A 19 May 2010 SafetyAtWorkBlog article commented on a new eye safety campaign by the Optometrists Association Australia. The eye safety brochure included several statistical references upon which clarification was sought.
A couple of quotes in question were:
“60% of all eye injuries happen in the workplace and about 95% of eye injuries are the result of carelessness and lack of attention.”
“Up to 48% of office workers suffer from computer-related eye fatigue and this rate appears to be increasing. Excessive computer use can cause eye strain and reduce productivity.”
Some data in the first quote above was taken from Ophthalmology. 1999 Sep;106(9):1847-52. Epidemiology of ocular trauma in Australia.
The abstract states that
“The workplace accounted for the majority of eye injuries (60%), followed by the home (24%). The location with the highest percent of people reporting the use of eye protection at the time of the injury was the workplace (18.5%); the workplace accounted for the lowest rate of hospitalization (4.9%)”
This 1999 article deserves further scrutiny to determine the types of workplaces surveyed and the types of work activities undertaken. The abstract ends with a rather simple comments:
“Rural men, people engaged in hammering or sport, and those in the trades are at highest risk and require specific, targeted, prevention messages.”
If those “engaged in hammering” are at an elevated risk in 1999, the risk should have reduced with the replacement of hammers in many work tasks, particularly construction. The Safe Work Australia data is more helpful in targeting control measures with its findings that
“Grinding and welding are the two most common tasks being performed when an eye injury occurs….”
The claim that “95% of eye injuries are the result of carelessness and lack of attention” cannot be verified or contested at the moment as the 1982 article is not available online. The source of the data is Sightsaving. 1982;51(1):19-22. The high cost of workplace eye trauma. The 90% avoidable injury. The age of the data and the variation of 5% in quoted statistics raises questions about the relevance of this data in Australia in 2010. Again the system of work would need to be considered in establishing the relevance of the findings in support of hazard control measures.
The second quote concerning “Up to 48% of office workers suffer from computer-related eye fatigue and this rate appears to be increasing” is simply wrong as it equates “data processing workers” with office workers. The original article abstract from Occup Med (Lond). 2005 Mar;55(2):121-7. Musculoskeletal disorders and visual strain in intensive data processing workers. Woods V says the study was
“…in response to increasing numbers of health complaints among intensive computer workers in a data processing environment.” [emphasis added]
These are likely to be similar to the data processors in the Australian Taxation Office in the 1980s that accounted for the RSI epidemic. One would not have claimed that tax department workers had an elevated rate of RSI, only that a specific selection of taxation public servants were exposed to this hazard. Extending rates of eye strain in “intensive computer workers in a data processing environment” to “office workers” is unfair.
The issue of eye safety is of great importance and relevance to every workplace, as this recent grinding incident in Victoria illustrates. As the son of a blind father I know first hand the impact of any limitation on one’s eyesight be that from traumatic injury or a genetic disorder. Protecting one’s eyes at work is always a sensible move and one that is supported by OHS legislation but if we are to base campaigns and policies on evidence we must ensure the accuracy and relevance of the data and that the data does indeed qualify as “evidence”.