FOCUS ON WORK RELATED EYE INJURY
In Australia, mostly all cases of eye damage that occur each year are preventable. Eye damage can be avoided very simply, by following and implementing safe working procedures and, wearing suitable eye protection.
There are many workplaces where eye damage is at the greatest risk. Workers at risk include those who work with:
- Mechanical equipment or moving parts
- Radiation, mainly UV radiation from welding
The danger is greatest where various particles are caused to become airborne at speed and particularly near personnel. Workplaces where chemicals are handled or where high levels of radiation are generated in the work process, for example, most forms of welding, must be carefully assessed to prevent eye injuries, since in these work situations there is an inherent risk of injury to the eye.
Agents of eye damage may be broadly classified into the following four categories:
- Impact or blunt force
- Foreign bodies
- Chemicals injurious to the eye
Impact or blunt force.
Normally the eyelids close as a reflex action before being struck by any object approaching them. A blow to the eye can therefore cause internal damage without any apparent injury to the surface of the eyeball. Haemorrhage into the aqueous humour may occur. If any doubts exist, seek medical advice. Symptoms would include impaired, especially blurred or double, vision.
Small foreign bodies may settle on, or become embedded in, the eye. These include dust, flying particles and molten metal splashes. Some foreign bodies have physical effects while some have biological effects and these may interfere with the normal processes of the eye. If not removed, Prevention of eye damage 6 foreign bodies may cause serious damage. Foreign bodies with high impact force can penetrate the surface of the eye. Penetration by a small particle may not always be obvious if it leaves only a minute mark on the conjunctiva or cornea. This is often difficult to see. Examples of work activities where foreign bodies with high impact force may be present include: · grinding; · polishing; · chipping; · drilling; · machine tooling; · cutting; · impact of steel on steel; · impact of steel on other materials; · welding, brazing and soldering; · sandblasting; · sawmilling; · use of rotary mowers; · spraying paint or molten metal; and · use of any high-speed rotating device that may break or disintegrate.
Chemicals injurious to the eye.
Many chemicals can cause eye damage. The severity of the damage will increase with the concentration of the offending chemical and with the duration of contact with the eye. Strong alkalis are exceedingly dangerous. Strong acids are more likely to cause damage than solvents, thinners and degreasers. Prevention of eye damage 7 Commonly used chemical substances causing eye irritation/damage include: · acids: – sulphuric, – hydrochloric, – nitric, – hydrofluoric, – glacial acetic, and – chromic; · alkalis: – sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), – potassium hydroxide, – calcium oxide, – calcium hydroxide, and – lime and cement mix; · corrosive chemicals: – phenols, – ferric chloride, and – aluminium chloride; · organic solvents (mode of action could be splashes or exposure to vapours over a long period): – thinners, – paint solvents, – drycleaning solvents, – degreasers, – petrol, and – kerosene; · surface-active agents: – liquid or powder detergents, – cutting oils, and – paint removers; · allergens; and · others: – ammonia, – phosphorus, and – household bleach (sodium hypochlorite). Prevention of eye damage 8 Some chemicals handled in pharmaceutical factories and in biological laboratories, for example, atropine, organotin compounds, vaccines and enzymes, present specific hazards that may result in eye damage. Health authorities should be consulted about specific safe working procedures in these cases.
Exposure to various sources of radiation can cause serious eye damage, particularly to the cornea, lens and retina. Generally, both eyes are affected. Types of radiation that may cause damage include: · ultraviolet; · infra-red; · laser; · microwave; and · ionising. Ultraviolet radiation may damage the cornea, the window of the eye. Infra-red radiation can cause cataracts, or opacity of the lens, on prolonged, heavy exposure. Exposure to light from lasers may result in damage to the retina. Ultraviolet light generated during electric welding can result in painful burns to the eyes known as ‘welder’s flash’ or ‘arc eye’. A ‘flash’ should not be considered until the eye has been examined for the presence of a foreign body and this has been eliminated. Glass workers’ cataracts are an example of eye damage caused by exposure to high doses of infra-red radiation. Intense visible light or glare can result in dazzle or light stroke. The momentary disorientation may lead to further accidents in the workplace.
In certain circumstances, personal protection of the individual may be required as a supplement to other preventive action. It should not be regarded as a substitute for other control measures and must only be used in conjunction with substitution and elimination measures. Prevention of eye damage 12 Personal protective equipment must be appropriately selected, individually fitted and workers trained in correct use and maintenance. Personal protective equipment must be regularly checked and maintained to ensure that the worker is being protected. Where personal protection is necessary, the eye protection should be selected according to: · the nature of the hazard, for example, flying particles, and chemical or molten metal splashes; and · the work process, for example, welding, grinding, spray painting or working with power tools.
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