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Eye injuries

Common hazards

The most common hazards associated with workplace eye injuries include:

  • airborne particles such as bits of metal, wood, plastic, glass and dust
  • tools and power equipment that emit sparks
  • flying objects
  • radiation
  • chemicals
  • infectious substances.

Tasks that pose a high risk include:

  • chemical processes
  • chipping/chiselling
  • cutting
  • drilling
  • grinding and machining
  • hammering
  • mowing and slashing
  • sanding
  • scaling
  • spray painting
  • welding.

PCBU responsibilities

If you’re a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), you must manage the risks to your workers’ eyes by providing:

  • a safe working environment: for example, by using extractors to prevent fumes and other airborne particles entering the work area, by erecting screens around welding bays, and by providing designated walkways
  • safe systems of work: for example, by developing and implementing (with your workers’ input) an eye safety policy and safe work procedures that reduce the risk of eye injuries. You also need to enforce these, and review them to make sure they’re making a difference or need further improvements
  • equipment and substances in a safe condition: for example, by making sure all equipment (including eye protectors) complies with the relevant codes and standards and is appropriately maintained and tested
  • information, instruction, training and supervision: for example, about the specific eye hazards in your workplace, and about your safe work procedures to manage these hazards. Inductions are one way to cover this information. You should also consider specific first aid training
  • facilities: for example, first aid equipment and eye wash stations for the emergency treatment of eye injuries, and amenities for cleaning and storing eye protectors.

Worker responsibilities

If you’re a worker, you must:

  • follow any reasonable directions given by your employer/manager that will reduce your risk of eye injury. This includes policies and safe work procedures
  • ensure your own safety by using your personal eye protectors, and that of your workmates
  • report any eye hazards, incidents and near misses to your employer/ manager.

Control measures

You should aim to remove the eye hazards from your workplace completely; if this is not possible, work through other alternatives to reduce the risks they pose.

Examples of solutions include:

  • outsourcing the hazardous work to a specialised company that is better equipped to manage the hazard
  • using a different, less hazardous work method, equipment or machinery
  • changing the layout of your workplace to relocate the eye hazard away from people
  • adapting tools or equipment: for example, making sure tools or equipment are adequately guarded and/or they capture/contain any materials, chips, liquids or other pieces that may be ejected
  • placing screens around work areas to protect walkways and nearby work areas
  • installing exhaust extraction systems to reduce dust, particles or fumes
  • designating areas where eye protection must be worn. Use signs and floor markings to indicate these areas and the protection to be worn. Signs should be posted at the entrance to and inside the hazardous work areas.

More than one control measure may be needed. Review your solutions to make sure they’re working effectively and adequately and not introducing new hazards.

Personal eye protection

Where it’s not possible to remove or reduce eye hazards through other means, personal eye protectors must be supplied to workers, contractors and visitors. The type of eye protection provided should:

  • be designed for the particular work task
  • correctly fit the wearer
  • comply with AS/NZS 1337 series on personal eye protection and AS/NZS 1338 series on filters for eye protectors; and where appropriate, BS EN 207 and BS EN 208 that cover personal eye protection for laser radiation and work using laser and laser systems.

Monitor your workers, contractors and visitors to ensure they’re wearing their eye protection at all times in hazardous work areas. If it isn’t being worn, find out why — perhaps it’s uncomfortable to wear, or workers don’t know it’s required — and take action to fix this.

Selecting eye protectors

  • Determine the hazard.
  • For a combination of hazards, more than one eye protector may be needed. For example, welding may need welding goggles and a suitable face shield.
  • Consider the working conditions. For example, anti-fog goggles or a suitable anti-fogging compound may be required. Sweat bands may be required for extreme conditions.
  • Consider the comfort of the wearer. If it’s uncomfortable, workers probably won’t wear it. Consult with your workers when selecting eye protectors.

Thermally-tempered glass lenses shouldn’t be used beyond 18 months after manufacture, because over time this glass gradually loses its resistance to any impact.

