Did you know that if the eye is exposed to a chemical that it only takes an average of 6 – 8 second for that chemical to soak through and penetrate the outer membrane of the eye? This means that it literally only takes a couple of seconds for damage to begin to occur.
Chemical Exposure Can End A Career
Each year, between 7% – 18% of all workplace injuries involve the eye and a large percentage of eye injuries occur because of chemical exposure. Exposures involve one of two type of chemical substances:
The term acid is used for any substance that has a pH less than 7. Although most people understand that exposing any body part to acid can be extraordinarily dangerous, the fact is that acid exposures actually tend to cause less damage to the eye alkali substances.
When an acid comes into contact with the eye, it typically “denatures”, essentially forming a barrier on the cornea which prevents the acid from sinking deeper into the tissues of the eye. However, that being said, this doesn’t mean that acid exposure shouldn’t be taken very seriously and treated immediately as permanent damage does occur.
Examples of acids that are commonly used in workplaces include:
- Suphamic Acid
- Sulphuric Acid
- Hydrochloric Acid
- Hydrofluoric Acid
- Nitric Acid
- Boric Acid
- Phosphoric Acid
In addition to permanent damage to the eye, if acid burns occur over more than just 2% of the body, the patient is at risk for developing life-threatening hypocalcemia.
When a substance has a pH greater than 7, it is an alkali. These chemicals are typically lipophilic which means they have a tendency to combine with fats. As a result, alkalis penetrate the eye easily and allow for deeper penetration into the tissues of the eye.
Common examples of alkali substances commonly found in the workplace include:
- Sodium Hydroxide
- Calcium Hydroxide
- Potassium Hydroxide
Eye Injuries Are Graded By Severity
As with many injuries, there are “grades” assigned to damage done to the eye by chemicals. The Grades are:
This is the least severe injury and all of the damage is typically on the corneal epithelium, the chemical has not penetrated deep into the eye. Overall patients with this type of injury are likely to fully recover without long-term issues with their vision.
Visually there may be a corneal haze, and some damage to the cornea may be observed. Patients with this type of injury have a good prognosis although permanent damage to the cornea may occur.
This is when the chemical has penetrated deep into the eye, damaging the limbus, corneal, other parts of the eye. In many cases, vision is unable to be completely restored and in order to obtain the best outcome, the patient usually has to undergo a surgical procedure.
When the eye has a grade IV injury, the cornea melts and all parts of the eye may be damaged. This type of injury most often results in total loss of vision.
If immediate action is taken in the seconds following an accident exposure, the injured employee can help to prevent further damage, however, employers need to ensure that the employee has the resources and training that they need.
Training should include information on all chemicals that could potentially damage the eye and the location of important emergency items such as eye wash stations and showers. It’s important to remember that all employees should be trained to find showers and stations through memory and touch, because if both eyes are involved, they may be temporarily blinded.
What Can I Do If I’ve Lost My Sight & Can’t Work?
If a work accident resulted in the loss of your sight and you are unable to continue working as a result, you may have several legal options:
All employers are required by law to have workers’ comp insurance and once a work injury has occurred, that worker can file a claim. This claim may provide compensation for medical bills and lost wages.
Social Security Disability
Social Security Disability claims provide payments to those who can no longer work due to a disability injury or illness.
Personal Injury Lawsuit
When an accident or exposure occurs because of a mistake make by a third-party, the injured worker may have the option to file a lawsuit against the party responsible. Compensation from this lawsuit may cover all past and future medical expenses, lost wages, physical suffering, and emotional trauma.
The attorneys at Markhoff & Mittman can help you identify all possible forms of compensation and assist you through the entire legal process. Contact us today to learn more.