PLH GROUP NEWS
Occupational Hazards to Eyesight: The Seen and Unseen
Date: April 23, 2019
Take a break from the day and think about happy sights. What comes to mind may be your spouse on your wedding day or your newborn child. Maybe it is a sunrise over the ocean or a bald eagle soaring through the trees above you. Now, think about if those visions were taken from you? Eyesight grants precious views, but these views could be ceased in mere seconds if not careful. Every occupation incurs inherent risks to vision despite the industry, work environment, and job duties. Some of these risks are obvious; others are not. So, what are the risks that aren’t as clear to see?
As reported in a previously published Safety+Health article, of the nearly 2,000 job-related eye injuries that occur each day, ninety percent could be avoided with appropriate eye protection. This, though, does not just apply to construction or manufacturing environments. This applies to all work environments, from welding to data entry.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, forty percent of job-related eye injuries that require medical attention occur in the construction, manufacturing, and mining industries. This probably does not come as a surprise considering the inherent hazards and risks associated with these industries. Workers must be especially mindful to safety and the ever-changing environment around them, always ensuring that proper procedures are followed and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn. However, the two primary reasons for occupational eye injuries are that workers were not wearing eye protection, or they were not wearing the correct eye protection for the job.
“Just as ineffective as no eye protection is wearing eye protection that isn’t adequate for the task,” said Elsie Bentley, vice president of Safety, Health, and Environmental for PLH Group, Inc., which is comprised of 11 utility entities that perform complete power line and pipeline construction for the oil energy infrastructure markets. “That is why many companies, including PLH Group, offer a vision plan that covers prescription safety eyewear for all employees. We want our workers to be equipped with the appropriate protection that provides effectiveness and comfort for each individual’s particular situation. By doing this, we minimize their temptation to forego proper eye protection, and instead make it easy and convenient for our workers to slide on the necessary PPE to keep their eyes safe.”
When choosing appropriate safety eyewear, be sure to follow American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requirements for the specific task, considering the likelihood of potential hazards, personal and job-related vision needs, and elements of potential exposure— including airborne or potentially airborne debris or chemicals, exposure to ultraviolet rays, and infrared radiation. Even when just briefly passing through a hazardous environment, first take the time to examine the environment’s potential risks, and apply the proper PPE, such as goggles, safety glasses, and face shields.
While contact lenses are not always permitted at work, the American Optometric Association (AOA) believes they are safe in most work environments—barring working with chemicals, which should then be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In fact, the AOA would argue that contact lenses may be the best option for workers with an eye prescription, because they widen a worker’s range of vision and improve the comfort and fit of most safety-related eyewear.
Regardless of the type of eye protection, be sure to clean and inspect eyewear regularly to minimize impediments to the line of vision. Remember that streetwear glasses were not designed to protect workers against debris impact and fogging. Therefore, they cannot effectively be substituted for safety glasses.
To most of us, it is no surprise that eye protection is necessary in the construction and manufacturing industries. But did you know that according to Oregon State University, nearly 40 percent of work-related eye injuries occur in offices, healthcare facilities, laboratories, and similar environments? The intrinsic risks to our eyes in these environments, though, are not always as obvious.
The average worker is believed to spend seven hours a day in front of a digital screen while working from home or at the office. This does not include additional time looking at a phone or other digital devices off hours. Digital Eye Strain is the term given to vision-related issues that are believed to come from spending an extended period in front of a digital screen. These issues range from neck and shoulder pain to headaches and blurred vision. Causes of Digital Eye Strain—including poor lighting and posture, as well as uncorrected vision problems— can be mitigated.
Since regular eye exams prevent the advancement of vision issues, organizations like 2020 On-site recognize that employers want to promote eye health despite demands to employees’ schedules. Therefore, they provide convenient mobile optometry exams during work hours at locations convenient to the company—like the company’s parking lot.
2020 On-site typically performs exams within 15 minutes, providing both ease and convenience for both the employer and employee.
Other ways to prevent Digital Eye Strain include those previously published in Safety+Health, as well as the following tips from the AOA:
- Location of computer screen – The computer screen should be approximately four or five inches below eye level and sit about two feet from the eyes.
- Lighting and screen glare – Minimize extreme light in the room by utilizing window coverings and low wattage lightbulbs. If screen glare is still present, consider an anti-glare screen filter.
- Blinking – Believe it or not, simply blinking may be an effective way to minimize eye strain because it keeps the surface of the eye moist.
- Rest breaks – Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every twenty minutes of screen use, rest your eyes for twenty seconds by looking at something twenty feet away, giving the eyes a chance to refocus.
If an eye injury occurs, ensure you understand how to treat it. Review general eye first aid information, as well as discuss with your supervisor the necessary measures to take if an eye injury occurs during a specific task prior to beginning work.
Our eyes are one of our biggest assets. Whether working at home or on a construction site, protecting our eyes should be a daily safety concern, and we must always mitigate potential risks that may take away our chance to see the views that we love most.