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Occupational Hazards & Vision (Blue-Collar Workers)

Manual labor jobs and jobs in the manufacturing industry have been on the rise, increasing the risk of getting an eye injury at the workplace. Around 40 percent of job-related eye injuries occur in the manufacturing, construction, and mining industries, so an extra emphasis on eye safety should be taken when working manual labor jobs.

It is estimated that U.S. workers sustain around 2,000 eye-related injuries on the job every single day. However, experts believe this number can be cut down substantially with proper eye protection.

Manual Labor Jobs Where Eye Protection May Be Needed

There are many potential eye safety risks associated with blue-collar or manual labor jobs. These high-risk occupational fields include the following:

  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Electrical
  • Mining
  • Plumbing
  • Carpentry
  • Welding
  • Auto repair
  • Maintenance
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How to Prevent Eye Injuries on the Job

Most eye injuries on the job can be avoided. Adequate job and safety training and being mindful of a person’s surroundings can all contribute to fewer workplace eye injuries. However, safety experts and medical professionals also believe that up to 90 percent of workplace eye injuries can be avoided if the right eye protection is used. 

What to Look for When Purchasing Safety Glasses

If a job requires the use of safety glasses, the following must be considered before choosing the right frames:

  • How well the glasses perform: This is the most important aspect of choosing a pair of safety glasses. Wide lenses that completely cover the region around the eyes are typically the safest choice.
  • How comfortable the frames are: If a worker is required to wear safety glasses for the full duration of a shift, it is important that the glasses are comfortable. Frames that do not apply too much pressure to the bridge of the nose or the ears are ideal for optimizing comfort.
  • How well the safety glasses fit: A pair of safety glasses that do not fit properly may not fully protect the eyes. Frames that are too small can expose the eyes to potential hazards, while frames that are too large may slip off easily and leave the eyes completely unprotected.

What to Look for When Purchasing Safety Goggles

Certain jobs can require the use of safety goggles. Choosing the right pair of safety goggles depends on the job and the following factors:

  • How well a person is able to see out of them: Some safety goggles have cloudy lenses or small fields of vision, which prevents some people from wearing them at all.
  • How well the goggles perform: Certain safety goggles are intended for specific types of work. Chemical splash goggles perform the best when working with chemicals and impact goggles perform the best against flying debris.
  • How comfortable the goggles are: Being required to wear safety goggles for long amounts of time can be extremely uncomfortable, so finding a pair that fits comfortably on a person’s face is important.

How the safety goggles feel is not as big a concern as it is when purchasing safety glasses because goggles are adjustable.

Potential Eye Safety Risks in Manual Labor Jobs

Adequate eye protection can help to minimize some of the risks associated with blue-collar jobs, but awareness of the risks themselves is also crucial. Here are some of the biggest eye safety risks in manual labor jobs: 

Flying Debris

Certain jobs involve working in conditions where flying objects are more likely. These objects can land in the eyes and lead to severe injuries. These flying objects are typically metal fragments, cement chips, and wood particles that are the result of somebody working with mild to heavy machinery. 

Tools and machines that allow for riveting, sanding, grinding, and other similar tasks can all cause flying debris that can harm the eyes. 

Conditions that can develop as the result of a flying object coming into contact with the eyes include the following:

  • Eye trauma, such as a cut, scratch, or bruise on the eye 
  • Keratitis, which is inflammation of the cornea
  • Impaired vision or loss of visual acuity
  • Blindness or a complete lack of vision

Preventing Eye Injuries From Flying Debris

The best way to prevent eye injuries from flying debris in the workplace is to wear either safety goggles or safety glasses, depending on what type of debris a worker is exposed to. 

For a job that exposes a worker to light debris, safety glasses with impact-resistant lenses are ideal. Here are some good options: 

For a job that exposes the worker to heavier flying debris or high amounts of flying debris, impact-resistant safety goggles offer the most protection and comfort. Here are some options:

Chemicals

Many people working manual labor jobs come in contact with a wide variety of chemicals while working, making ocular chemical injuries the second most common work-based eye injury. 

Maintenance workers and other manual laborers are exposed to cleaning chemicals, such as ammonia, formaldehyde, and hydrochloric acid. Serious eye damage can occur if the eyes come in direct contact with these potent chemicals, such as burning and permanent blindness if left untreated.

Other manual labor jobs will often use various cleaning agents, disinfectants, solvents, and other chemicals while working. Eyes can be directly exposed to such chemicals by accidental getting splashed, contact with a rag or towel that has chemicals on it, or when touched by an unwashed hand that was working with a chemical. 

