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Your workers may need eye protection beyond standard PPE


The US expects to see more than 8 million people suffer from visual impairment or blindness by the year 2050, according to the National Institutes of Health . Early detection and intervention could go a long way towards preventing vision loss. While nonmedical self-help won’t stop age-related eye disease, employers can take steps to mitigate the short-term effects of eyestrain and fatigue in their workers.

OSHA updated the Eye and Face Protection Standards (29 CFR 1910.133) in 2016. While they address hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation, they do not address worker eyestrain and fatigue.

Computer workstation – office setting

Employees that spend the majority of their time working indoors may be subjected to the harmful effects of artificial lighting and glare. Bright lights (e.g., fluorescent, halogen, and LED) shining on a computer monitor can “wash out” images, making it difficult to clearly see. This causes the employee to strain in order to view objects on the screen, which can lead to eye fatigue. Bright light sources behind the monitor, such as a window or ill-placed lamp, can make it difficult to clearly see the screen as well. Another potential hazard is the high contrast between light and dark areas of a computer screen, work surface, and surrounding areas which can cause eye fatigue and headaches.

Placing the appropriate lighting and selecting the right level of brightness can enhance a person’s ability to see the computer monitor without straining. Other potential solutions include:

  • Placing covers or blinds on the windows to limit direct brightness.
  • Providing task lighting to allow directed illumination while reducing intensity and glare.
  • Removing the middle bulbs of 4-bulb fluorescent light fixtures to reduce light intensity.
  • Installing light dimmer switches to allow customization of room brightness.
  • Reorienting the workstation so bright lights are at right angles with the computer screen.
  • Using light, matte colors and finishes on walls and ceilings to better reflect indirect lighting.
  • Offering polarized glare screen protectors to affix onto the computer monitor to improve contrast and environmental glare.
  • Suggesting blue-light blocking glasses to dim the screen and surrounding light brightness.
  • Customizing the brightness level on the computer screen to comfortable levels.
  • Using the “night light” feature on the computer screen to remove harsh blue light and brightness.

Want to learn more about the physical effects of working with computers? - check out our Computer Workstation ezExplanation.

Hardline workstation - production and manufacturing setting

Often overlooked, the hardline worker can also be negatively impacted by uncontrolled brightness on the production floor. An employee’s workstation set up can vary between computer work, manufacturing, fine detail work, task-related work, production and assembly, and material handling. All of these tasks can take place in less than ideal lighting situations, which can lead to eye strain, headaches, and fatigue. The same office-setting solutions can be applied to the hardline worker, as well as:

  • Increasing emphasis on taking breaks outdoors to allow for natural light exposure.
  • Taking visual breaks to focus on objects at longer distances.
  • Providing blue-light blocking safety glasses in areas that require eye protection.
  • Improving task lighting to allow directed illumination while reducing intensity and glare.

Early detection and intervention are key to helping employees recognize the signs of eye diseases that can lead to vision loss. A strong, insurance-backed vision protection program can go a long way to assisting employees that may already be experiencing eyestrain and fatigue.

Remember that visual hazards impact more than just the typical office employee. They can affect hardline workers on the production and manufacturing floor as well. The typical work environment can saturate employees in artificial overhead lighting, bright task lights, and sun glare from unshaded windows. Inappropriately placed lighting and the wrong level of illumination can add to eyestrain and headaches, as well as affect employee comfort and productivity.

Even though OSHA does not discuss visual hazards based on illumination or brightness in its 1910 standard, a safety hazard concerning lighting or eye strain could be cited by OSHA using the General Duty Clause. If something is a hazard, it must be addressed and mitigated by the employer.

Key to remember: Visual hazards brought on by artificial overhead lighting, bright task lights, and sun glare can cause employees to suffer from eye strain, fatigue, and headaches.