May is Healthy Vision Month, and this year’s theme is “Eye Safety is Everyone’s Business.” Prompted by what officials believe is a large number of preventable on-the-job eye injuries, the National Eye Institute is launching a drive to increase the use of proper safety eyewear in the workplace. The institute is asking optometrists and other eye-care providers to play a role by routinely dispensing safety eyewear.
Approximately 2,000 eye injuries that require medical treatment occur every day in workplaces around the nation. NEI estimates that
90 percent of those eye injuries could be prevented through the use of proper protective eyewear. About one-third of those injuries are treated in hospital emergency departments, and more than 100 of those injury cases result in one or more days of lost work.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards require that employers see that their workers have suitable eye protection. Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly three out of every five workers injured were not wearing eye protection at the time of the injury or were wearing the wrong kind of eye protection for the job.
Safety eyewear now is available in a variety of new styles and materials that make them more attractive and comfortable to wear so workers no longer should use excuses such as “I didn’t think I needed them” or “They don’t fit right.”
Gone is the one design meant for everyone regardless of gender, size or age. Some workers have chosen to wear their safety glasses all the time and are leaving their other glasses in the dresser drawer.
The American Optometric Association recommends that supervisory officials in the workplace, in schools and at recreational events should mandate the use of eye protection in all activities in which eye injury could occur.
Sports-related eye injuries also represent a significant health hazard in the United States, requiring at least 100,000 physician visits each year at a cost of more than $175 million. Of these, at least 42,000 eye injuries require a visit to an emergency room and approximately 13,500 injuries result in permanent loss of sight each year.
Recent statistics show that children ages 15 and younger account for nearly one-third of all hospital admissions for eye trauma and 43 percent of all sports and recreational eye injuries overall.
Prevention is the key as 90 percent of sports-related eye injuries can be prevented by using proper protective eyewear. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses, goggles, safety shields and eye guards specially designed to provide the correct protection for a certain activity.
Correct protection requires meeting the specifications established for a specific sport, such as the standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
Ordinary prescription glasses, contact lenses and sunglasses do not provide enough protection in eye-hazardous situations. They instead can increase an athlete’s chance of eye injury, so safety goggles should be worn over them.
Tips for parents wishing to prevent eye injuries among children:
1. Injuries caused by toys: Inspect the construction of toys. Toys for young children should be made of durable plastic or wood with no sharp edges or points and should be able to withstand impact. Avoid purchasing toys with small parts for young children. Young children tend to put items in their mouths, increasing their risk of choking.
Check your children’s toys regularly for broken parts. Throw out broken toys immediately if they cannot be repaired safely. Older kids often alter their toys and misuse them, making them unsafe. It is better to be vigilant, even with older kids, so that serious eye injuries can be prevented.
Read the instructions and suggested age level on the packaging. Assess whether the item is appropriate for the child’s ability and age. Age labeling is provided not just for developmental reasons, but for safety reasons as well.
Avoid toys that shoot projectiles, such as toy guns — they contribute to a large number of serious eye injuries and can rob children of their sight. Last year, there were close to 3,000 eye injuries in children younger than 14 caused by toy weapons, BB guns, slingshots and other propelled toys.
Look for the symbol, “ASTM F963.” This indicates the product meets the national safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Make recommendations to family members and friends about gifts you think are appropriate for your child and watch for recalled products. Large toy retailers post regular notices of recalled products and many stores display them.
2. Sports-related injuries: Eye injuries are very common in baseball. In fact, baseball is the leading cause of sports-related eye injuries in children. If your child plays baseball, racquetball or softball, make sure your child wears all the required safety gear every time he or she plays and practices. Insist that your child wear a helmet when batting, waiting to bat or running the bases. Helmets should have eye protectors, either safety goggles or face guards. If your child is a catcher, he or she will need additional safety gear that includes a face mask, throat guard, long-model chest protector and shin guards.
3. Sun damage: While most parents are aware of the damage that ultraviolet (UV) rays can do to the skin, few appear to know that children (and parents) run the risk of developing eye damage by these same rays.
Ultraviolet rays penetrate deep into the eye and may injure the macula, the part of the retina responsible for sight in the center field of vision. Photokeratitis, or corneal sunburn, is a result of intense exposure to UV-B and is most common among individuals who spend long hours on the beach or ski slopes without proper eye protection. It can be extremely painful and can result in temporary loss of vision.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.