Symptoms of chemical eye trauma include the following:

  • Red eyes
  • Burning sensation
  • Excessive tearing
  • Swelling
  • Blurry vision

Medical attention may be necessary if a worker’s eyes are exposed to chemicals on the job, and the symptoms do not go away after flushing the eyes.

Preventing Eye Injuries From Chemicals

Safety glasses can be used while working with chemicals, but it is typically recommended that chemical splash safety goggles should be worn. Here are some high-quality options:

Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation

People who work as welders and laser operators are at risk of exposing their eyes to UV radiation. Unlike other workplace eye injuries, UV light exposure does not have any immediate symptoms. However, serious eye conditions can develop overtime after lots of exposure to the harmful radiation, including these:

  • Cataracts: This is clouding of the eye’s lens that can eventually lead to blindness if left untreated. Cataracts are very common among senior citizens and can naturally occur beginning around the age of 40.

    Workers exposed to high levels of UV radiation substantially increase their odds of developing cataracts later in life. Cataracts can be removed by surgery, which replaces the clouded lens with a clear artificial lens.
  • Macular degeneration: This is the thinning of the part of the eye that processes what a person sees directly in front of them (the macula). Dry macular degeneration can start to develop naturally as a person ages, but a risk factor that increases the chances of developing the condition is getting too much exposure to UV radiation.

    Macular degeneration causes blurred or reduced central vision. It can ultimately lead to a complete loss of central vision. There is currently no cure for macular degeneration.

Preventing Eye Injuries From UV Radiation

Welders and laser operators who are continually exposed to UV light typically wear UV-shielding safety glasses underneath a helmet. Some workers wear face shields as well for extra protection. 

For welders, there is a direct link between not wearing protective eye equipment and eye injuries, further exemplifying the importance of eye safety. Safety glasses that protect against UV radiation and bright flames are necessary for this type of work. Here are some choices:

Dust

Many manual laborers, such as construction workers, miners, woodworkers, and warehouse staff members, are exposed to large quantities of dust on a regular basis. Dust can be classified as any fine particle of solid matter. 

Redness, excessive tearing, irritation, and the sensation of a foreign body are all common symptoms after the eyes have been exposed to most types of dust. Too much exposure to certain dusts over long periods of time can eventually cause these issues:

Preventing Eye Injuries From Dust

Safety goggles are recommended when working in dusty conditions. Safety glasses put a worker at risk of getting dust in their eyes since there is so much open space between the frame and the face. 

Dust-proof safety goggles keep all dust particles out of the eyes, letting the worker avoid potential eye injuries.

Slips & Falls

Although slipping, falling, and injuring oneself can happen practically anywhere, it can be very common while working blue-collar jobs. If an employee accidentally falls and sustains head trauma, loss of vision could follow in the form of post-traumatic visual loss. Blurred or double vision can also be common symptoms after sustaining a head injury.

If an accident or injury occurs, it’s important to seek prompt medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment of any eye issues ensure better long-term recovery.

Preventing Eye Injuries From Slips & Falls

General heavy-duty safety glasses or goggles can prevent eye injuries related to slips and falls. Any extra protection around the eyes helps to guard against any potential eye trauma that may occur. 

Specially designed work boots and slip-resistant shoes are also recommended to avoid accidental falls in the first place. High-quality non-slip flooring and mats are recommended as well as proper signage around any wet floors. Preventative measures can reduce the frequency of slips and falls overall, thereby reducing overall injuries in the workplace.

References

  1. 10-20 Percent of Work-Related Eye Injuries Result in Temporary or Permanent Vision Loss. (September 2015). Industrial Safety and Hygiene News.

  2. Chemical Eye Injuries in the Workplace. (February 1999). AAOHN Journal.

  3. Conjunctivitis: A Systematic Review. (July 2020). Journal of Ophthalmic and Vision Research.

  4. Forty Percent of Job-Related Eye Injuries Occur in Growing Fields of Manufacturing, Construction and Mining. (February 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  5. Lifetime Exposure to Ambient Ultraviolet Radiation and the Risk for Cataract Extraction and Age-Related Macular Degeneration: The Alienor Study. (November 2014). Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

  6. Personal Protective Eyewear Usage Among Industrial Workers in Small-Scale Enterprises. (September 2020). Injury Epidemiology.

  7. Post-Traumatic Visual Loss. (December 2010). Reviews in Neurological Diseases.

  8. Prevalence and Factors Influencing Eye Injuries among Welders in Accra, Ghana. (September 2020). Advances in Preventive Medicine.

  9. Protecting Your Eyes at Work. (2022). American Optometric Association.

  10. State of Eye Protection for Metal Welders in the Workshops of Conakry. (November 2021). Occupational Diseases and Environmental Medicine.

  11. Which Safety Glasses? (November 2022). Safety + Health.

Last Updated February 2, 2023

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.

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