Common Worksite Eye Emergencies

There are a variety of eye injuries and conditions that can occur in the workplace and it’s important to be aware of potential hazards and to take the appropriate precautions.

Common Worksite Eye Emergencies in Olympia

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), around 2,000 American workers sustain a job-related eye injury each day that requires medical treatment. In most of the cases, the patients report that they were not using safety eyewear at all. On other occasions, the protective gear either did not fit properly or did not offer the right amount of protection to the individual. It is strongly recommended that individuals wear proper protective eyewear, such as goggles, to reduce the probability of eye injuries. This safety gear is not just for prevention but can reduce the severity of eye injuries.  

Some of the most common causes of worksite eye injuries include chemicals and foreign objects in the eyes which can cause a scratch in the eye, known medically as a corneal abrasion. Other common causes include burns due to exposure of ultraviolet rays or fluids splashed in the eye.

Certain professions present higher risks for contracting eye infections, such as healthcare professionals, custodial staff or people who work in a laboratory. The mucous membranes in the eye are a major source of transmission of an infection. It usually happens when the eyes come in direct contact with blood, when there is touching of the eye with an object or fingers that are contaminated, or through droplets of coughing. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) makes it mandatory for organizations to provide the right protective eyewear, face shields, goggles or safety glasses for workers who are at risk for eye injuries. Full face respirators can also assist in reducing the probability of an eye hazard. The right type of eye protection typically depends on the potential hazards, working conditions, vision needs and the type of exposure that the workers are set into. 

If you are experiencing an eye emergency, please seek urgent care immediately from a nearby emergency room in order to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment which can prevent further damage.

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Potential Eye Hazards at Work

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), educating employers and employees about all types of risks is critical to avoid eye injuries and strain on the eyes in the workplace.

You need protective eye gear if your workplace involves any of the following hazards:

  • Mining
  • Electrical work
  • Construction 
  • Manufacturing of goods in factories or other industrial locations
  • Carpentry 
  • Auto repair works
  • Welding jobs
  • Plumbing works
  • Provision of maintenance services

Common Workplace Eye Injuries

Workplace eye injuries can be very common. The complications that arise from such injuries can lead to temporary or permanent loss of vision. Even though professional medical assistance is needed to treat eye injuries, a quick response in these scenarios can save the eyesight of the injured individual. 

Let's look at the most common workplace eye injuries and the best ways to tackle them: 

1. Flying Objects or Particles like Debris, Glass, or Metal

The presence of flying objects, no matter how big or small, are believed to be the leading cause of eye injuries in the workplace. When your work environment consists of sharp glass or metal objects, you risk a scratched eye. If there is a scratch on the cornea, it could take days to heal, and you might need special treatment sessions with an eye doctor. 

When you get something in your eye, you should stop and find out what exactly landed in the eye. You should not rub the eye, do not try to take out the object yourself or remove the contact lenses. Foreign bodies should only be removed by an eye doctor. You should be driven to the nearest emergency room to get professional care. 

2. Flash Burns

Being engaged in welding poses a threat for flash burns to the eye if you do not make sure to wear the proper protection. Flash burns occur when the eyes are directly exposed to ultraviolet light and it can be extremely painful. 

When such a situation has occurred, you should leave the area and call someone for immediate help. It may help to wear sunglasses if you are experiencing sensitivity to light. Seek immediate medical care from an eye doctor or visit a nearby emergency room right away to prevent further harm. 

3. Foreign Particles in the Eye

The presence of a foreign particle or body in the eye means that there is an object in the eye that should not be there. It could be a small object or a big one. Whether you have dust, metal shavings or a wood chip, you need medical assistance. In most of the cases, the foreign object is present under the eyelid. If you have a foreign object in the eye, you could have symptoms such as irritation, burning sensation, redness, scratchy feeling or excessive watering of the eye. 

If the debris is tiny, then it can be easily removed by repeated rinsing of the eye with fresh water. Do not try to get the object out with force, as you could scratch the cornea and cause more damage. If the debris does not come out after blinking or rinsing the eye, you should get medical help immediately. 

Warehouses typically have eyewash stations. If you contract a foreign object in the eye, you should follow the directions of the wash station. Artificial tears or saline water can also be used to get rid of the debris without any force. In any case, you should still see an eye doctor to make sure you do not have any infections or long-lasting impact. 

4. Chemical Burns

When a harmful substance reaches the eye, you could get a chemical eye burn. If your hands have traces of chemicals on them and you then rub your eyes, you can easily get the chemical in your eye. It could also happen if there is a splash of a hazardous substance in the eye. In such cases, immediate emergency medical care is a necessity, do not hesitate. This will assist in reducing the severity of the damage. If the chemical travels to the bloodstream, it could eventually cause more damage to the body. 

For individuals dealing with chemicals, flushing the eye out immediately is highly recommended. The emergency services should be notified and the appropriate amount of care should be taken, as per the instructions made available. 

5. Eye Trauma

Eye trauma can happen to anyone, anywhere. It usually happens when there is a direct blow to the eye. When using heavy tools or machinery, trauma can easily happen. In some cases, the trauma can even have an impact on the area surrounding the eye. 

The best way to deal with the situation is to gently use a shield or protective eyewear to cover the eye. No rinsing or pressure should be applied until emergency services arrive. You need a consultation with a professional who can assess the situation and give you the right kind of treatment. Taking proper care will assure that you have no long term damage to the eye.

