Preventing eye injuries onsite
Being hit by moving objects is the most common cause of workplace eye injuries. Eye injuries account for 3.6% of all serious work compensation claims. Whilst this number is low, our eyes are incredibly delicate and workplace eye injuries can lead to permanent damage including impairment, vision loss and blindness.
High-risk jobs for eye safety include those that involve; chemicals, dusty environments, excessive lights, compressed air, tools and machines that cut, drill, grind, hammer, sand, weld.
Wearing adequate eye protection significantly reduces the risk of sustaining an eye injury at work. However there are an increasing number of cases where eye injures are being sustained despite wearing eye protection appropriately.
Ordinary eyewear such as prescription lenses and sunglasses are not adequate eye protection against injury. Under Workplace Health and Safety regulations employers are required to supply workers with appropriate personal protection equipment for the tasks they are performing. Protective equipment must also comply with Australian Standards so check the safety labels before purchasing.
It is important to provide the most appropriate eye protection for the task. Consulting with staff individually is vital in understanding the task to see what level of protection is appropriate – such as glasses, goggles or a full-face shield. There may be unique cases where custom eye protection is required due to the nature of the role.
Protection also needs to be fitted correctly to each individual to ensure material does not enter through loose gaps. Lack of education around how to adjust and fit PPE can often contribute to PPE not being worn correctly. Building education into your site induction program is also useful to capture visiting contractors to site.
It’s more than adequate PPE
Proactively managing hazards in the workplace can also reduce the risk of eye injury.
Hazard Identification: Organise a walk through of your work place or site. Observe the tasks being performed with teams and talk through the risk factors with staff.
Assess the Risks: Are you having reoccurring eye injuries in specific areas or tasks? Check your injury records to see if there are any trends. What areas were the biggest risks identified by staff in the hazard identification process?
Implement control measures: Implement control measures to reduce the risks. For example:
- Perform job task analysis to see if the tasks can be performed in a different way or machinery could be moved to a different area
- Sign areas and machinery that require eye protection
- Replace hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives where appropriate
- Install safety shields or barriers around high risk equipment
- Use water to dampen dusty environments
- Ensure equipment is maintained regularly
- Consider installing an eye wash basin in areas where there is high risk of eye injury
Monitor and review the controls you implemented at regular intervals to assess the risk of onsite eye injuries. Workers should be encouraged to utilise eye protection and control measures at home as well.
Eye-related injuries in Australia, 2009, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Australian Government
Safe Work Australia: Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics, 2012–13
Safe Work Australia: Work-Related Eye Injuries In Australia 2008
Better Health Victoria: Eye safety at work