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Ophthalmologists call on people to protect their eye this workplace safety month!

October is National Safe Work Month, an initiative led by Safe Work Australia to improve health and safety in the workplace. The theme for this year’s campaign is “A moment is all it takes” reminding all Australians that all it takes is a single moment for a workplace incident to occur and, equally, that a single moment is all it takes to prevent harm. As part of National Safe Work Month, RANZCO is encouraging everybody to get involved in workplace safety, particularly eye safety, to prevent eye injuries in the workplace.

Workplace accidents can result in devastating eye injuries which can place a huge, potentially preventable, burden on patients, their families and society more broadly. According to a 2014- 2015 report from Safe Work Australia, eye injuries in the workplace are very common, with over 840 people making a serious eye injury claim during the reporting period. Data from workers’ compensation claims has also found the most common diagnosis for eye-related injury and disease stemmed from a foreign body in the eye. Alarmingly, almost one-quarter of eye injuries that resulted in an ED presentation occurred while working for income.

Case study: Ross
Ross, who is a 56-year-old electrician and former Head of Safety for a mining company in Queensland, has suffered two penetrating eye injuries in his right eye. As a result of his injuries, Ross underwent more than five operations and has now developed secondary glaucoma in his right eye.

He currently lives on the South Coast of NSW with his family. He already had an existing penetrating keratoplasty to treat keratoconus in his right eye when he suffered his first injury. It occurred while he was repairing an oven in his work as an electrician. The oven door sprung back, struck his spectacles and shattered them. The glass fragments lacerated his right eye and many pieces became lodged inside the eye. He then underwent multiple operations for primary repair, removal of glass fragments, repeat penetrating keratoplasty and replacement then removal of the lens. Ross’s second injury occurred while he was in his tool shed. By then, there had been a deterioration in the visual clarity of his right eye and, consequently, loss of depth perception.

Ross is aware of the irony of once being a Head of Safety and then going on to suffer two severe eye injuries that could have been avoided with the appropriate precautions. He has some wise words for others: “In my case, I was already myopic so that affected my visual clarity and I must admit I have had the short end of the stick in terms of luck suffering two injuries in the one eye. However, in both situations wearing prescription safety glasses would have minimised the extent of damage my right eye suffered. Any one working in situations where there is any risk of eye injury needs to stay safe by wearing protective eye wear. The split second decision of putting on a pair of safety glasses could just save your eyesight!”

Case study: Bailey
In a case from 2017, a young man, Bailey, suffered a penetrating injury to his left eye while carrying out work as an apprentice roofer. Bailey’s injury occurred while he was attempting to attach a trailer to a car when the ratchet strap suddenly recoiled and the hook portion of the strap struck and pierced his left eye, producing both corneal laceration and scleral rupture. On presentation to the hospital, Bailey had unfortunately already lost all vision in his left eye. After a three-hour operation, there was still no visual recovery. Over the coming weeks, the eye deteriorated dramatically, shrinking in volume. As a result, Bailey elected to have an enucleation (eye ball removal) and has recently had an ocular prosthesis placed in his left eye. After the incident Bailey has had to readjust his aspirations for his working life, including altering his trade due to his injury.

“I never thought that a momentary lapse of judgement at work would result in me losing an eye. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to protect your eyes in the workplace, particularly in dangerous situations. I’m very careful now – I’ve only got one eye left and I’ll do everything I can to keep it safe!”

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For more information or to arrange a media interview contact Emma Carr at ecarr@ranzco.edu or on 02 9690 1001.