All eyes on safety! Protecting your eyesight at work

shutterstock_126663773For most of us, our ability to see is something we take for granted. Whether a great film, a beautiful sunset, or our children’s smiles when we return home safely from work each day, many of our happiest moments are intrinsically linked to sight… Unless, that is, you happen to be one of the estimated 39 million blind people around the world. Yet according to the charity Sightsavers, 80% of the world’s blindness could be prevented or cured. In this short post we look at the steps you can take in the workplace to avoid injury to your eyes…

According to the NHS, the eye is particularly vulnerable because the cornea (the transparent layer protecting the eye) is only 1/2mm thick. There are various ways that the eyes can be damaged, from foreign objects to harsh chemicals and, as with hearing loss, the workplace can present a number of risks which need to be managed.

Outdoor working

Outdoor workers need to take special care of their eyes, especially those working in agriculture or forestry. Not only do twigs and low-hanging branches pose a risk, loose soil and sand can be a major irritant, whereas still bodies of water can potentially contain nasty pathogens, such as acanthamoeba, which causes corneal ulcers. Preparation, as ever, is the best protection. Sunglasses can provide some basic protection, though for bigger jobs protective goggles may be necessary. It is also a good idea to ensure eyewash is available in your first aid kit.shutterstock_270159326

Machinery

As we discussed in our ever popular PUWER guide, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 deal with the work equipment and machinery used every day in workplaces and aims to keep people safe wherever equipment and machinery is used at work. Under The PUWER Regulations, you have a legal obligation to protect yourself and your workers when using machinery or equipment – which includes managing risks to your sight. Angle grinding and welding, for example, can pose a significant risk, and appropriate safety goggles/glasses should be worn. When choosing appropriate eye protection, you should check they are impact-resistant and adhere to relevant British standards, as well as ensuring they fit properly.

Handling chemicals

Chemical represent a significant risk to your eyes and should always be handled with care. Whereas employees in industrial settings are often well aware of the danger, it is important to remember that many commonly found chemicals are also damaging to the eye, including weedkiller, plant sprays, caustic soda, bleach shutterstock_236934592and other cleaning products. In the event of a chemical splash, you wash the chemical out of your eye as quickly and thoroughly as possible, using lots of fluid, before seeing medical attention if necessary. Remember, alkaline substances cause more damage than acids because they penetrate the eye faster.

In the office

As we discussed in our Display Screen Equipment guide, employees who habitually work with computers and other display screens are at risk from a number of sight-related issues, including temporary myopia, eyestrain and blurred vision. While most of these issues are temporary, they nevertheless represent a source of pain and discomfort and should be given careful consideration as part of a risk assessment. Regular screen breaks should be built into all workers’ routines in order to give their eyes a break, and free eye examinations for those identified as DSE users (ie. those using the equipment as a major part of their work, consistently for more than an hour every day) must be provided on request. To check your office complies with The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations, the HSE has produced a Display Screen Equipment checklist.

Now read this!

DSE Risk Assessment: 7 simple steps to safeguard staff

Homeworking: A guide to employer responsibilities for health and safety

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