Eye protectors and prescription eyewear

Prescription spectacles (as distinct from prescription eye protectors) offer inadequate protection against flying objects or particles, and therefore could be hazardous. Options for someone who needs to wear both prescription eyewear and protective eyewear are:

  • prescription spectacles worn under eye protectors such as wide vision goggles or clip-ons
  • prescription eye protectors
  • contact lenses worn under eye protectors.

Wearing contact lenses under eye protectors is acceptable in most industrial situations. However, some industrial situations — for example, where workers are exposed to dust; harmful liquids, gases or vapours; or radiation and arc flashing during welding — could cause damage to contact lenses, therefore making these tasks more hazardous to the wearer.

Maintaining eye protectors

Dirty or scratched lenses impair vision and are more likely to be removed or unworn.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning eye protectors. Generally, it’s fine to:

  • wash them using non-abrasive soap or detergent and warm water, and with a soft cloth
  • rinse with water
  • dry with a soft, clean cloth.

Avoid using anything likely to scratch the surface of the lenses.

Provide proper facilities for workers to store, clean, service and replace their eye protectors.

Make sure workers know your arrangements for cleaning, repairing and replacing damaged or faulty eye protectors, and for correcting or adjusting uncomfortable eye protectors.

Inspect and clean eye protectors at regular intervals, after use, and before they are re-issued to another person.

Be aware that particles (such as dust and metal shavings) can stick to eye protectors. When the wearer takes them off or puts them back on without cleaning them first, the particles stuck to them can fall off and get into the eye. This also happens when wearers don’t take their gloves off before removing their eye protectors, and particles on the gloves enter the eye.

Replacing eye protectors

Eye protectors and lenses should be replaced:

  • every two years, or
  • when normal use, accidental damage or age leads to their deterioration, or
  • if they no longer comply with the relevant Australian Standard.

In particular, lenses that have been damaged must be replaced, as the protection they provide will be reduced and vision may be impaired.

Limitations of personal eye protection

Eye protection may not always work:

  • ill-fitting safety glasses may not adequately shield the eyes from airborne particles
  • eye protection that’s unsuitable for the job being done or for the work environment can result in eye injuries
  • relying on eye protection alone to prevent eye injuries, rather than removing or reducing exposure to the eye hazard, is another problem.

These are common mistakes that can result in discomfort, serious injury and even sight impairment.

Many eye protectors are designed to protect the wearer from particles or objects that come from in front of the face, not from the sides or behind.

It’s also important for others working near or passing by the hazardous work area to wear eye protection.

First aid

First aid should be given immediately to reduce the risk of partial or complete loss of sight. It’s likely you’ll need to get medical aid as quickly as possible: take the person to hospital or a doctor, or call an ambulance on 000.

Some general principles for managing eye injuries are:

  • support the injured person’s head to keep it as still as possible
  • tell the person to try not to move their eyes
  • tell the person not to rub their eyes
  • in the case of cuts, punctures or embedded objects, do not wash the eye or try to remove objects
  • in the event of burns to the eye (from chemicals, heat, welding flash or other ultraviolet light), wash the eye with cold running water for at least 20 minutes (make sure to wash under eyelids: turn the upper eye lids back). In the event of chemicals coming into contact with the eye, call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126 or a doctor
  • cover the eye with a sterile pad or clean dressing if possible (never put direct pressure on the eyeball or disturb objects which may be protruding from the eye).

See also Hazardous substances below.

Welding work

When working out how to reduce exposure to the eye hazards associated with welding, employers need to consider:

  • the type of welding being done
  • how long workers (including those working near or passing by) are exposed to the welding process
  • their physical distance from the welding process.

You need to protect workers’ eyes from both invisible and visible radiation.

If it’s not possible to remove or reduce these eye hazards by other means, employers may need to provide the following personal protective equipment:

  • goggles or safety spectacles with opaque side shields
  • helmets
  • hand-held shields (with appropriate filters for the task and hazard).

