It’s easy to take our eyesight for granted. After all, it’s automatic, something that happens without any effort on our part. Our eyes help us do just about everything throughout the day, and we only get one set of them, so it’s worth taking a little time to make sure they’re being protected.
July is Healthy Vision Month, and a good time to make sure you’re taking all the steps you can to protect your eyes both on and off the job.
Eye Hazards at Work and at Home
Laborers and other construction workers face many potential eye hazards on the job. The majority of eye injuries are the result of small particles or objects such as dust, cement chips, metal slivers and wood chips striking or scraping the eye. These materials can be thrown off by tools, blown by the wind or fall from above. In more extreme cases, slivers of wood or metal or materials like nails or staples can pierce the eye and result in permanent eye damage and vision loss. Lastly, Laborers can be at risk from chemicals and other eye irritants as well as thermal burns from tasks like welding.
Fortunately, it’s estimated that proper use of eye protection can prevent up to 90 percent of eye injuries. Employers should ensure that workers are provided with the proper eye protection for the task being performed – that may mean the use of safety glasses, goggles, face shields or welding goggles. LIUNA signatory contractors and other LIUNA affiliates can order the Fund’s Eye Protection toolbox talk and Eye Injuries in Construction health alert for more information.
Many of the same eye hazards workers face on the job are also present off the clock. In fact, about half of all eye injuries occur at home. Yard work, home improvement projects, recreational activities and cleaning around the house are all common causes of eye injuries. Remember this rule of thumb: if you’re holding a tool or using a household cleaning product like bleach, you should be wearing eye protection. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends having at least one pair of ANSI-approved protective eyewear in the home.
Protecting Your Eyes from the Sun
The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are harmful to more than just our skin; they can also damage our eyes. Long-term exposure to the sun’s UV rays contributes to permanent vision loss and increases risk for cataracts, eye cancers and growths on the eye.
Just as we protect our skin by using sunscreen and wearing long sleeves and pants, we can protect our eyes by making it a habit to wear sunglasses when we’re outdoors. When choosing sunglasses, follow these tips:
- Look for sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Darker lenses don’t offer any additional protection.
- Choose sunglasses that fit close to your face around the brow area to block light from overhead, but not so close that your eyelashes hit the lenses.
- Look for polarized lenses, which reduce glare better than non-polarized lenses.
- Choose to wear sunglasses even if you wear contacts that offer UV protection; this helps protect the other parts of your eyes.
“UV radiation, whether from natural sunlight or indoor artificial rays, can damage the eye’s surface tissues as well as the cornea and lens,” says ophthalmologist Michael Kutryb. “By wearing UV-blocking sunglasses, you can enjoy the summer safely while lowering your risk for potentially blinding eye diseases and tumors.”
For products and educational materials to help protect LIUNA members from the sun, visit the Fund’s Sun Sense Plus page.
Promoting Healthy Vision Year-Round
As we get older, our vision tends to change, and this is especially true for adults between the ages of 40 and 65. By age 65, one in three Americans will have a vision-impairing eye disease such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration. Many of these eye diseases begin during our forties and fifties and aren’t noticeable at first.
Because of this, it’s recommended that all adults get a baseline comprehensive eye exam at age 40, even if they have no symptoms or known risk factors for eye disease. People who are diabetic or prediabetic are at increased risk for eye diseases and should have annual eye exams and talk to their doctor about other ways they can reduce their risk. Finding eye diseases early and beginning treatment is your best chance to preserve and protect your vision. Most LIUNA health and welfare funds cover routine eye care for adults and their dependents, so check with your plan for coverage details.