Home is where we feel safe, comfortable and at ease. But home also is the setting for nearly half of all eye injuries. From flying wood chips to weed whacker debris to even an errant champagne cork, our eye safety is at risk not only on the job, but also in the place we call home.

“Now, up to 50 percent of eye injuries occur in the home itself,” says Andrew Iwach, M.D., the executive director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco. “So ‘home sweet home’ is not necessarily ‘home safe home.’”

A recent study from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (Academy) and the American Society of Ocular Trauma (ASOT) found that more than 40 percent of at-home eye injuries occur during activities like cooking, yard work or home repairs. In 78 percent of these injury cases, individuals were not wearing protective eyewear at the time.

Even more disturbing are the findings in the accompanying EyeSmart public opinion survey, conducted by Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, which reveals that 37 percent of survey respondents claimed to never or rarely wear protective lenses for repairs or maintenance work.

These statistics prompted the Academy and ASOT to recommend that every household have a pair of ANSI-approved protective eyewear. After all, the threat of eye and face injuries is a risk that follows everyone home.

RISK PROFILE

Iwach explains that the trend toward more at-home eye injuries is caused by several factors: a rise in home do-it-yourself projects, the availability of high-velocity tools, the perception that protection only is necessary on the job, a tendency for people to let their guards down at home and finally, simple eagerness.

“I'm not saying that construction workers aren't excited, but when you're at home, working on a home improvement project, you really are excited,” Iwach says. “And that excitement can sometimes — although I hate to use this word — blind us to the risk.”

For example, imagine a homeowner who returns from the hardware store with the proper tools to do the job, but has forgotten to pick up a pair of protective glasses. Reluctant to return to the store or postpone the project, he or she forges on with the work — and risks injury.

Iwach adds that at work, other coworkers may not particularly be interested in an employee's job. But at home, family members — especially children — are more likely to take an interest in home improvement projects. In some cases, Iwach says, the parent performing the work may be protected, but a child standing nearby at a lower height actually is closer to the action than the person operating the equipment.

“First of all, be aware that bad things can happen at home sweet home,” Iwach says. “Number two, take the preventative step and have that eyewear available that the academy recommends, and then wear it. And finally, make sure to get your eyes examined on a regular basis.”

THE HOME-WORK CONNECTION

Many safety professionals are focused on keeping their employees safe and healthy on the job, but workers' productivity is affected just as much if they sustain injuries off the clock.

Glen Herald, chief operating officer for MCR Safety, says eye and face safety at home can start with a little help from employers or safety professionals.

“For employers, it's difficult for them to determine whether an injury — if it's not a severe injury — happened on the weekend or first thing Monday morning,” he says. “So we've seen some employers encourage employees to take home their products and to wear them on the weekend when they're working in the yard, or using a chainsaw, weeding, or working with chemicals.”

Herald says that considering the cost of eyewear has come “way down” in the past 20 years, this approach could be economical for employers.

“The average price [of protective eyewear] is in the $2-3 range, so the cost to the employer to encourage wearing those products outside the workplace is positive in what it could mean in workers' comp claims,” he points out.

Herald adds that a current positive trend in eyewear is manufacturing equipment that goes above and beyond the impact resistance of ANSI standards. Military standards, for example, may exhibit more “real-life” scenarios by testing irregular-shaped objects of different sizes at impacts up to 650 feet per second. While not all products will go this route, it is a trend that could influence the industry.

The biggest challenge facing employers and safety professionals, Herald continues, is the same as it has been for quite some time: getting employees to wear eye protection in the first place. And with nearly half of all eye injuries occurring off the job, this seems to be a challenge workers take home with them, as well.

PRESCRIPTION FOR SAFETY

Roger Paquette, product manager for eye and face, head and hearing protection at North Safety Products, points out that some people erroneously believe that regular prescription eyewear can protect against hazards.

“Today, you still have people wearing their personal eyewear, or ‘streetwear’ glasses, as protective devices,” Paquette says. “It's very, very important for people to understand [even if] they feel protected, they actually are not protected because the personal glasses have not been subjected to any kind of performance requirements.”

There are several solutions available to protect workers who wear prescription glasses, but employers should proceed with caution.

“Employers have to be aware that there are products out there that can go over streetwear glasses that meet OSHA requirements, but they are uncomfortable for the wearer for any period,” Herald points out. He adds that there are some economical solutions, such as optical prescription inserts that are placed behind safety lenses, but employers should make sure “that the employees first are aware that their street lenses probably aren't going to meet the safety requirements, and somehow mandate that in the workforce.”

