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The Most Common Eye Injuries at Work – Avoid Being a Statistic

May 27, 2019

An estimated 2000 Canadians sustain eye injuries that require medical attention every day, according to a study by Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Over one third of these occur at work resultingin lost time and/or temporary or permanent vision loss. The costs in terms of worker’s compensation, lost-time, and pain and suffering are staggering. The good news is that with education, proper workplanning, and the use of proper safety eyewear it is estimated by CNIB that 90% of these injuries are preventable.

Understanding eye injuries is an important step in preventing them. So, what are the most common eye injuries and how can we avoid them? Let’s find out. The most common eye injuries fit into 6 categories. Each of these are described briefly below.

Impact to the eye

Swelling of the eye and tissue around the eye is typically the outcome of impact to the eye. It may be associated with discoloration and bruising. Seek medical attention because what might appear to besimply a black eye may be more serious and may be associated with damage to the interior of the eye orfractured bones. Be cautious and seek to know sooner rather than later if the injury is more serious thana simple black eye.

Acute trauma fractures are a most serious result from an impact to the eye or a blow to the face. Theresult can be multiple fractures to the bones around the eye and immediate medical attention will beneeded. X-rays or other diagnostic tools will typically be employed to determine the exact type and extentof the damage.

Scratched eye

A scratched eye is an abrasion of the cornea (the outer surface of the eye). Such a scratch can be caused by dust, sand, or any small foreign object that is allowed to get in your eye. The cornea is soft and easilyscratched resulting in redness, soreness, and often sensitivity to light. If left untreated it can lead to more serious conditions so see your optometrist who can monitor the situation and prescribe a program of proper treatment.

Chemical Burns

A splash to the eye of a liquid chemical can burn or sting and if left untreated can lead to serious injury.The normal pH of the eye is between 7.0 and 7.3. Any aqueous liquid with a pH outside of this range willcause irritation. A splash of acidic liquids, with a pH < 7.0, like muriatic acid can cause redness and irritation, but can easily be rinsed out of the eye. A splash of alkali, basic, or caustic liquids, with a pH >7.3, like common toilet bowl cleaner, is more serious because such a splash may not cause immediatepain or irritation, and this may allow the chemical to penetrate deeper into the eye causing serious injury and damage.

A splash to the eye is the most common cause of chemical eye exposures and burns but they can also becaused by rubbing your eyes and transferring a chemical from your hands to your eyes or by getting sprayed in the eye by aerosols or a mist of acidic or caustic liquid. In the event of exposure get to an emergency eyewash and ensure a steady stream of eyewash liquid or warm tap water for about 15 minutes and then see an optometrist.

Inflammation of the Iris

Inflammation of the iris (the coloured part of the eye) is typically in response to trauma, infection, orcertain specific diseases. It may be associated with blurred vision, redness and an aching in the eye. Seek medical attention for this condition because over time this may be associated with a build-up of pressurein the eye that can be damaging.

Bleeding in the Eye

Bleeding in the whites of your eye is a result of blood leaking from blood vessels in the whites of the eye. It can be caused by very light trauma as simple as a big sneeze or deep cough. Usually, this condition isquite painless, and it will heal and disappear on its own.

Another condition associated with bleeding in the eye is bleeding between the cornea and the iris (in thearea of the eye referred to as the aqueous humor). This condition is technically known as Hyphemas and it’s much more serious and may be associated with blurred vision and pain in the eye. It needs immediate medical attention because if left untreated, it can cause permanent vision loss. This condition is typically caused by trauma but may also be associated with abnormal blood vessels and some specific types of infection or disease.

Penetration of the eye

Penetration of the eye by a solid object is a severe form of injury. Do not try and remove the object and seek immediate medical attention. Trying to remove the object yourself may cause more serious damage.

Eye Injury Treatment

Regardless of the type eye injury the best approach is to seek immediate medical attention. An eye care specialist is best equipped to deal with such emergencies. In the event of a more severe situation such asan object that has penetrated the eye or an eye that has been knocked out of its socket get to the hospital immediately. Treat all eye injuries as a medical emergency, and do not hesitate to contact or see an optometrist immediately. It is never worth the risk. You have only one pair of eyes.

We need to regularly reinforce the eye safety message to all employees. The hazards employees areexposed to can be numerous and they account for a wide majority of eye injuries. As with all safety issues,knowledge and awareness is key. Preventing eye injuries depends on employees being aware of the manypossibilities of exposures, recognizing the potential harm, and taking the proper steps to eliminate theexposure. A range of safety eyewear is available that will provide protection for all circumstances ofwork, and your Eyesafe program offers ‘perfect fit’ prescription safety glasses options geared to both youand your job. The eyes are easily damaged and we need to protect them. Vigilance is important and weneed to take time to remind each other about the importance of wearing your safety eyewear every day.

Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health andsafety professional with 30 years of experience. He is a regular safety conference speaker in Canada andhe provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS certificateand diploma programs.

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