working on a desktop computer, try placing the monitor at an arm's length away from your face. You may need to adjust the font size to appear larger at that distance.
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule: To help alleviate eye strain and dry eye, take a break every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Looking at a distance allows your eyes to relax and return to a regular rate of blinking again. Normally, people blink about 14 times a minute, and with every blink, your eyes are lubricated with fluid that contains moisturizing elements, including oil.
  • Reduce glare on your smartphone and digital screen: While many new phones and digital devices have glass screens with excellent picture quality, they also produce a strong glare that can aggravate the eyes. If you use a glass screen device, adjust the low light filter setting to lower screen brightness or use a matte filter to reduce eye strain.
  • Adjust environmental lighting at your work: If your computer screen is brighter than your office surroundings, your eyes need to work harder to see. You can reduce eye strain by adjusting the lighting in your surroundings.

Take note, be safe, and maybe in a few years we'll have better news.