Thousands of Canadians sustain eye injuries that require medical attention every day, according to a study by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Over one third of these occur at work resulting in lost time and/or temporary or permanent vision loss. The pain and suffering associated with these incidents is immense. Education, proper work planning, and the use of proper safety eyewear is the best safety strategy, but when systems fail and an incident happens you need a response plan that includes eye injuries. Having an eye injury plan can significantly reduce the injury impact, and speed up recovery and the return to work.
Your eye injury first aid plan needs to be developed recognizing the 6 most common categories of eye injuries. Regardless of the type of eye injury the best approach is to respond quickly and with the most appropriate emergency eye first aid treatments. Remember, medically necessary or urgent care appointments with your optometrist are covered by Alberta Health.
Let’s have a look.
Impact to the eye
Treatment for impact to the eye depends on the force. A more minor impact is best treated by gently applying a small cold compress. This will help to reduce pain and swelling. If the impact causes significant swelling, pain or visual disturbance contact your optometrist or emergency room medical team right away.
Scratch to the eye
A scratch of the eye requires you see an optometrist as soon as possible to properly check it out. A minor irritation to the eye may heal on its own, but it’s hard to tell how bad the scratch is and it could lead to something far more serious. Give your eye a rinse with sterile saline solution and blinking may bring short-term relief. Don’t rub the eye as it may worsen the damage. A patch is unnecessary. Usually simply keeping the eye closed until you can get proper attention or wearing sunglasses if the scratched eye becomes light sensitive is the best approach.
Chemical burns to the eye can result from a direct splash or spray of a chemical or by inadvertently rubbing your eyes and transferring the chemical from your hand to the eye. The first aid response is to flush the eye with sterile eyewash solution for 15 minutes. Acids can be rinsed out quite easily. A splash of alkali or basic solution is much more serious. Contact your optometrist immediately regardless of the chemical type to find out what else is recommended. There are thousands of chemicals in use at worksites. The proper assessment and treatment requires knowledge of the type of chemical that may be in the eye so make sure the employee has a copy of the Safety Data Sheet for the chemical or email it to the clinic on their behalf.
Inflammation of the iris
Inflammation of the iris can be caused by contact with the eyeball or an impact. This is a serious condition and requires immediate evaluation and treatment. Immediate action is required to reduce the likelihood of permanent damage to the eye and resulting decreased vision. No specific treatment is required before seeking medical attention.
Bleeding in the eye
Bleeding in the eye is also known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage. It can be quite common and occurs from even minor eye injury or impact. The bleeding may be limited to a small section of the eye, or it can extend over the entire eye, making for quite a dramatic looking injury. This condition is typically painless and does not create any risk or serious impact or vision loss. No treatment is typically required, but seeing your optometrist to ensure there isn’t an underlying issue is highly recommended. The eye should heal over the course of several weeks. The blood will noticeably clear and the eye will return to a normal appearance.
Penetration or Laceration of the eye
If a foreign object such as piece of metal or a fish hook penetrates your eye, seek immediate emergency medical attention. Do not try to move or remove the object. Do not rub the eye. This could cause even more injury to the eye. If possible, try loosely taping a paper cup or eye shield over the eye to prevent contact with the object and get immediate emergency medical attention.
We need to regularly communicate the eye safety message to all employees. The hazards employees are exposed 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 all eye injuries depends on employees being aware of the many possibilities of exposure, recognizing the potential harm, and taking the proper steps to eliminate the exposure. In the event of an eye injury emergency response is important. Do not hesitate to contact or see an eye doctor immediately. Optometrists often keep a few emergency appointment slots available, and medically necessary and urgent care appointments are covered by Alberta Health. When in doubt treat all eye injuries as a medical emergency. It is never worth the risk. You have only one pair of eyes.
Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 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.