Of the five human senses—sight, taste, hearing, smell, and touch—the eyes are our primary sensory organs, enabling us to perceive approximately 80% of the input we need to make sense of our environment and surroundings.
We encounter circumstances each day that could potentially damage our eyes and therefore our critical sense of vision, which can be devastating. Auto accidents and other personal injuries including traumatic brain injury can impact our sense of sight, as can injuries sustained during the normal course and scope of our workdays.
Each day, about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain work-related eye injuries that require medical attention, according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). While most of the injuries won’t permanently impair vision, safety experts and optometrists agree that 90% of work-related eye injuries could be prevented by wearing the right eye protection for the job.
Common eye injury scenarios include when the eye is struck or scraped by particles such as wood chips, metal slivers, or dust; when grease or chemicals splash into the eyes or fumes irritate the eyes; and when a sharp object such as a nail or staple penetrates the eye. All of these injuries require immediate medical attention.
According to the American Optometric Association, jobs that have an elevated or high risk for eye injuries include:
If you are a healthcare worker or work in a laboratory or on a janitorial staff, you may also be at risk of infectious diseases that can be contracted through the mucous membranes of the eye.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a study that revealed that nearly 60% of workers with eye injuries were not wearing the proper eye protection when the injury occurred.
The two main reasons for eye injuries at work are:
You need eye protection in your workplace if you work in an environment where you could potentially encounter projectiles, chemicals, radiation, or bloodborne pathogens.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains very strict guidelines for eye and face protection. If you work in an area containing equipment that presents a reasonable possibility that you could suffer an eye injury, OSHA requires employees to use proper eye and face protection.
In jobs where employees will encounter eye hazards, employees must wear personal protective eyewear, which include options such as goggles, safety glasses, face shields, and full-face respirators.
The specific type of eye safety protection workers must wear is dictated by the hazards present in the workplace:
Safety glasses with side protection or side shields are the minimum protection required for an environment with flying particles or dust.
Goggles are required if you work around chemicals.
Goggles, special-use safety glasses, face shields, or helmets are necessary when welding or working around lasers, fiber optics, or other forms of hazardous radiation.
OSHA requires specific types of eye protection for each work environment, and workers must comply with regulations at all times. It’s not worth risking your vision to remove safety eyewear or entering an environment where there could be dust, chemicals or flying projectiles without it. If you sustain an eye injury at work while you’re not wearing the proper safety eyewear that your employer provides and instructs you to wear, you may not qualify for workers’ compensation.
Your employer will post the eye safety requirements for your specific work environment. If you don’t receive proper instruction about eye safety and suspect you require safety glasses or another form of eye protection, ask your employer to provide it.
To maximize your odds of maintaining good vision even while working in a hazardous environment, make sure you do these four things: