September 14, 2023

ILO Report Highlights Need for Workplace Eyesight Protection Programs

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has released a new report, “Eye Health and the World of Work” (PDF). According to ILO’s Sept. 5 policy brief, more than 13 million people worldwide live with vision impairments linked to their work and an estimated 3.5 million workplace eye injuries occur every year. ILO produced the report in collaboration with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness to highlight the importance of healthy vision to workplace safety and productivity. It outlines an approach to eyesight protection based on the hierarchy of controls familiar to occupational and environmental health and safety professionals.

AIHA member Laurence Svirchev, CIH, prepared the ILO report during his term as the chair of AIHA’s International Affairs Committee. Svirchev informed AIHA that one of the report’s most important contributions is the provision “that employers need to provide a system to include workers’ naturally occurring sight loss, including age-related vision loss, in risk assessments.”

“Why should an experienced seamstress in Bangladesh or […] the United States be demoted to a janitor position because of age-related vision loss?” Svirchev asked. “A simple pair of 1.5 lenses will keep her working in dignity, and the employer keeps a productive worker. This concept forms part of the right to a safe and healthy workplace as guaranteed by international law.”

While Svirchev noted that much of the report’s technical content about occupational exposures causing vision loss is known to OEHS professionals, he added that his research led him to notice “the paucity of active collaboration” between OEHS professionals, optometrists, and ophthalmologists. “Our medical colleagues are great at treatment, and we are great with prevention,” Svirchev said.

Chapter 5 of the report calls for interdisciplinary collaboration to protect workers’ eyesight through control of hazards. Chapter 6 takes this idea further by proposing public health campaigns to promote eye health, based on the model of health promotion campaigns conducted at workplace, regional, and societal levels. The report concludes that transformative change on the issue of eye health will only be possible through collaboration between government agencies, medical professionals, non-governmental organizations, community and international organizations working in the field of eye health, and occupational health professionals. “It is through these synergist partnerships that significant improvements to workplace eye health will be realized, benefiting workers and employers, and contributing to advancing social justice,” the report states.

ILO’s publication of “Eye Health and the World of Work” was timed to promote World Sight Day. This global initiative to promote eye health in the workplace will occur Oct. 12, 2023.

ILO’s policy brief provides additional information and a link to download the report.