Workplace eye protection

Posted by Pia Abrahams on

At Brenniston we are marking international Workers’ Memorial Day and World Day for Safety and Health at Work (both on Sunday, 28th April) by focusing on workplace eye protection.

Workplace eye protection is critical in all hazardous work environments, where accidents can result in serious injury, diminished vision and even blindness.

Workplace eye injury first aid depends on the nature and severity of the injury. Even minor workplace eye injuries can cause permanent damage.


Causes of workplace eye injury

Workplace eye injuries are broadly caused by:

  • impact or blunt force, eg. machinery, strapping, compressed air
  • foreign bodies, eg. dust, wood chip, glass
  • chemical splash, eg. acid, paint solvent, petrol, ammonia
  • radiation, eg. UV light, infra-red, glare

Types of workplace eye injury

The soft, globular structure of the eye makes it extremely delicate, despite being located in the orbital cavity of the skull, protected by eyelids and lashes that screen out dust, light and other particles. In many cases, the immediate application of first aid to the eye will be very effective, but even a relatively minor or non-contact injury like welding flash can result in permanent blindness.

  • Impact or blunt force can result in internal damage like bruising, without any apparent injury to the surface of the eyeball. Symptoms include black or swollen eyes, retinal detachment, or blurred or double vision.
  • Foreign particles may settle on - or embed themselves in - the eye. These can be minute like dust or sand grit, or seriously injurious particles like a splinter or metal fragment penetrating the surface of the eye.
  • A solid, liquid or vaporous chemical can cause a workplace burn injury, causing anything from minor discomfort and temporary irritation, to penetration of the eye and irreversible loss of vision. The severity of the injury depends on the type and amount of chemical substance, and the duration of contact with the eye.
  • Exposure to UV, X-ray, solar or reflective radiation can cause serious and prolonged damage to the cornea, lens, retina, lashes and even the delicate skin of the eyelid, usually across both eyes.


High-risk workplaces

In the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) report, Eye injuries in Australia 2010-11 to 2014-15, approximately 3,000 documented eye injury cases (6%) occurred while the person was at work. Importantly, this figure is probably an underestimate since information about the activity undertaken while injured was not reported for 69% of cases.

In the report, most workplace eye injuries (14% or 400 cases) occurred in the Construction sector, followed by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector (9% or 268 cases).

In a previous AIHW report (Eye-related injuries in Australia 2009), the most common mechanism of work-related eye injury was being hit by moving objects; a hazard common to the Construction, and Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sectors.

The majority of workplace eye injury victims are males aged 20-44 years old.

The type of work undertaken in these sectors, and the processes required, routinely generate tiny foreign particles travelling at high speed.

This high-risk work includes grinding, chipping, drilling, tooling, welding, soldering, sandblasting, saw milling, spray painting, and using powered rotational devices that may break or disintegrate at high speed. 


Preventable risk factors

SafeWork Australia’s 2008 report,Work-related eye injuries in Australia, concludes that while many workplace eye injuries occur when the victim isn’t wearing proper eye protection, “a considerable proportion of cases occurred when appropriate eye protection does appear to have been worn.”

If workers do suffer an eye injury whilst wearing eye protection, other risk factors to consider are:

  • Workers’ resistance to wearing appropriate eye protection at all times
  • Employers’ failure to enforce the wearing of eye protection or else failure to train their employees in its proper use 
  • Failure to recognise and/or assess workplace hazards, so that workers don’t consider eye protection necessary
  • Inadequate use of eye protection, eg. safety lenses that offer insufficient filtering
  • Eye protection that is ill-fitting, without maximum protective coverage
  • Eye protection being worn by the machine or tool operator, but not by other workers close enough to be at risk
  • Workers who are not sufficiently trained in correct machine or tool operation
  • Work equipment that is not regularly maintained and/or in disrepair

Despite major progress in the design and technology of eye protection since 2008, it remains critical to the safety of all workers that they have full access to, and knowledge in, the appropriate selection and correct use of workplace eye safety protection.


Prevention and control measures

The risk of workplace eye injury is reduced when hazards are controlled and prevention measures are adhered to.

Victorian government website suggests:

  • Replacing high-risk equipment and toxic chemicals with safer alternatives whenever possible
  • Isolating high-risk equipment and identifying it with safety barriers
  • Maintaining all safety devices on high-risk equipment, eg. guards and shields, and ensuring good working order at all times
  • Signposting work areas and equipment that require eye protection be worn
  • Dampening down dusty environments with water
  • Managing dust with exhaust hoods or extractor fans
  • Reading hazardous substance manufacturers’ Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and complying with their instructions
  • Running regular safety training sessions for workers 
  • Providing adequate and accessible first aid equipment including eyewash stations
  • Consulting government workplace safety bodies for information and advice


Workplace safety eyewear recommendations

The Victorian government website also makes valuable recommendations around wearing the right eye protection for the job.

Importantly, all safety eyewear should comply with Australian Standards.

Remember that ordinary eyewear such as prescription glasses and sunglasses cannot adequately protect against injury. In fact, contact lenses may make an eye injury worse.

Protect workplace safety eyewear from grease, dust and dirt by regularly cleaning lenses with a pre-moistened towelette or lens cleaning fluid and lint-free wipes.


Impact Level


Safety Eyewear

Low Impact Protection


Chipping, riveting, spalling, hammering, managing a tension strap.

Australian Standards approved: Safety glasses, safety glasses with side shields, safety clip-ons, wide-vision goggles, eye shields and face shields.

Medium Impact Protection

Scaling, grinding, machining metals, some woodworking tasks, stone dressing, wire handling, brick cutting.

Australian Standards approved: Safety glasses with side shields, safety clip-ons, wide-vision goggles, eye shields and face shields including letter “I” signifying medium impact.

High Impact Protection

Use of explosive power tools and nail guns.

Australian Standards approved: Face shields including letter “V” signifying high impact.

Welding Protection

All welding processes.

Australian Standards approved: Welding helmets, goggles with filters and face shields.

Chemical Handling

Manufacture, storage, handling and general use of chemicals

Australian Standards approved: Wide-vision goggles, eye shields or face shields including letter “C” signifying chemical handling and splash proof.



Construction, agriculture, manufacturing, cleaning.

Australian Standards approved: Goggles including letter “D” signifying protection against dust.




Workplace eye injury first aid

In cases of penetrative or chemical eye injuries, call an ambulance on Triple Zero (000) immediately. Injuries that seem minor can sometimes cause permanent damage, including vision loss.

Workplace eye injury first aid applications depend on the type of injury: 

Minor particles eg. dust, sand, grit:

1. Wait until the particle 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 or with the moistened corner of a clean cloth.

      Major particles eg. wood, metal, glass:

      1. Immediately call an ambulance on Triple Zero (000)
      2. Place a pad over the eye and tape down
      3. Don't attempt to remove an embedded object

        Chemical powder or splash:

        1. Immediately call an ambulance on Triple Zero (000)
        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. Use saline eyewash if water is unavailable


          These first aid suggestions are not a substitute for first aid training or professional medical help.