Workers are at risk for eye injuries in the workplace for many reasons. Many eye injuries can be avoided if employers anticipate the causes and take necessary precautions such as wearing the correct type of protective equipment. We have also addressed eye injuries and Vision loss in a previous article discussing North Carolina Workers Compensation Vision Loss Claims.
What are some of the common reasons why eye injuries happen?
A few well-known dangers that cause vision loss or vision injuries are:
Working with dangerous chemicals. Employees who work in construction and manufacturing often come into contact with dangerous toxins. Hospital workers, restaurant staff, hotel workers, and anyone who works with cleaning agents often come into contact with dangerous chemicals. Chemicals can be dangerous in two respects. First, some chemicals have dangerous fumes which can cause serious respiratory problems if a worker inhales the fumes. Second, many chemicals that come into contact with the skin can causes rashes, chemical burns, and other infections.
Chemicals can cause vision loss or vision injuries if they come into contact with a worker’s eyes. The chemicals may either come into direct contact or, in many cases, the contact is because the chemicals get onto a worker’s hands and then the worker touches his/her eyes with the hands. Employees who work with dangerous chemicals should wear goggles or other eye protective devices. They should also wear gloves and remember to wash their hands after working with any chemicals.
Exposure to debris. All sorts of debris can come into contact with a workers’ eyes. Workers in construction, manufacturing, mining, and other fields who work with debris such as silica dust, wood chips, or other fine debris that can travel through the air should understand when and where they need to use eye protection.
Computer use. Constant work at a computer can cause strain on a worker’s
eyes. Some adjustments may include properly positioning the computer
monitor, having the property lighting, and taking regular rest
breaks. Extensive computer work may result in changes to a worker’s
vision that require new glasses at a minimum and treatment with an
ophthalmologist at worst.
What industries are at highest risk for eye injuries?
Some of the professions where workers my be exposed to debris, flying objects, toxic chemicals, eye strain, and direct force on the eyes include:
- Electrical work
- Construction work
- Agricultural work
- Health care
- Work in a laboratory
- Car repair
- Clerical work
- Cleaning workers
- Anyone who works with chemicals
What types of eye injuries can workers suffer?
Any worker who has any type of eye injury should seek immediate emergency care. Some injuries may heal with time. Many eye injuries require medical care and some may require surgery to prevent loss of vision. In the most tragic cases, a worker becomes blind due to a workplace injury or occupational illness.
Common types of eye injuries include:
- Blunt trauma. As the name suggest, this injury is due to a sudden compression or indentation of the eye due to force or trauma. The impact generally causes hyphema – bleeding between the iris and the cornea. Blunt trauma can cause complete damage to the retina which is “responsible for receiving light and converting it into neural signals sent to the brain for visual recognition.” The damage may be able to be corrected though a surgical procedure called retinal detachment. A finger to a worker’s eye can cause blunt trauma.
- Penetrating trauma. This type of trauma is caused by harsher objects such as a knife, BB pellets, scissors, or other sharp objects. Another term for penetrating trauma is ocular penetration. “There are cases where medications and antibiotics can be prescribed to decrease the effects of intraocular infection but depending upon the injury, micro-surgical interventions are needed to repair the damage and avoid permanent blindness.”
- Chemical burns and exposures. Harmful substances such as acids and alkalis result in permanent damage due to the damage caused to the ocular surface.” Some objects like soap and sunscreen (for outdoor workers) are usually treatable. Strong acids (such as sulfuric acid which is used in fertilizers and car batteries) and alkaline acids (used in batteries and drain cleaners) can cause severe eye damage.
- Red patches. These injuries are a sign of bleeding. They occur “when the blood collects on the sclera, the white surface area found in the eye. The sclera is covered by a transparent blood vessel that contains a membrane called the conjunctiva. The degree of ubconjunctival hemorrhage does not depict the severity of the injury.”
- Corneal Abrasions. This eye injury is due to the eye being scratched or poked, or when debris gets into the eye. The cornea is located in front of the iris and pupil. A corneal abrasion causes pain, eye redness, and light sensitivity. An abrasion can lead to an eye infection.
