An eye injury can have a devastating effect on a person’s social and occupational opportunities – yet the vast majority are preventable. New Australian Standard guidelines for eye and face protection are part of a wider strategy to protect workers’ eyes.
Workplace-related eye injuries continue to occur; indeed there were 7,655 serious claims for eye injuries in the period 2000 to 2011 in Australia.1 It is widely accepted that 90 per cent of eye injuries are preventable.2,3 Improvements in the design and manufacture of eye protection has helped improve comfort and compliance. In addition, prescription eye protection standards developed in 20074 ensure
that those who wear spectacles are now offered the same level of eye protection as those who don’t.
Reducing Eye Injuries
Recently, a new standard was published that gives guidelines for when, where and what eye-protection strategies can be put in place to help reduce eye injuries. The latest update of AS/NZS 1336 Eye and Face Protection – Guidelines5 supersedes AS/NZS 1336: 1997 Recommended practices for eye protection. The title change is indicative of a broader perspective, providing guidelines for a wider range of hazards and environments.
Successful eye protection programs aim to assess and eliminate hazards, before providing the appropriate type of eye protection, which forms the last line of defence…
Successful eye protection programs aim to assess and eliminate hazards, before providing the appropriate type of eye protection, which forms the last line of defence. The new standard incorporates a number of tables that help in the process of hazard identification and control. Welding screens, for example, are effective ways of ensuring passers-by are not exposed to the radiation associated with welding. Administrative controls such as rostering workers or setting up physical barriers to increase shade will help reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Other key elements include vision screening of staff and referral for further testing where necessary.
Employers should take all reasonable steps to ensure workers are aware of the need to protect their eyes. Educational campaigns are an effective way of raising awareness and increasing compliance with eye protection. A recent report on eye injuries suffered by hotel workers cleaning beer lines highlighted the need not only
for the right eye protection but also the need for instruction on appropriate procedures when an injury is sustained.6
In the cases reported, workers were exposed to undiluted alkali chemicals resulting in permanent vision loss in both eyes. Chemicals, particularly alkalis which penetrate the cornea rapidly, can have a devastating effect on vision; employers should, therefore, ensure workers exposed to these hazards are adequately protected not only with a face shield but with gloves and boots.
Young workers (<25 years-old) have been reported to be twice as likely to suffer an eye injury at work compared to older workers.7 Other risk factors include gender, with men experiencing up to 98 per cent of work-related eye injuries.8
A higher number of injuries are reported for non-English speaking workers.9 The vulnerability of workers known to be at higher risk should be considered when designing education programs as well as the need for regular re-enforcement of the eye safety message.
The Right Eye Protection
When speaking with patients and customers it is important to let them know that as employers, they have a duty of care to ensure that where hazard minimisation is not possible, adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is available and employees should be made aware of how to fit and use the PPE.
A summary of some common eye hazards and appropriate eye protection choices can be seen in the table above.5
Where medium-impact protection is specified, eye protectors will incorporate lateral protection into the frame or lenses or have permanently attached side shields. Fit and coverage is critical and should be checked to ensure adequate level of protection from flying hazards.
For patients requiring spectacle correction, a number of options are available. The best option in terms of fit, comfort and coverage is custom-made prescription eye protection that complies with AS1337.6.4 Prescription eye protection complying with the standard will have an “R” etched onto the lens. Other solutions may include over specs, contact lenses or the use of a lens carrier behind the eye protection appropriate to the task. Contact lenses can be worn in most circumstances when accompanied by the appropriate eye protection, but should never be considered as a form of eye protection. In some industrial situations, e.g. when dust or harmful liquids or gases are present, there may be additional consequences if eye protection fails when contact lenses are worn.
Role of Eye Health Practitioners
Optometrists, ophthalmologists, orthoptists and dispensers play an important role in preventing eye injuries. By understanding the potential hazards that their patients may be exposed to both at work and during recreation and leisure, optometrists and ophthalmologists can help ensure their patients are prescribed the right level of eye protection. Dispensers and orthoptists play a key role in ensuring the frame and lens provide adequate protection and that the gaps between the frame and the face are as small as possible. A comfortable and secure fit will help ensure protection and compliance with the eye protection program.
Regular eye examinations provide the perfect opportunity to assess the adequateness of eye protection. Individuals should be encouraged to bring all their glasses when attending a regular eye exam so practitioners can inspect the eye protection as well as their regular spectacles. With age and accidental damage, eye protectors can deteriorate. Air-borne chemicals and commonly used substances such as sunscreen can damage the frame and lenses. It is generally recommended that eye protectors be replaced every two years, unless evaluated as satisfactory for continued use.
The new standard provides helpful guidance on many eye hazards and eye protection choices and is a valuable resource for eye care practitioners.
Annette Hoskin is an optometrist with extensive experience in the field of eye protection, eye injury prevention, product development, compliance and quality control. Currently Annette’s time is spent between roles consulting to Eyres Optics, a WA based manufacturer of eye protection, and the Lions Eye Institute Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science at The University of Western Australia as a Research Fellow. Annette is a committee member for Australian Standards Committee (SF006) and (MS024). Annette works as a consulting optometrist and has conducted worksite audits for safety and presented to optometrist and end user groups across Australia on issues relating to eye protection.
1. Safework Australia: Compendium of Workers’ Compensation Statistics. Australia 2010-2011. March 2013.
2. L.D. Pizzarello, Ocular trauma: time for action. Ophthalmic Epidemiol. 1998;5(3):115-6. Epub 1998/11/07.
3. M. Easterbrook, Prevention of ocular trauma. Can J Ophthalmol. 2009;44(5):501-3. Epub 2009/10/01.
4. AS/NZS 1337.6 Personal eye protection Part 6: Prescription eye protectors against low and medium impact. Sydney: Standards Australia/New Zealand, 2007.
5. AS/NZS 1336 Eye and Face Protection – Guidelines. Sydney: Standards Australia/New Zealand, 2014.
6. C. Samarawickrama, J. Leaney, S. Watson, Severe alkali burns from beer line cleaners warrant mandatory safety guidelines. Med J Aust. 2014;201(2):90. Epub 2014/07/22.
7. Work- related injuries experienced by young workers in Australia, 2009-10. Safework Australia. March 2013.
8. J.M. Kanoff et al. Characteristics and outcomes of work-related open globe injuries. Am J Ophthalmol. 2010;150(2):265-9 e2. Epub 2010/06/05.
9. B.M. Burger, P.J. Kelty, E.M. Bowie, Ocular nail gun