6 Tips for Protecting Your Eyes and Avoiding Strain at Work

Published 03/06/2023
by Heritage Vision Plans

March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month. Here’s how you can keep your vision healthy.

According to the CDC, two thousand people in the United States seek medical treatment every day for eye injuries sustained at work. These range from striking or scraping injuries, such as those caused by flying chips of wood or ceramic, to burns from chemical cleaners or molten metal. At best, these injuries can result in lost work, while at worst they can lead to permanent vision damage or loss.

To state the obvious, no one wants to risk losing their vision. Nevertheless, the frequency of these injuries suggests that too many workers are not aware of the dangers present in industrial environments. And of course, eye wellness extends beyond physical injury, as anyone who has spent long hours in front of a computer screen is well aware.

In a very real way, the strain we place on our vision is a sign of how important our eyes are for our day-to-day lives. Good vision is also essential for keeping us and those around us safe when operating high-powered equipment. Here is our best advice for keeping your vision healthy in a work environment.

Eye safety to prevent physical injury.

OSHA requirements stipulate that employers provide all employees with face, eye, and other PPE protection in environments where these hazards are a possibility, and that they train employees in proper safety measures. However, it’s up to workers to follow the protocols to avoid serious injury. If you work in an industrial setting, the following three tips can help keep your eyes safe.

1. Wear protective eye gear where appropriate.

Many workspaces involve flying debris or chemicals that can end up damaging or irritating the eyes. Protective goggles and face shields provide a barrier against particles that might otherwise cause scratching or puncture wounds. Workers should be aware of which protective gear is necessary for their task. For instance, a face shield alone is not sufficient protection in environments where airborne chemicals might flow around the edge of the mask and cause irritation.

Those who don’t frequently work with high-powered equipment may assume that their regular glasses are protection enough. In reality, safety glasses and goggles are made of much stronger materials in both their lenses and frames. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) sets the standards for safety gear, and glasses that meet their criteria should have a Z87 mark on their lenses or frames. Many safety glasses can be ordered to prescription, while googles can be worn over regular glasses or contacts.

2. Make sure eye protection is clean and undamaged.

Scratched or dented eye gear isn’t just a nuisance to wear, it can also be a hazard. Damage to PPE can weaken its integrity and make it vulnerable to breaking or shattering under impact. Dirty eye protection can also increase glare, reduce vision, and contribute to accidents.

A helpful analogy might be your car windshield. If you’ve ever felt blinded by the setting sun reflecting off the dust on your windshield, or been distracted by a chip in the glass, you can recognize the need for clean and well-maintained equipment.

3. Blink frequently and use eye drops for additional relief.

Finally, our eyes offer a natural cleaning mechanism to protect our vision from damage. Blinking coats the eyes with a fresh layer of tears, which act as a cleanser, lubricant, and protectant. By making a conscious effort to blink more frequently, workers can prevent dust and other debris from building up on the surface of the eye. This will keep the eyes from drying out, and can reduce the likelihood of anything getting under the eyelids where it might scratch the eye surface.

Eye drops can also provide relief—however, they come with a caution. Regular eye drops, otherwise known as artificial tears, are mostly safe to use, although they shouldn’t be applied more than a few times a day as they may rinse away the eye’s natural tears. Those who use artificial tears frequently should check the bottle for ingredients and avoid any with preservatives. Prescription eye drops are not meant for long term use, and should only be applied according to the bottle’s directions.

Eye safety to prevent digital eye strain.

While office workers don’t face the same risks of permanent eye damage, prolonged screen use can cause strain and increase feelings of fatigue. Even those who don’t work in an office may spend significant amounts of free time in front of a screen. Here are three tips to give your eyes a break.

1. Sit 20­–30 inches away from your computer screen.

The distance between your eyes and your screen matters. Sitting too close to your screen can cause strain by forcing your eyes to work harder to focus. On the other hand, sitting too far back can make the text on the screen smaller and harder to see. In general, sitting about an arm’s length from your monitor is appropriate, although this may vary according to the size of your screen.

If you have multiple monitors, try to position them at about the same level. You should also position your monitors so that the top line of text is at eye level. This will keep your eyes in a more relaxed position as you read down the screen, and will prevent you from straining your neck.

2. Follow the 20–20–20 rule.

Staring at your screen for too long a time can be taxing on the eyes, especially as everything is the same distance from your face. For this reason, many optometrists recommend practicing the 20–20–20 rule, which states that every twenty minutes you should spend twenty seconds looking at an object that is about twenty feet away from you. This can help reset your eyes and prevent them from becoming too tired.

3. Adjust your screen brightness and avoid glare.

Finally, computer screens send a lot of light directly at your eyes. You can reduce this effect by reducing the brightness on your monitor, and positioning the screen so that it isn’t reflecting additional glare from other lights in the room. Additionally, while blue light glasses aren’t shown to have any effect on eye strain, they may help prevent insomnia if you’re prone to working late.

To keep your eyes healthy, protect them at work and take advantage of your vision benefits.

While eye damage at work is surprisingly common, many experts believe that up to 90% of eye injuries can be prevented or avoided altogether with the appropriate safety steps.

If you would like to learn more about eye wellness in the work environment, Prevent Blindness offers free information to employers and employees on eye safety at work and elsewhere. And of course, maintaining eye health also means taking advantage of your vision benefits. A routine eye exam can detect early signs of vision deterioration and ensure your eyesight is at its best while you’re at work.