From flying sparks in the body shop through to infrared radiation in the industrial lab, there are countless ways in which eyes can be injured at work. Keeping workers safe involves understanding the specific risks you or your employees are exposed to, and providing appropriate eyewear to counter those risks. 

Here’s a rundown of the specific rules and regulations governing safety eyewear in the UK. We also explore retinal detachment and other common examples of eye trauma at work, and how to ensure that eyes stay safe. 

What are the safety eyewear regulations?

General steps and risk assessments

When working out what steps to take to keep your employees safe, the starting point is always the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Most importantly, this Act sets out the principle that employers need to consider what risks to health and safety are present in the workplace, and take sensible steps to tackle them. 

Later rules (notably, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999) clarify how you should manage those risks. The regulations make it an obligation for employers to carry out a risk assessment. Through this risk assessment, you need to do the following: 

  • Systematically identify what could cause injury or illness in the workplace (i.e. workplace hazards)
  • Assess the likelihood of harm occurring and the likely severity of harm 
  • Decide what action needs to be taken to eliminate the hazard or control the risk

To show how risk assessments work, we’ll take the example of a vehicle repair centre. Metal sparks from welding tasks represent an obvious hazard. The hazard gives rise to multiple injury risks such as corneal and retinal tears from metal fragments, as well as UV radiation burns (also known as ‘arc eye’). You can successfully control these risks by making sure employees wear suitable welding safety glasses. 

Rules around personal protective equipment (PPE)

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations 1992 are also very important when it comes to eye protection. In simple terms, these rules require you to do the following: 

  • Make sure you provide suitable PPE (including eye protection or safety spectacles) when the risk to health and safety cannot be controlled in any other way. 
  • Ensure that the PPE you supply is specifically suitable for the risks you have identified. 
  • If more than one PPE items are to be worn at once, they need to be effective and compatible with each other. On a construction site for instance, make sure your eyewear is designed to be used with a hard hat. 
  • Keep PPE in good repair and ensure it is stored correctly. 
  • Make sure that employees know how to use it — and that they actually use it. Employees themselves are also under a duty to make sure they use PPE as directed.

Performance standards: choosing the right eyewear

How do you know you are buying the right kit to keep employees’ eyes safe? 

Fortunately, there is a bunch of European performance standards to keep you on track. Eyewear specialists know these as the ‘European Normals’ or EN Standards. You need to ensure that the items you buy comply with the relevant EN standard for the activity in question. 

Specsavers Corporate are here to provide you with the correct standard of high-quality eyewear for the jobs you need to do. We currently supply safety glasses that are BS EN166 compliant. If you need further information, our teams are here to help advise. 

Eye trauma in the workplace

Common types of work-related eye trauma include the following: 

Flying objects 

A foreign object in the eye can take many forms. Very common examples include material fragments caused by chipping or chiselling in construction, as well as metal particles generated in grinding and welding. 

Scratches to the clear part of the eye (cornea) are the most common type of trauma arising from flying debris. Fragments can also easily cause more substantial damage, including a punctured eyeball, which means an object has completely torn the cornea or sclera (the white part of the eye). Find out more about the risks of getting metal and other materials in the eye here.

Blunt force trauma 

On building sites especially, there is a very real risk of eyes being struck by heavy objects. Possible resulting injuries include eyelid bruising (“black eye”), bleeding in the space between the cornea and iris (acute hyphema) and fractures to the surrounding bone structure. 

Chemical exposure 

Cleaning agents, oil, concrete, plaster and mortar are just some of the caustic materials that can lead to eye trauma. Injuries can arise not just from chemical splashes and fumes but also from workers inadvertently touching their faces after handling substances. 

Potential injuries range from short-lived pain and swelling to more severe complications including corneal perforations, optical nerve and retinal damage, as well as permanent loss of sight. 

You can learn more about this in our guide to chemical eye burns

Radiation damage  

Reflected sunlight, welding flashes and lasers can all give rise to radiation burns. The severity of the injury depends on the nature, intensity and frequency of exposure. 

Retinal detachment and how to recognise it

The retina is a thin layer of tissue that lines the inside of the back of your eye. Sometimes, a blunt injury (e.g. being hit in the face by a heavy object) can cause the retina to detach from the eyeball. Untreated, it can lead to a rapid and severe loss of vision. 

Most retinal detachments can be surgically repaired, and generally, the quicker you get medical attention the easier it is to fix. However, unlike many other eye injuries, a retinal detachment isn’t acutely painful, so it’s easy to miss at first. 

If you’ve suffered an eye injury and you experience any of these tell-tale retinal detachment symptoms, you should seek immediate medical treatment: 

  • Floaters: i.e. floating spots or lines that appear to move across your field of vision
  • Seeing bright flashes of light 
  • Blurred vision
  • A visual field cut: i.e. having an area of vision where you cannot see 

How to protect your eyes at work

Eye protection starts with a thorough assessment of the workplace to identify the risks you and your employees are exposed to. You also need to assess the likelihood and severity of these risks. 

Next, it’s about taking the steps necessary to eliminate those risks. In the case of avoiding eye trauma, this will usually involve providing protective eyewear in the form of safety spectacles, goggles or a visor.