Herald and Paquette both stress that whether the work is being done at home or on the job, the protection must match the risk.

“Make sure you get the right product for the right hazard,” Herald says. For example, goggles may be a better choice in environments with more dust because they can protect against material coming from around the eye, while safety glasses might be better for direct impact. Or in grinding environments, a face shield may be necessary to protect not only the eyes but the face and neck area. Paquette also reminds users that spectacles still must be worn under a face shield or welding mask because users are exposed when they flip up the shield.

Finally, Paquette stresses proper use and care for eye and face protection. Typically, he explains, eyewear lenses are not scratched or damaged during use; it's when they are cleaned. If wearers do not use proper cleaning solutions and tissues, they may scratch the lenses.

“Scratched lenses mean reduced vision. Reduced vision even more risks. So the use and care is very, very important,” he says. “Basically, if you take care of your equipment, it lasts longer and gives you better protection.”

APPEARANCES COUNT

If homeowners and workers alike can select eyewear they consider attractive, they may end up safer in the long run.

“When you go out and buy yourself a nice pair of sunglasses, you choose a sunglass based on your perception of how good you look and how comfortable it is,” points out Paquette.

The process of selecting or being issued protective equipment, on the other hand, creates a different experience for the user. “It's mandatory,” he says. “You don't have a choice. That's a huge difference.”

According to Paquette, North Safety works to resolve three major issues when designing a product. First, safety is the No. 1 factor, followed by comfort and finally aesthetics. While protective qualities obviously are most important, Paquette points out that “you still have to look good.”

Herald has noticed a shift in safety eyewear fashion. Instead of the small glasses from a few years go, popular styles are larger and influenced by brands such as Gucci and Armani. “The time it goes from fashion to safety is getting a lot shorter,” he explains. “This is just a matter of the manufacturer recognizing that people want to wear something stylish.”

Of course, certain working populations may have different perceptions of what “stylish” means in the first place. An older worker accustomed to traditional eyewear styles and a 20-year-old employee more attuned to current eyewear fashion might have different ideas of how their protective glasses should look.

While fashion is never one-size-fits-all, neither is comfort. After all, no two faces are alike.

“Unfortunately, in the eyewear market, there's been a tendency for a number of years of one-size-fits-all. It just doesn't work,” Paquette says. “It's like safety boots — would a safety officer have all employees wear an eight and a half [boot size]? I don't think so.”

Herald explains that MCR Safety is working to address the issue of creating comfortable, well-fitting protection for users of a variety of sizes.

“There are some new materials coming onto the market — thermoplastic urethanes (TPU) — that are very flexible and fit a wide variety of heads,” he says. MCR's new ForceFlex design, for example, uses some of these materials and may fit more workers.

“The best protector in the world is the worst protector if it's not worn,” Paquette adds.

EYE HEALTH

“Unfortunately, the eye is very sensitive,” Iwach says. “It's an incredible design, it's small and compact on the whole … but it doesn't do well with trauma.”

A common mistake, Iwach explains, is not taking action after incurring a mild eye injury. While most people would seek medical attention if they cut their eye, they might not if they injure the eye in a subtle way.

“A shockwave from something can also cause significant damage which can cause problems not only at the time of the injury, but later on,” he explains. A shockwave potentially could lead to elevated pressure, which can then lead to glaucoma — a disease that may be blinding a decade or two down the road. Or, if a small piece of metal gets lodged in the eye, the metal itself can dissolve, cause toxicity and ruin eye tissues.

“We have some great techniques to try to restore vision, but time is of the essence. Time is everything,” Iwach says.

The simplest preventative step is to see a doctor immediately if you suspect you may have damaged your eye. “Ophthalmologists are experts in looking to make sure that what seems like an innocuous injury in fact could be a serious injury,” he says. “If you have an injury of any extent, get yourself examined. Ophthalmologists are ideally qualified to do it.”

Iwach recommends the Web site http://www.geteyesmart.org for tips for purchasing safety glasses, finding ophthalmologists and more. The Academy also issued a recent recommendation for everyone, whether they have symptoms or not, to get a baseline exam to check their eye health.

“The bottom line is you don't know until someone with a microscope takes a look,” Iwach explains. “This is worth it. There's nothing more precious than your vision.”