Haying, moving grain, welding, drilling, cutting wood and metal, working with animals and working with chemicals are only some of the everyday farm tasks that the USDA lists as activities that put farmers at risk for eye injuries.
According to the National Ag Safety Database, most cases of eye injuries to farmworkers are caused by foreign objects lodged in the eye. Particles of rock, soil and other crop materials ejected from farm equipment that chops or grinds can cause unexpected eye injury to operator and bystander alike. Remember to keep machinery properly shielded and steer clear of the discharge path.
If sand, dirt or other natural particles get in the eyes, natural tears can often flush the objects out. Man-made materials like cement, glass and metal are more serious.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends not rubbing eyes to remove objects trapped in them. Attempt to blink several times, giving tears a chance to flush out the object. Use eye wash, saline solution or running water to flush the eye out. If this is unsuccessful and you can’t get the particles out or it still feels like there’s something remaining in the eye after foreign material has been washed out, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
OSHA requires an eye wash station be made available wherever corrosive chemicals are used in the workplace. (It should be no more than 10 seconds or 55 feet from the chemicals’ location.) When dealing with chemical burns, flush the eyes with water and seek medical attention immediately. Make a note of the chemical’s name or, if possible, take a photo of the label and bring it with you. It will help your doctor know how to treat you.
Eyes can also be injured on a farm site by being struck, whether by falling or swinging objects (such as unlatched tailgates). When the eye is hit, gently apply a cold compress, but do not apply it with pressure. Despite what you’ve seen in old movies, do not use a steak or any other frozen food products – a plain ice pack will do. Monitor the eye, and if a black eye develops or if you detect pain or vision changes, seek medical attention straight away.
In the case of a laceration or puncture, cover the eye loosely with a sterile bandage but do not press on it. Do not rinse with water or attempt to remove foreign objects. Seek emergency care immediately.
The AAO states that 90% of eye injuries could be avoided by wearing proper eye protection. Whether working in dusty environments such as grinding feed or haying, or grinding or cutting metal, cement or wood, wear safety glasses or goggles. Use chemical-resistant goggles to help prevent long-term problems caused by working with pesticides or other chemicals. Read labels carefully and use the personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended by the manufacturer.
Use a welding shield and filtering lenses to protect eyes from potential permanent damage to your eyes and eyesight when welding.
Remember to inspect your PPE on a regular basis to ensure that it’s in good repair and replace it when necessary. Make sure eye protection fits properly and will stay in place while working. Testing tools regularly to make sure they’re in good working order and making sure that safety features such as machine guards are in place can also prevent worksite injuries.
The AAO recommends seeing an eye doctor or medical doctor any time an eye injury is experienced, even if it doesn’t seem serious at first. Some injuries like raised eye pressure and detached retinas aren’t readily apparent until the situation becomes serious. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
by Enrico Villamaino