Eye injury at work

Posted by Pia Abrahams on

Australian workers suffering various eye injuries at work.

Eye injuries in the workplace are a serious hazard that can have devastating consequences for workers.

From a minor irritation to permanent vision loss, the impact of an eye injury extends beyond the individual and affects productivity, morale and workplace safety culture.

Here are three common types of workplace eye injury and the relevant first aid application.

Australian worker suffering a wood, metal or glass eye injury at work.

Wood, metal, plastic or glass eye injury

In the absence of safety glasses, tiny airborne particles of metal, wood, plastic or glass can cause a very serious injury to the naked eye in industrial work environments like manufacturers, building sites and auto mechanics.

1. Call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance.

2. Don’t attempt to remove foreign matter from the eye.

3. Position an eye pad from the workplace first aid kit over the affected eye and tape down gently, avoiding any pressure. Reassure patient while waiting for the ambulance.

Australian worker suffering a chemical eye injury at work.

Chemical eye injury

Chemical eye injuries in the workplace occur when liquid or powder chemicals contact the eye. Cleaners, lab technicians and panel beaters are amongst many workers susceptible to chemical hazards that may result in an eye injury.

1. Call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance.

2. Wash the eye with copious amounts of water by cupping hands under a running tap and holding the eye down into the water, blinking rapidly, for at least 20 minutes.

3. If running water is unavailable, use saline eyewash from the workplace first aid kit.

Australian worker suffering from an eye injury at work from loose lashes, sand or grit.

Loose lashes, sand or grit eye injury

Everyday exposure to foreign matter like grit, sand or loose eyelashes can cause anything from mild discomfort to a significant injury to the surface of the eye.

1. Wait until foreign matter is clear of the cornea (front surface of the eye) before irrigating with saline eyewash.

2. Remove particles on the inner surface of the eyelid by irrigating with saline eyewash from the workplace first aid kit, or use the moistened corner of a clean cloth.

3. Seek medical attention if foreign matter cannot be removed, or irritation or pain persists.

Dangerous prevalence of workplace eye injuries

Despite advances in workplace safety measures, eye injuries remain a significant issue in many industries.

According to Comcare - the national WHS and workers’ compensation authority - there are about 30,000 workplace eye injuries a year in Australia, which account for eight percent of total workplace injuries.

Such statistics underscore the critical need for ongoing education, improved safety protocols and a proactive approach to eye protection in the workplace.

Hidden dangers in everyday work environments

While certain industries like construction and manufacturing are known for their eye injury risks, many workers and employers overlook potential hazards in seemingly low-risk environments.

Hospitality workers can be exposed to chemical splashes or projectiles from food preparation activities. Office workers may face eye strain and potential injuries from prolonged screen time or poorly designed workstations.

Recognising these unexpected dangers is crucial for developing comprehensive eye safety strategies.

Understanding workers’ rights and employer obligations

In Australia, workplace health and safety is governed by a complex framework of legislation and regulations.

The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 outlines the general duties of employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to ensure the health and safety of workers, including protecting them from eye injuries.

Key legal considerations include:

Duty of care - Employers must provide a safe working environment, including appropriate eye protection where necessary.

Risk assessment - Regular assessments must be conducted to identify and mitigate potential eye injury risks.

Training and education - Workers must be properly trained in eye safety procedures and the use of personal protective equipment.

Reporting and investigation - Eye injuries must be reported, investigated and steps taken to prevent recurrence.

A worker who suffers an eye injury may be entitled to compensation under workers’ compensation schemes, which vary by state and territory.

It’s crucial for both employers and employees to understand their rights and obligations under these laws.

Psychological impact of eye injuries

The consequences of workplace eye injuries extend far beyond physical discomfort or vision impairment.

Many workers who experience eye injuries report significant psychological distress including anxiety, depression and fear of returning to work.

This often-overlooked aspect of workplace eye injuries highlights the importance of comprehensive support systems for affected workers, including access to mental health resources and rehabilitation programs.

True cost of workplace eye injuries

While the human cost of eye injuries is immeasurable, the economic impact is staggering.

According to estimates from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, eye injuries cost the Australian economy over $200 million annually in healthcare expenses, lost productivity and compensation claims.

This figure underscores the financial incentive for businesses to invest in robust eye safety programs, as prevention is not only ethically imperative but also economically sound.

Beyond eye safety compliance to commitment

While regulatory compliance is essential, truly effective eye safety programs go beyond meeting minimum standards.

Fostering a workplace culture where eye protection is valued and prioritised by all employees is key to reducing injury rates. This involves:

Leadership engagement - Managers and supervisors must visibly champion eye safety initiatives.

Open communication - Encourage workers to report hazards and near-misses without fear of reprisal.

Continuous improvement - Regularly review and update eye safety protocols based on incident data and emerging best practices.

Recognition and incentives - Acknowledge and reward exemplary safety behaviour.

By embedding eye safety into an organisation’s core values, businesses can create a sustainable culture of protection that benefits everyone.


Eye injuries at work remain a significant challenge for Australian businesses and organisations.

With a comprehensive approach that combines a thorough understanding of legal obligations with robust safety cultures, businesses and organisations can significantly reduce the risk to their workers.

By prioritising eye safety, organisations not only protect their most valuable asset – their employees – but also contribute to a safer, more productive work environment for everyone.


Australian Government - Work Health and Safety Act 2011

Safe Work Australia - Work-related eye injuries in Australia

Comcare - Eye health in the workplace