Eye injuries may be more common in the workplace than you’d expect. Consider that an estimated 1,000 eye injuries occur every day in American workplaces. Add up all the lost production time, medical expenses and worker compensation claims, and the estimated cost of these injuries is as high as $300 million per year. That’s not exactly spare change, and it doesn’t even begin to touch the pain and suffering of eye injuries and vision loss.
The first step to take toward reducing the number and severity of eye injuries requires identifying what causes them. In 1980 the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) conducted a study that looked closely at 1,000 minor eye injuries. Seventy percent of the accidents were caused by flying or falling objects or sparks and 20 percent were caused by contact with chemicals. But most importantly, the study concluded that nearly 3 out of 5 of injured workers were not wearing any eye protection at all.
A quarter of a century later, many American workplaces are still struggling to learn that first lesson of the BLS study, that eye injury prevention starts with wearing effective eye protection. Anyone working in or passing through an area where there are potential hazards to eyes should be wearing safety eyewear.
To be most effective, eye protection should be both appropriate for the situation and properly fitted. For instance, a worker wearing a face shield should also be wearing safety glasses or goggles underneath the shield as primary eye protection. Goggles provide the best protection.
Training is also a key component of any effort to prevent eye injuries. Most of those workers who participated in the BLS study who were not wearing eye protection said they thought eye protection wasn’t required, and even though the majority of employers had furnished protective eyewear, 40 percent of the workers said they had received no information on what kind of eyewear they should use and where they were required to use it.