Sporting Eye Safety

November 7, 2018

Safety eyewear is used every day in the workplace, but don’t let your guard down once you’ve left the workplace and have stepped into leisure activities. It’s just as important to keep your eyes safe when participating in sports and other recreational activities.

The eyes are at risk from projectiles, sporting equipment, contact with others, and for outdoor activities, UV rays. Vision correcting eyewear is not sufficient protection when participating in sports and, in certain activities, could increase the risk of eye injury. Sports related eye injury is a common occurrence and is one of the leading causes of vision impairment in children in school. When it comes to eye safety in sports and recreation, activities are categorized based on the risk associated with the activity. Lower risk activities are those that don’t involve swinging objects or close contact with other players, such as group or lane swimming. High risk sports are those with the potential for high impact and high velocity like hockey and lacrosse.

Whether it’s racquets, sticks, balls or pucks every sport has its own risks. Although each sport has a unique eye injury risk profile most sports and recreation related eye injuries can be prevented with simple education and precautionary measures. Let’s consider a few of these unique sports, the related eye injury risks, and strategies for injury prevention.

Water Sports

Water polo, swimming, and diving are very common water sports. Minimizing contact with salt water or chlorine treated pool water can greatly reduce irritation. For those who wear prescription eye wear, most goggles and masks can be customized with your prescription. Prescription lenses in goggles allow for better visibility and eliminating the need to wear contact lenses. Contact lenses should only ever be worn in the pool if they are paired with well-fitting water tight googles. Otherwise contact lenses can pose a risk to the eye in aquatic environments. Bacteria in pools, hot tubs, and natural bodies of water can be trapped by contact lenses and cause eye infections. Many doctors suggest going without contact lenses is not necessary to enjoy water activities, but for those requiring their prescription would greatly benefit from investing in prescription goggles.

Racquet, Bat and Stick Sports

All sports involving racquets, bats, sticks, balls and pucks require participants to wear safety eyewear. Not doing so creates a significant risk of eye injury. As an example, squash players experience eye injuries every year from ordinary play. An article posted in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, indicated in their survey of nearly 200 squash players that some 15% of players had previously suffered an eye injury, most commonly caused by a racquet. Less than 10% of players said they wore protective eyewear playing squash, and 35% of these wore prescriptive lenses which they considered to be suitable in place of protective eyewear. Players who did not wear protective eyewear believed it was unnecessary, and that the eyewear may impact their performance. More than half of the players surveyed agreed that players should wear protective eyewear, yet few thought it should be compulsory.

In general racquet, bat and stick sports of all varieties should involve eye protection because these activities are especially high risk due to racquet swinging motion and fast-moving balls and pucks. Face shields should be used when up to bat in baseball and face shields or cages should be used while playing ice hockey, field hockey and lacrosse. In additional to protecting the face, wearing a face shield or cage ensures the eyes are well protected too. Metal is a strong and inexpensive option for face shields. If players prefer a more open field of view Polycarbonate is the best option. It’s substantially stronger than plastic and shatter resistant upon impact. Polycarbonate lenses are now lighter than ever, with improved design for comfortable wear. Lenses treated with an anti-fog coating are also available. Polycarbonate face shields and lenses must be CSA approved. Look for a safety marking etched onto the top outside edge of the lens. CSA approval indicates they have been performance tested to provide the highest level of protection. Safety eye wear for racquet, bat and stick sports is becoming increasingly less expensive.

Skiing and Snowboarding

Downhill sports can be high risk because of the highspeed nature of the activities. A helmet should be a fundamental part of downhill sport gear. A helmet will protect the head from impact and can significantly reduce injuries and concussions. Along with your helmet, ski masks should be worn to protect the eyes from impact, but also to shield the eyes from harmful reflection of UV rays (even on cloudy days). Photo keratitis, also known as snow blindness can result from over exposure to UV. The eyes are at higher risk of over exposure when at elevation and is compounded by the reflection of the snow. Ensure antiglare, UV protective goggles are worn each time you hit the slopes.

Safety eyewear should be part of any sport’s equipment checklist. Regular use and a program of self-moderated enforcement will help to ensure it is worn every day. Don’t let your guard down once you’ve left the workplace. Safety eyewear is just as important when participating in sports and other recreational activities. Children can be taught about the type of eyewear that is appropriate protection for the eyes for each sport and adults can lead by example. With some simple pre-planning recreational activities and sports can be enjoyed while minimizing risk to the eyes.

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

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