- Orbital fractures. These injuries affect the surrounding eye structure in addition to the eye.
- Foreign bodies. These are eye injuries due to sharp small pieces of wood, metal, or plastic. They’re usually embedded in the cornea but not the eye itself. Medical treatment is required to remove them.
- Corneal flash burn. “This sort of damage is commonly due to a light-induced trauma to the eye, which can also be explained as a sunburn of the cornea. The most common causes for flash burns are ultraviolet (UV) lights and are also associated with cataract formation and retinal degeneration that can severely damage the eye. Anyone who is exposed to high altitudes of UV rays, such as workers who frequently use welding arcs, are prone to such trauma.”
- Solar retinopathy. This eye injury can result if a worker looks at the sun for tool long. The central part of the retina can be damaged.
- Computer vision syndrome. Working with a computer for too long can cause CVS and/or eye strain. The worker may experience double vision, irritated eyes, and neck or back pain.
What kind of Workers Compensation Benefits Can an Injured Worker Recover for an Eye Injury?
The type of benefits that can be recovered, assuming the claim is accepted by the workers compensation insurance company, as with any injury, first depends on the degree to which the eye injury impacts the injured worker’s ability to engage in their pre-injury employment. This, in turn, will depend on the severity and character of the eye injury. What aspects of vision are damaged by the injury? How critical is good vision to performance of the injured worker’s pre-injury job?
For instance, if the injured worker is a trucker and the vision impairment from the injury is such that the truck driver is no longer able to obtain a CDL License, this would be an impairment that would indicate that the worker can no longer return to his or her pre-injury job due to the work injury.
In those circumstances, if the worker is under an Award or Accepted Claim, he or she would be
entitled to up to 500 weeks of weekly checks at the rate of 2/3rds of the average weekly wage, in addition, of course, to lifetime medical benefits for the eye injury; HOWEVER, if the injury is to BOTH eyes, or to one eye and certain other body parts, such as a leg, foot, arm, or hand, then in Virginia, (this does not apply in North Carolina) depending on the severity of the injuries to each of those parts, the worker may qualify for permanent and total weekly benefits, which would mean for life, not just the 500 weeks. Of course, the worker’s entitlement to ongoing benefits can be affected by any number of factors, the most common of which the insurance carrier subjecting the worker to vocational rehabilitation and obtaining for that worker a light duty job, which would reduce the carrier’s obligation to pay weekly benefits.
The severity of an eye injury is measured under Workers Compensation law by the degree of injury, and it is measured in terms of its permanent effect on the injured worker’s ability to see. So, what will typically occur is the injured worker will receive a permanency rating by his or her treating physician based on the level of vision post-injury.
Even if the injured worker has returned to work full time, and if he or she gets a permanency rating on their vision, then he or she may be entitled to up to 100 weeks of compensation at the rate of 2/3rds of their average weekly wage for permanent vision loss in Virginia. Note that under North Carolina Workers Compensation Vision Loss Claims, the numbers are slightly higher, at 120 weeks maximum.
But the rating is also important because, in relation to injuries to both eyes, or one eye and another body part, it could determine whether or not one is entitled to permanent and total benefits. For instance, a combination of a 5% permanent vision loss rating with a 15% lower extremity rating is not going to allow anyone to bring a successful claim for permanent and total benefits. But change those numbers to 50-60% each, and that is something else.
How do doctors know what percentage to assign?
The Virginia Workers Compensation Commission has assigned specific impairments based on the level of permanent vision impairment and is contained in the Virginia Workers Compensation Claims Services Reference Material on the section relating to Vision loss. Essentially there is a chart which takes us from a rating of 0% for 20/20 Vision to a rating of 100% for 20/200 Vision. In between are the gradations of impairment and percentages, based on the level of permanent vision loss.
At Joe Miller Law Ltd., we have been fighting for Virginia and North Carolina workers for 30 years. We represent employees who suffer any type of injury including vision loss. We demand compensation for all your necessary medical bills and your rightful share of wage loss benefits including permanent vision loss benefits. To speak with a respected workers’ compensation lawyer, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295 or fill out my online contact form to make an appointment.
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