Workplace Eye Injuries

Watch out for Workplace Eye Injuries

March is Workplace Eye Safety Month

Despite existing safety legislation and educational programs, each working day in the United States, more than 20,000 workplace eye injuries happen each year. Of these, 10 percent to 20 percent will be disabling because of temporary or permanent vision loss.

“Most work-related eye injuries could be prevented,” says Dr. Katherine Fontenot, optometrist with The Eye Clinic. “Ninety percent of these injuries occur because of a worker not wearing appropriate eye protection.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that three out of every five workers who suffered eye injuries were not wearing eye protection. Others were harmed when they wore the wrong kind of eye protection for the job.  The financial cost of these injuries is enormous – more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expense and workers’ compensation. In addition to the 60 percent of workers not wearing eye protection at the time of their accidents, about 40 percent of injured workers were wearing eyeglasses without side shields. Almost 70 percent of work-related eye accidents are caused by flying or falling objects – most of them smaller than a pinhead. Also, contact with chemicals caused about 20 percent of injuries. “Tight-fitting goggles offer the most complete protection and should definitely be worn for protection against liquid chemical hazards,” stresses Dr. Fontenot.

Other accidents were caused by objects swinging from a fixed or attached position, such as tree limbs, ropes and chains or tools.

As more people use computers in the workplace, complaints of eye fatigue, difficulty focusing and discomfort have also become common. Dr. Fontenot says dry eyes caused by not blinking while looking at a computer screen is another common complaint. “We’ve moved into the computer age, but many offices have not. Lighting, furniture and desk set-ups that worked fine before computers were a fixture on every office, add to fatigue and discomfort when working with computers,” explains Dr. Fontenot. 

“Computer screens don’t damage vision, but you might still experience eye strain from looking at one for hours every day.  There are some things you can do to minimize the strain on your eyes.  Try rearranging your computer workstation, taking more frequent rest breaks or getting proper glasses or contact lenses, if needed.” 

While computer eyestrain may be uncomfortable, construction, automotive repair and manufacturing work can be physically hazardous to your eyes.  Potential eye hazards can be found in nearly every industry, but the risk is much higher in certain occupations.  National statistics shows that more than 40 percent of workplace eye injuries involved craft workers such as mechanics, carpenters and plumbers.  More than one-third of injured workers were assemblers, sanders and grinding machine operators.  Laborers suffered about 20 percent of the eye injuries.  Most injuries occur where safety eyewear is not mandated and is left up to the individual. 

“The good news is that workplace eye injuries can be prevented,” says Dr. Fontenot.  “OSHA standards require that employers provide, and workers wear, eye protection for certain jobs.  And remember, to be effective, eyewear must be the appropriate type and properly fitted.”

Even though the vast majority of employers furnish eye protection at no cost to employees, research shows that about 40 percent of workers receive no information on where and what types of eye protection should be used.  “Employees should not be hesitant about asking their employer for eye protection and training,” says Dr. Fontenot.  “After all, your future vision may depend on it.”

For more information about workplace eye safety, call The Eye Clinic at (337) 478-3810, or visit