- Eye injuries
- What are they?
- What causes them?
- Who is most at risk?
- Spot the hazard
- Assess the risk
- Make the changes
- Where hazards persist
- Eye safety program
- Other safety measures
Eye injuries are a major cause of lost working days in Western Australia, particularly in the manufacturing industry. In this article we look at common causes of eye injuries and ways of preventing them.
Most eye injuries in industry are caused, not by sharp or heavy objects, but by specks of flying metal smaller than a pinhead that can bypass safety glasses, particularly if glasses are loose or unsuitable for the job.
Despite strong emphasis on eye safety, eye injuries are still a major factor in the manufacturing industry's high overall injury rate.
Most workplace eye injuries occur through inadequate or inappropriate eye protection, as against no eye protection at all. That means in most cases the damaging projectile, particle or substance has broken through or has bypassed the worker's safety glasses - usually an indication the glasses were wrong for the job, or for the work environment. A common error is using safety glasses when goggles and/or a face shield are needed.
Occupational eye injuries are most likely to result from work that generates flying particles, fragments, sparks, dust, hazardous substances or radiation. Tasks with the highest risk of eyes injuries are grinding, welding and hammering. Other high risk activities include cutting, drilling, spraying, smelting, sanding, chipping or chiselling.
A common problem in workplaces is over reliance on eye protection rather than eliminating or controlling eye injury hazards. Most safety glasses are designed to protect the operator from particles coming from in front of the face, rather than from the side or rear. That's why nearby workers are often injured by particles entering their safety glasses through air vents or gaps at the side or rear.
Another factor is that people's faces differ, and eye protection rarely fits perfectly snugly. People sometimes receive eye injuries even while wearing approved eye protection, and research is continuing into improving design standards. Australian Standard/New Zealand Standard 1336:1997 says: "wherever practicable, eye protectors should be fitted to the wearer by a person who is competent to select the correct size and type".
People working with metal are most at risk, though all tasks that generate flying particles, fragments or dust are common causes of eye injuries. Lack of awareness is nearly always the reason for people wearing inadequate or inappropriate eye protection. Often they simply do not realise the equipment is unsuitable. And they may be unaware that relatively minor incidents can cause severe sight impairment.
Conduct a workplace survey of any task that might generate flying particles. Look for the possibility of flying objects or particles, lack of safety shields or guards around metal grinding, cutting and hammering jobs, unsuitable or inadequate eye protection. Sunglasses and prescription glasses are not adequate protection against flying particles, even when fitted with side flaps.
Unless flying matter can be safely contained within a task area, for example by safety screens, curtains or booths, it can also cause eye injuries to people nearby, even though they are wearing safety glasses. For most tasks that generate flying particles, safety glasses, goggles and/or face shields should be standard equipment in addition to other safety measures.
Poor skills or work practices - possibly resulting from lack of information, training supervision - may increase the risk of flying fragments. Lack of maintenance to tools may also increase the risk. Unless regularly filed flat and clean, and any "mushrooming" removed, the striking faces of hammers and the heads of metal "dollies", punches and chisels may fracture, causing metal fragments to fly off when a hammer strikes.
Once you have identified eye injury hazards in the workplace, you need to make some judgements about the likelihood or possibility or people being injured. The likelihood and the degree of injury will depend largely on the way the work is done and safety procedures are applied. Flying fragments or particles striking the human eye invariably cause injuries requiring medical attention, and involving days or weeks to heal. Metal is capable of causing more serious injuries than, for example, masonry, particularly if particles are glowing hot.
While protective equipment - eg safety glasses, goggles and face screens - may be a standard safety requirement at many workplaces, protective equipment should always be the last line of defence. Other ways of making the workplace safe are preferred. If other ways can eliminate or sufficiently reduce the risk of eye injury, eye protection may not be necessary.
For tasks like metal hammering, grinding and welding, and where flying particles cannot be prevented or contained, close fitting goggles should be worn. Safety glasses, goggles, face shields and face screens are available for a wide range of work conditions, as detailed in AS/NZS 1336:1997. Eye protection complying with the equipment standards AS/NZS 1337:1992 or AS/NZS 1338:1992 should have indicative markings on it and may have markings on the packaging; these markings should be looked for when purchasing safety eye protection equipment.
The best solution is always to remove the hazard entirely. As this is not always possible, here are some guidelines for applying safety controls in a preferred order of priority - from most effective to least effective:
- remove the hazard at the source - get rid of the work equipment or procedure that generates eye-damaging matter;
- substitute the equipment or process with a less hazardous one;
- isolate the hazard - relocate it away from people;
- add safeguards - such as safety barriers or screens;
- adopt a safer procedure. Consider improved safety training and supervision;
- if there are still risks, provide suitable protective equipment, and make sure it is used; and
- to ensure hazards have been made safe, safety measures should be checked and monitored.
To help prevent eye injuries in workplaces where eye hazards cannot be avoided, employers and persons in charge should:
- ensure the preferred order of controls (above) has been considered;
- ensure eye protection is adequate against identified eye injury hazards;
- know the latest eye protection information, procedures and equipment;
- provide information, training and supervision to ensure safe procedures are followed and adequate eye protection is worn;
- ensure eye protection is worn by employees and visitors at all times in identified risk areas and situations;
- signs and possible markings should clearly indicate areas or situations where eye protection must be worn;
- consider providing both goggles and face shields for high-risk work;
- ensure eye protection is properly maintained. Dirty or scratched lenses impair vision and are more likely to be removed; and
- ensure adequate first aid training is provided and first aid equipment is available for emergency treatment to eye injuries.
Every workplace where eyes are at risk should have an eye safety program that is enforced. The program should include:
- a written safety policy, signed by the manager and expressing management's commitment to eye safety;
- the written policy on noticeboards and a copy given to all new employees;
- regular training and information on prevention of eye injuries;
- regular task checks for potential eye injury hazards, including inspection of injury records and tasks that could emit flying matter;
- commitment to eliminating or controlling hazards at the source;
- provision of adequate, comfortable, well-fitting eye protection, including types suitable for people wearing prescription glasses;
- provision for storage, cleaning, servicing and replacement of eye protectors and lenses.
- additional safety training and follow-up action where any employee fails to use required eye protection in designated areas or situations; and
- provision for anti-fogging compounds, anti-fogging goggles and sweat bands for extreme conditions.
Other safety measures may include:
- clearly signed, designated areas where eye protection must be worn;
- emergency first aid equipment for eye injuries;
- lighting levels appropriate for the job (for guidance refer to AS 1680 part 2);
- lens cleaning stations;
- eyesight checks for new employees; and
- regular eye check-ups for all employees.