The Australian/New Zealand Standards referred to in Personal eye protection above provide guidance on the type of eye protection and shade of filter to be used for different processes. The safety data sheets for welding rods may give you further guidance.

You need to protect others who are not welding, but who are in or passing by the welding area (including visitors to the workplace) and who may be exposed to stray radiation or other eye hazards associated with welding.

Where it’s not possible to remove or reduce these eye hazards by other means, you may need to provide:

  • physical barriers
  • such as screened enclosures or where this is not possible, mobile
  • screens made, painted or treated with some form of light-absorbing substance
  • eye protectors.

Eye protection must also be worn while removing slag after welding.

Arc welding should be done in screened enclosures or, where this is not possible, behind mobile screens made, painted or treated with some form of light-absorbing substance.

Lasers

If you use laser products, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions and the following standards for specific safety precautions for the type of laser you use:

  • the AS/NZS 2211 series for safety of laser products
  • AS 2397 covers safe use of lasers in the building and construction industry.

Preferred ways to reduce eye hazards associated with lasers are installing full enclosure or partial screening, and providing electrical cut-off interlocks on removable screens and access panels.

Completely protecting your eyes from laser radiation may make it difficult or impossible to see the laser beam. For some work tasks, it’s necessary to see the beam in order to make adjustments or track its path.

The standards BS EN 207 and BS EN 208 cover personal eye protection for laser radiation and work using laser and laser systems.

Radiation

The sun’s UV radiation

Workers working outside need eye protectors that guard against the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.

These may be tinted or untinted. If workers need protection against discomfort glare, the tinted variety should be used.

Make sure the tinting doesn’t interfere with the wearer’s ability to perceive colours (so they can recognise warning lights, flags or other colour-coded safety objects).

Sunglasses, even those complying with AS/NZS1067 Sunglasses and fashion spectacles, aren’t necessarily appropriate for workplace eye protection.

Computer monitors and other screens

You can reduce the risk of eye strain for workers using computers and other devices:

  • make sure workers take regular rest breaks
  • have appropriate workplace and lighting design
  • make sure screen settings are appropriate.

Spectacle wearers may find an anti-glare coating for their lenses reduces glare and discomfort.

Hazardous substances

Make sure you get a safety data sheet (SDS) for the hazardous substances in your workplace. You can get it from your supplier. Make sure the SDS is readily available to workers and anyone else who might be exposed to the substance.

The SDS will include the eye protection needed for the chemical: for example, chemical goggles or a full face shield. Face shields may be required and used for supplementary protection, but they should never be used for the primary protection of eyes).

The SDS will also state what to do if the chemical gets into the eye. For example:

  • immediately hold the eyelids apart and flush the eye continuously with running water
  • ensure the eye is completely irrigated by keeping the eyelids apart and away from eye, and by moving the eyelids by occasionally lifting the upper and lower lids
  • continue flushing until advised to stop by the Poisons Information Centre (call 13 11 26) or a doctor, or for at least 15 minutes
  • take the person to hospital or a doctor without delay.

Contact lenses may pose a special hazard; for example, soft contact lenses may absorb and concentrate irritants. Medical and first aid personnel should be trained to remove contact lens, and suitable equipment should be readily available. In the event of chemical exposure, eye irrigation should begin immediately, and the contact lens removed as soon as practicable. Contact lenses should also be removed at the first signs of eye redness or irritation in a clean environment only and after workers have washed their hands thoroughly.

Your safety policies or procedures for each task should cover any restrictions on contact lens use. This should include a review of lens absorption and adsorption for the class of chemicals in use, and an account of possible injuries.

Resources

WorkSafe Tasmania resources

Airborne contaminants

Hazardous chemicals

Preparation of safety data sheets code of practice

Other resources

SAI Global (external link) for standards

Updated: 29th October 2019