NSCA Foundation

Eye-opening truths about workplace eye injuries

Employsure Pty Ltd

By Matthew O’Connor*
Monday, 21 August, 2017

Eye-opening truths about workplace eye injuries

Driving to work, watching a video or sending a text — many of us take these activities for granted. Despite the importance of vision for most work and leisure activities, eye safety is sometimes neglected by many business employers.

Eye injuries in the workplace are very common, with more than 840 people making a serious eye injury claim in the year from 2014–2015, according to one of the latest reports from Safe Work Australia.

Grinding and welding are the two most common activities resulting in an eye injury. However, eye injuries are a significant problem for a variety of occupations, not just those working with metal fragments.

Eye injuries in Australia also cost around $60 million per year, with approximately seven in 1000 workers sustaining an eye injury each year, according to a publication by government safety agency Comcare.

Using the correct eye protection for the task, as well as receiving the proper training, could lessen the severity or even prevent a high percentage of eye injuries in the workplace.

What are common eye injuries?

Some of the major types of eye injuries experienced by in the workplace include the following:

  • Chemical burns
  • Injuries and complications due to welding flash, such as bright UV light
  • Cuts and scratches to the eye surface
  • Embedding of objects and chemical traces in the eye
  • Punctures
  • Microbial eye infections in the case of laboratory workers, janitors, animal handlers and other healthcare workers

What jobs demand eye safety?

Dangerous objects can strike and abrade the eyes of the workers if they are not protected with appropriate eyewear. Apart from dangerous objects, infectious microbes and chemicals tend to adversely affect the eyes of the workers in specific types of workplaces. Be aware of the following:

  • Dusty environments filled with cement chips, dust, staples, nails, metal slivers and wood chips
  • Chemical burns caused by cleaning products and industrial chemicals
  • Intense, harmful radiation, such as UV lights and excessively bright lights, laser lights and infrared radiation, to name a few
  • Tools and machines that chip chisel, ship, hammer drill, grind, cut, smelt, spray or weld
  • Compressed air

10 ways that you can help prevent an eye injury in your workplace

Your overarching obligation is to provide a safe workplace for workers. A safe workplace is best achieved by taking a 10-step hazard management approach that focuses on identifying, assessing and controlling the hazards:

1. Assess

Look carefully at your workplace operations. Inspect all work areas, access routes and equipment for hazards to eyes. Examine past eye accidents and injury reports. Identify operations and areas that present eye hazards.

2. Test

Uncorrected vision problems can also perpetuate more accidents in the workplace. If your workplace is a high-risk industry for eye injuries, it’s a good idea to provide vision testing for your employees.

3. Protect

Select protective eyewear that is designed for the specific duty or hazard. Protective eyewear must meet the current Australian Standards.

4. Participate

Create a 100% mandatory program for eye protection in all operation areas of your workplace that have been identified as a risk to the workers’ eyes.

5. Fit

Workers need protective eyewear that fits well and is comfortable. Have eyewear fitted by an eye-care professional or other competent person. Provide replacements for eyewear that is damaged and require each worker to be in charge of his or her own protective equipment.

6. Plan for an emergency

Set up first-aid procedures for eye injuries. Have eyewash products that are easy to use and access, especially for workplaces where chemicals are used. Train workers in basic first aid and identify those high-risk jobs.

7. Educate

Conduct ongoing educational programs to create, keep up and highlight the need for protective eyewear. Add eye safety to your regular employee training programs and to new employee orientation programs.

8. Review

Regularly review and update your accident prevention policies. Your goal should be NO eye injuries or accidents.

9. Put it in writing

Once your safety program is created, put it in writing. Display a copy of the policy at work and in employee gathering areas. Include a review of the policy every time a new employee joins.

10. Document

If an incident does occur, document the incident, injury or illness in an Incident and Hazard report form. Not only will this help to demonstrate that you are complying with your obligations, it will also assist you to monitor and continually improve levels of health and safety in your workplace.

*Matthew O’Connor is the National Work Health Safety Practice Leader at Employsure — a workplace relations firm specialising in helping small businesses comply with health and safety legislation as well as ensuring that their employees’ health and safety needs are taken care of.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/PixieMe

NSCA Foundation is a member based, non-profit organisation working together with members to improve workplace health and safety throughout Australia. For more information and membership details click here
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