Eye injury


Workers who weld, braze, solder, cut, or gouge pipe sections or vessel parts may face hazards from eye injury.

Risk Description:

Welding and plasma, air-arc and flame cutting metal may expose workers to eye hazards that may include:

  • Eye penetration injury from grinding or chipping welds.
  • Thermal burns
  • Radiation injury to the eyes

Eye penetration injuries typically result from impact or abrasion with flying dust particulates such as slag or metal chips.

Thermal burns are injuries from radiant energy usually resulting from contact with hot liquids, hot gases, molten metals or infrared radiant heat.

Photokeratitis (commonly referred as arc eye, welder's eye, welder's flash or arc flash) is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure to the corneal epthelium of the eyes.  Some symptoms include:

  • Red eye
  • Burning eyes
  • Eye pain or photophobia
  • Excessive tering
  • UV-radiation burns
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Blurry eye vision

Level of Risk:

Between November 1990 and December 1998, eleven percent (363) of the 3,390 construction workers were treated at the George Washington University Hospital Emergency Department.  Among those, workers performing welding tasks had the highest proportion of injuries accounting for approximately 31%, followed by plumbers at 18%, and painters/glaziers and insulators at 15%.  The high rate of eye injuries among welders has also been documented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey of Occupational INjuries and Illness.  In 2004 alone, there were 2,200 eye injuries reported for welders, more than any other occupations (see table below).

Occupations with at least 1,000 nonfatal eye injuries involving days away from work, 2004
Number of eye injuries
Percent of eye injuries
Welders, cutters, solderers and brazers
Construction laborers
Laborers, freight, stock and material movers
Production workers, all other
Janitors and cleaners
Automotive service technicians and mechanics
Maintenance and repair workers, general
Landscaping and groundskeeping workers
Note: Components do not add to 100 percent because only occupations with 1,000 or more eye injuries are shown.


Bureau of Labor Statistics [August 2006].  Nonfatal Occupational Injuries Involving the Eyes, 2004.  Table 6.

Welch, L, Hunting K, and Mawudeku, A [2001].  Injury Surveillance in Construction: Eye Injuries.  Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. 16:7.  755-762.

Assessment Info:

Assessment of eye injuries should be an integral part of the site safety planning process.  For example, for any given construction work activity, consider whether you need eye protection and if you have the appropriate shade number for certain welding and burning tasks.

For welding activities, infrared and ultraviolet properties can be attenuated by glass filters determined by shade numbers.  In the case of gas welding, the required filter shade number should be 3 to 4 (which calls for goggles).  For arc welding and plasma arc operations, a shade number of 10 to 14 needs to be used (helmet protection is required).


Regulations & Standards:

Federal OSHA Standards are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor in 26 states. There are currently 22 states and jurisdictions operating complete State plans (covering both the private sector and state and local government employees) and 5 - Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and the Virgin Islands - which cover public employees only. If you are working in one of those states or jurisdictions you should ensure that you are complying with their requirements.