Look out for signs of eye discomfort

By Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)   

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When people think of eye-related hazards in the manufacturing industry, what typically comes to mind are dust, chemicals, and flying objects.

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It is important to note that eye discomfort is also a common ergonomic injury in this industry. Eye discomfort is common among workers whose tasks require prolonged visual focus and those who spend extended periods of time looking at a screen. Not only can eye discomfort result in decreased productivity, but it can increase the risk of health and safety incidents in the workplace.

Many symptoms of eye discomfort can be addressed with proper lighting. When exposed to poor lighting, workers often alter their posture to relieve the strain on their eyes. Addressing the visual ergonomics of their workstations can help ease discomfort in their neck, shoulder, and back.

Look out for the symptoms and sources
Eye discomfort can include many symptoms including eyestrain, dry eyes, blurred vision, red or pink eyes, burning and light sensitivity, and headaches. Discomfort can also be felt as pain and stiffness in the shoulders, neck and back. When some of these symptoms are present together, they are often diagnosed as computer vision syndrome. However, manufacturing work that requires a high degree of visual focus and mental concentration on each task can also result in the same symptoms.

There are several contributing factors to eye discomfort. Many are related to lighting and workstation setup, such as an improper distance between the eyes and machinery, poor resolution or picture quality in monitors, glares on screens, and poor lighting. A lack of colour variation in the work environment can also contribute to eye strain. Low ambient humidity or poor indoor air quality can also irritate the eyes.


There are non-physical factors to be aware of, as well – psychological factors such as lack of autonomy or perceived conflicts with co-workers or management can result in workers experiencing tension and eye fatigue.
Vision changes gradually as we age, limiting our ability to focus on objects at close range with the naked eye.

Uncorrected vision is a common source of eye discomfort, so have your vision checked every one or two years, as recommended by your eye specialist. Provide your eye examiner with information about your job and consider using task-specific glasses if recommended. Safety glasses with a gradient tint can also help to neutralize glare from overhead lighting without darkening the workstation.

Lighting and workstation setup
Proper lighting and workstation setup can resolve most eye discomfort symptoms. The right lighting provides enough illumination so workers can see fine details clearly but are not blinded by excessive brightness.

Anytime your facility upgrades its lighting system, be sure to check with workers to ensure they aren’t experiencing eye discomfort as they adjust to the new lighting. Light should come from the right direction and not cast obscuring shadows. Ideally, workers should be able to adjust lighting to their own comfort level at each workstation, rather than relying solely on overhead industrial lighting.

Improving the workstation setup will also help reduce eye and neck strain. If your workplace doesn’t have an in-house ergonomist, it is good practice to designate or consult with someone who is trained, competent, and knowledgeable about workstation set-up to address any ergonomic issues as they arise.

Training and prevention
Ergonomic hazards and injury prevention practices should be covered in your workplace health and safety program. To help prevent ergonomic-related eye injuries, employers should identify and assess risk factors and ensure safe work practices are in place to reduce or eliminate the risks.

Prevention efforts should also include regular training and education. Be sure to train workers on the risk factors for eye discomfort, and how to prevent and reduce them before any signs or symptoms develop. Provide workers with education on how to set up ergonomic workstations and work practices to reduce the risk of eye injury.

Encourage workers to give their eyes a “stretching” break to help prevent eye strain and fatigue. Focusing on objects at the same distance and angle for prolonged periods of time is a major contributor to eye strain, so allow workers to take periodic breaks from their tasks to rest their eyes. Eye specialists recommend the “20-20-20 rule.” At least every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. Focus your vision on distant objects, then blink several times.

Lastly, encourage workers to come forward to their manager or health and safety representative at the first signs of discomfort, because like all repetitive strain injuries, symptoms worsen over time.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) promotes the total well-being — physical, psychosocial, and mental health — of workers in Canada by providing information, advice, education, and management systems and solutions that support the prevention of injury and illness. Visit for more safety tips.


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