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March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month

This article is part of our Back To Basics series, which highlights fundamental principles of environmental, health, and safety management. The series is written for EHS professionals new to this industry, as well as experienced pros who want to keep their skills fresh.

According to the US Department of Labor, workplace eye injuries cost more than $300 million annually in lost production time, medical expenses, and worker compensation. 

Download the free 2023 Safety Calendar to easily plan your toolbox talks &  training

While eye injuries are common, they're also easily preventable. In fact, it is estimated that 90% of workplace eye injuries could have been prevented if the workers had been wearing appropriate eye protection. 

What are the most common workplace eye injuries?

Some of the most common workplace eye injuries include:

  • Abrasions: Small particles such as dust, sand, metal slivers, or wood shavings can scratch the cornea 
  • Blows to the eye: Large objects can also hit the eye or face, or a worker may run into an object 
  • Chemical burns: Chemicals and cleaning products can splash or come in contact with the eye
  • Eye strain: Staring at a computer screen for too long can cause eye discomfort, headaches, and blurred vision
  • Penetration: Objects such as glass, nails, or projectiles flung from power tools can go through the eye
  • Radiation exposure: Exposure to UV radiation from the sun, welding arcs, or damaged metal halide lamps can cause damage to the eye
  • Thermal burns: Hot water, flames, or sparks from welding can cause injuries to the eyelid or eye

Which jobs have a high risk for eye injuries?

According to the American Optometric Association, the jobs that have a high risk for eye injuries include:

  • Auto repair
  • Carpentry
  • Construction
  • Electrical work
  • Maintenance
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining
  • Plumbing
  • Welding

Eye strain and visual discomfort is also a frequent complaint of office workers. 

What can workers do to prevent eye injuries?

Workplace eye injuries usually occur for one of two reasons: Either the worker was not wearing eye protection, or they were not wearing appropriate eye protection for the job. Wearing proper eye protection, such as goggles, face shields, safety glasses, or full-face respirators, can prevent the vast majority of eye injuries. 

What does OSHA say about eye protection?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide appropriate eye and face protection to guard against chemical, environmental, radiological, or mechanical irritants and hazards. Employers have a responsibility to identify eye and face hazards in the workplace, and ensure that workers use eye protection whenever they may be exposed to these hazards. They must also ensure that all eye and face protection is maintained properly. In addition, they must train each worker to know when PPE is necessary, as well as how to select and wear the right PPE for the job. 

10 ways to participate in Workplace Eye Wellness Month

During the month of March, employers will hold toolbox talks, first aid training, and vision screening clinics to raise awareness about eye hazards and accident prevention. Below are 10 ways you can participate in Workplace Eye Wellness Month: 

  1. Conduct an eye hazard assessment and remove or reduce eye hazards where possible
  2. Enforce the use of proper eye protection. Over 270,000 workplace eye injuries could be avoided every year if eye protection was used effectively. 
  3. Address complaints about eye protection, such as fogging or pinching. Replacing ill-fitting or poor quality eyewear is less expensive than dealing with a serious eye injury. 
  4. Make sure all eye protection is clearly marked with “ANSI Z87”. This standard indicates that the eye wear has been tested to ensure it will protect eyes as expected.
  5. Inspect your safety eye wear to make sure it's in good condition, and replace any damaged equipment.
  6. Provide a way for employees to report eye safety hazards in the workplace, such as incident reporting software.
  7. Teach employees proper eye first aid. Make sure they know how to address common situations like chemicals or particles in the eye, a blow to the eye, or cuts and punctures to the eye or eyelid.
  8. Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break from the computer and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.
  9. Encourage employees to have regular comprehensive eye exams to verify their vision is adequate to perform their job safely.
  10. Consider offering a vision screening clinic at your workplace. Vision screening clinics are not only convenient for employees, they also help minimize lost time due to vision problems. 

Download the free Workplace Safety Calendar

Participating in Eye Wellness Month is one way to prevent accidents and protect your workers. For more ideas, download our free workplace safety calendar. 

Download the free 2023 workplace safety calendar

Note: This article was originally published in March 2018, and was updated in March 2023 for freshness and comprehensiveness.