If you suffer a loss of vision in the course of performing your job duties in Virginia, you should see an eye doctor, file a workers’ compensation claim, and consult a lawyer. Significant loss of vision is life-changing, and even a minor eye injury can lead to high medical bills and substantial time off work.
This means your claim for benefits will likely be an expensive one that your employer’s workers’ comp insurer might delay, dispute, or deny in order to save money for the company. A workers’ comp attorney will know how to counter the insurer’s “3-D” tactics and help you seek the benefits you deserve.
On-the-Job Eye Injuries
Nearly 300,000 people annually seek emergency care for eye injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Common work-related eye injuries include the following:
- Computer vision syndrome (CVS) causes eye strain, irritation, or double vision.
- Solar retinopathy is damage to the center of the retina from looking directly into the sun.
- Corneal flash burns and cataracts result from exposure to ultraviolet rays.
- Corneal scratches from debris or trauma cause redness, infection, pain, and sensitivity to light. Debris buried in the cornea requires surgical removal.
- Orbital fractures are cracks or breaks from trauma to the bone surrounding the eye.
- Lacerated eyelids can result from contact with broken glass in a company vehicle accident.
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage is indicated by red patches on the eyeball.
- Hyphema (bleeding between the cornea and iris) results from trauma when an object pokes and compresses the eyeball.
- Ocular penetration occurs when something sharp pierces the eyeball. Infection can follow, and microsurgery could be required to prevent blindness.
- Chemical burns result from contact with acids and alkalis that can permanently damage the eye’s surface.
These and other eye injuries, such as inflammation of the iris, ocular swelling, detached retina, and blindness, make up nearly half of all on-the-job head injuries requiring time off work for treatment and recovery.
Causes of Work-Related Eye Injuries
Causes of on-the-job eye injuries that can lead to loss of vision include:
Using a Computer
Looking at a computer screen for extended periods of time leads to eye strain. If you use a computer all day, you might eventually need to see an eye doctor to get glasses or have your prescription changed.
Debris in the Air
Debris, such as silica dust, wood chips, splinters, concrete fragments, dust, and metal shavings, can travel through the air and enter the eyes of workers in the manufacturing, mining, and construction sectors. Workers who get debris in their eyes can make minor injuries worse by rubbing the affected area. Eye protection should be mandatory in these industries to prevent vision loss.
Exposure to Chemicals
Cleaning products used by custodians and housekeepers can splash into the eyes and cause dangerous chemical burns that might result in lost vision. Such chemicals can also get into your eyes if you rub them after handling cleaning products. Even the fumes can damage your eyes. Gloves, goggles, and frequent hand washing are recommended for employees who work with toxic chemicals.
Hot liquids, steam, grease, oil, and food products can find their way into the eyes of restaurant and kitchen workers.
Trauma to the Eye
Being struck by a falling object, being hit by a forklift, or slipping and falling on a wet floor can result in blunt force trauma that damages the eyeball or cracks the orbital bone.
Bacteria that spread HIV, hepatitis, or COVID-19 can penetrate the mucous membranes of health care workers’ eyes and leave them infected.
Employees in the following sectors are the most likely to sustain work-related vision loss:
- Health care
- Laboratory work
- Car repair
- Office work
- Building trades
Workers’ Compensation for Vision Loss
If you suffer work-related vision loss, you’re generally eligible for workers’ compensation benefits to cover your medical expenses and two-thirds of your lost wages. As soon as possible after sustaining your eye injury, report it in writing to your employer, who should file a First Report of Injury (FROI) on your behalf. You may then submit a Claim for Benefits form from the website of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (VWC).
Choose a doctor from a panel of physicians approved by your employer’s insurer and make an appointment. Follow your doctor’s treatment plan conscientiously and keep documentation of your treatments. If your claim is accepted, you may have your medical bills submitted to the insurer, and your weekly wage benefits should begin soon. Contact a workers’ comp attorney if:
- Your eye injury is a serious one.
- Your weekly benefits are late.
- Your medical bills aren’t paid.
- You’re not satisfied with your medical care.
- The insurer is slow to approve necessary treatment.
- Your employer fires you or penalizes you for filing your claim.
- Your claim is denied.