Workplace Eye Safety

Workplace Eye Safety

Written by Stuart Harrell, O.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Optometry
Board Certified Optometric Physician

March is dedicated to Workplace Eye Wellness.  Eye wellness may take on different meanings, depending on your workplace.  You may work in a factory, an automobile repair shop, a lawn maintenance company, or another arena where your eyes are at risk for traumatic injury.  Alternately, you may work with computers, phones, tablets, or other forms of technology that may also create eye wellness issues.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that each day about 2000 American workers sustain eye injuries that require medical attention.  These injuries are frequently small foreign objects that hit and often stick to the eye or underside of the eyelid.  Injuries also may come from chemical and or thermal burns.  Additionally, injuries may arise from objects penetrating the eye itself.

The most important step in minimizing eye injuries in the workplace is to wear appropriate OSHA-approved safety devices.  These may range from eyeglasses that are designed to withstand severe impacts to goggles or full-face shields that provide a much broader coverage from flying objects often encountered while grinding and chipping.   Full-face respirators can be vision- and life-saving when working around certain chemicals and gases.  Many of these aforementioned devices may need to be individually fitted to provide maximum protection.

Another important step to preventing eye injury is to be knowledgeable in the proper use of the equipment that you are using.  Most equipment has certain safeguards to minimize injury to the operator and nearby workers.  Frequently, workers disable these safeguards or refuse to engage them, placing themselves and others at greater risk for sight threatening injuries.

As eye doctors, we have heard all the excuses; “My safety glasses are too heavy – They fog up when I get hot – The safety side shields bother me – I was just going to do something really quick and thought I would be okay – I left my eye protection somewhere that wasn’t very convenient for me to get them very quickly,” etc.  For a true reality check, go online and look up “Penetrating Eye Injuries.”  If you really can handle it, look under Images and hold on!  Our surgeons could tell you story after story of an individual losing an eye due to these injuries.  I’m confident they would tell you that most could have been prevented had the individual taken the time to wear appropriate protection.

For those of us who don’t encounter daily flying objects that can cause eye injuries, we can encounter other eye wellness issues.  I often hear of people that are working on their computer all day and then go home and work on their home computer, phones, or tablets.  With the routine use of computers increasing daily, an entirely different group of eye wellness problems has dramatically increased.  All of this concentrated close-up work can lead to notable eye strain and fatigue along with dry eyes.  I often feel like a broken record when seeing my patients in that I would venture to say I mention dry eye to more than 50% of them.

Computers aren’t inherently bad, but because we use them so often, for so long, we have more problems visually.  Glare from the screen leads to less than optimal vision frequently causing one to squint, thus leading to headaches.  Readjusting the lighting in the room, tilting the screen differently, or a glare screen for the computer can be helpful.  The distance that your computer is from your face can make a difference.  Too close and you create more work for your eyes to stay focused, too far and the print becomes too small to see easily.  Optimally, one should probably have their desktop computer, not a laptop, 20 -28 inches away from their face and slightly below their line of sight.

It is recommended to follow the 20-20-20 rule which is take a 20 second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away.  This allows your visual system to stay flexible and not tend to get stuck at a computer distance which can cause headaches, blurred vision, dry eye, fatigue and the list goes on.  Additionally, a separate pair of computer glasses can make all the difference in the world for someone that works at a close distance for prolonged periods of time.  For the younger population that doesn’t need bifocals, progressives, or plain old readers, a weak-powered pair of glasses can drastically reduce the level of eye strain that one encounters with hours of prolonged near work.  I liken it to weight lifting.  To help someone as they fatigue, we don’t have to remove the majority of the weight they lift, just to remove a small amount helps tremendously.

For the over-30 group, a pair of computer glasses can alleviate all types of eye, head, and neck problems.  This can range from a simple pair of readers designed for the specific distance of your computer, to a computer bifocal that will help with the intermediate distance of the computer and the closer distances needed to deal with other reading tasks, to anti-reflective lenses that will reduce computer glare.  Contact lenses also have their place by eliminating the need to tilt your head back to see through the bifocal/progressive area of glasses.

For those that may spend significant amounts of time on computers, tablets and smart phones, the blue light that is emitted from the screens is a likely culprit contributing to Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).  Since AMD can significantly impair central vision, it is vital to understand what we can do now to minimize our exposure to blue light, thus reducing its effect on our vision in the future.  It is highly recommended that we wear blue light-filtering glasses to combat the 400-440nm wavelength blue light emitted from our digital devices.

In conclusion, we can all minimize the risks for eye injuries and eye strain by taking the appropriate precautions, utilizing safety equipment when necessary, and obtaining routine eye exams.  We at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida specialize in caring for your special eyes.

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