Common Workplace Eye Injuries

How to Protect Eyes from an Injury

Preventive measures can assist you in reducing the probability of an eye injury. The following are some important actions you can take to prevent an eye injury:

  • Understand the workplace eye hazards that you are susceptible to
  • Eliminate all hazards when possible
  • Make sure you have the right eye protection
  • Check the fitting and the comfort of the eye equipment before you start working
  • The safety eyewear should be in good condition -get the protective gear replaced if they are damaged or worn out

There are several types of protective eyewear available today. The ideal equipment depends on the types of daily hazards encountered at the workplace. The following are some of the leading types of eye safety wear currently available:

  • Safety glasses with side shields are recommended for individuals working at locations where there are particles, flying objects or dust
  • Goggles must be worn with chemicals
  • Special purpose safety glasses, shields, goggles and helmets are designed to assist workers who deal with hazardous radiation daily - the radiation could be a result of factors such as welding, fiber optics and lasers

Common Questions

Wearing contact lenses does not usually increase the possibility of an eye injury, but it also does not guarantee any protection from the eye hazards that are posed by the workplace environment. In workplaces where chemical fumes are emitted, consult with a professional as contact lens safety should be judged on a case-by-case basis. The safety benefits of contact lenses can include providing a better field of vision compared to eyeglasses. Individuals with high-powered lenses are even less likely to have visual distortions when they wear contact lenses. Also, contact lenses allow for easy fitting of protective eyewear on top. Before you plan to wear contact lenses in your workplace, check the safety policies of the organization. Reach out to your eye doctor to find out if wearing contact lenses at the workplace is a good idea. A discussion with the employer, along with your eye doctor could prove to be very beneficial for the safety of your eyes.
Whether working from home or in the office, you are prone to computer vision syndrome. If you are spending a significant amount of time in front of your digital devices without taking a break, you can easily suffer from eye strain. The 20-20-20 rule is an initiative to prevent digital eye strain. The American Optometric Association recommends taking a 20-second break from looking at the screen every 20 minutes. During these 20 seconds look at something 20 feet away. Giving your eyes the proper break they need from digital screens can help reduce and prevent eye strain.
Work related eye injuries can cause temporary or permanent vision loss. You can reduce the severity of an eye injury by using the eyewash stations with the right fluid availability and delivery system. If you got dangerous chemicals in your eye, use the emergency eyewash stations immediately before seeking emergency medical care. The first few seconds after exposure are critical so do not delay flushing out your eye. It is important for the employees to understand when to use the eyewash station, the process of reaching the station, activating it and flushing out the contamination. The right way to rinse the eye is to open both the eyes with the fingers and thumb to allow the fluid to reach every corner of the eye. This process should be repeated continuously for fifteen minutes. After the rinsing is done, the employee should be taken to the emergency room and medical treatment should be given.
A recent study found welding light exposure, drilling/cutting accidents, and contact with chemicals or other substances to be the leading causes of work-related eye injuries. While the issue of preventable eye injuries at work is mentioned in workplace safety training, this issue seems to be underestimated or neglected both by employers and employees. Wearing properly fitted, reliable, protective eyewear with good visibility, and strictly following its instructions, can greatly reduce the risk of work-related eye injuries.
Dr. Zurcher cartoon


There are so many various worksite eye emergencies that can take place. Be aware of your surroundings and the potential hazardous risks to your eyes so that you can take the proper precautions to prevent eye injuries and be prepared what to do in case of emergency. If you think you are experiencing an eye emergency, do not delay and go straight to the nearest emergency room for proper diagnosis and safe treatment. Patients with eye emergencies visit our clinic from all over Washington, and we are proud to be a leading provider of urgent eye care for patients from Olympia, Lakewood, Tacoma, and Lacey.


Such a nice optician. My grandson is only 4 and needs glasses. We were so sad, but he explained the issues, and we will follow up as he suggested.

Anna P.

I had such a good experience with the clinic. Very friendly staff and doctor, did not have to wait for long to be called, and was treated respectfully. Thanks, American Family.

June S.

Dr. Zurcher has gone above and beyond what any other eye doctor has ever done to figure out what is going on with my eyes. Very happy with American Family Vision.

Christine R.

Family Vision Clinic changed our lives! My daughter was frequently car sick, and she was getting headaches every day, often painful enough that they brought her to tears. We saw a string of doctors and therapists, but we made no progress. Finally, we found Dr. Levi Zurcher and his eye therapist Rain. After ten weeks of eye therapy my daughter no longer gets headaches, and she no longer gets car sick. Daily tears are a thing of the past. I really can’t say enough about this clinic. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Zurcher work. For the first time, someone who knew what they were doing was intently studying my daughter, really trying to figure out all of her eye issues, and his therapist Rain is one of the most patient and lovely people that I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. We’re finished with eye therapy—yay!—and I have switched to American Family Vision Clinic for all of my family’s other eye health needs.

Lars Wulff

Very professional, yet kind and helpful. They do what they can to make the appointment comfortable. I was running a bit late, I made sure ti call. They were able to switch me with a patient who was already there, they treated me with respect, and helped my son have confidence by getting him the eye care he needed that day. Thank you so much! Would recommend to anyone. It's a blessing that they care enough to work with people who have all different types of insurance from work to state coverage.

Justin E.

The staff is friendly. The Doc is very knowledgeable. The office is family friendly and everyone is so patient with the little ones.

Amy Fagerness
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