Effective eye safety and vision care are critical for many union members — especially those in the industries where the risk of occupational eye injuries are high. Vision loss or an eye injury can bring financial difficulties on both individual union members and the larger union trust. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace eye injuries represent an estimated $300 million a year in lost productivity, medical costs and workers' compensation payments.
Keeping members safe starts with knowing where the greatest risks lie. Here's an overview of the industries where staying on top of eye safety is most important.
Construction and Manufacturing
According to Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, 40 percent of nonfatal workplace eye injuries take place in the construction, manufacturing and mining industries. This may not be surprising, considering that construction and manufacturing sites are often filled with debris, cut wire ends, metal shavings and a seemingly endless supply of dust. In light of all of these potentially harmful materials, OSHA urges construction workers to use the appropriate eye and face protection, for example safety glasses and goggles.
In addition to injuries from particulate matter, welders or those who work around welding activity are at a significant risk for eye injuries due to the electromagnetic energy of welding arcs and flames. This is why OSHA requires welders to wear protective safety goggles, shields or face masks to prevent welding injuries.
Health care workers may not be the first group that comes to mind when you're thinking about eye safety. But don't forget that health care workers come into contact with a variety of chemicals and fluids that can injure their eyes while at work. Goggles, face shields, safety glasses and full-face respirators may be needed to protect health care workers from contaminants that can be absorbed by the eyes' mucous membranes.
Certain aspects of the service industry can carry a real risk chemical burns and contamination injuries. Janitorial or maintenance workers are often exposed to caustic chemicals that can lead to devastating vision loss without proper eye protection. And like construction workers, maintenance professionals are often exposed to dust and debris through landscaping and property improvement projects.
Transportation industry workers like truck drivers may be at a greater risk than others of developing injuries due to ultraviolet light exposure. Drivers should wear high-quality ultraviolet-light-blocking sunglasses to prevent these injuries. In certain situations, transportation workers may also face chemical injuries from working with engine batteries. Just like health care, service and manufacturing workers, transportation professionals need to take care to protect their eyes from chemicals.
When workers have and use the appropriate vision protection equipment in the workplace, they protect their own livelihoods while saving the trust valuable dollars that might otherwise be spent on injury rehabilitation. And when injuries do occur, having a reliable vision benefits plan in place can help union members get back on their feet faster.
That said, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that vision care plans were only available to 23 percent of private industry workers. Trustees can show their members that they value their health by providing integrated vision solutions as part of an overall health plan.
Julia Passwater is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Passwater earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Indiana University Bloomington, and she earned a Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. After earning her law degree, Passwater spent over a decade enforcing federal employment laws for the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Today, Passwater writes about topics such as politics, government, employment law and work in the 21st century.