Although damage to the eye is not one of the most common injuries sustained on the job, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that nearly 2,000 employees across the country suffer work-related eye injuries daily. Approximately 10% of these injuries result in permanent or temporary loss of some percentage of vision.
While permanent loss of vision is one of the most life-changing injuries you might sustain, even a minor or temporary eye injury can require expensive medical treatment, affect your ability to carry out daily activities and prevent you from working for a significant period of time. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), accidental on-the-job eye injuries cost approximately $300 million in medical expenses and lost productivity each year.
Common Work-Related Eye Injuries
Eye injuries that you might sustain on the job include:
- Eye strain
- Swelling of the eye
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage or hyphemia (bleeding of the eye)
- Scratched cornea
- Penetration of the eye by a sharp object
- Iris inflammation
- Detached retina
- Cut eyelid
- Fracture of the orbital bone
Although many such injuries can be prevented by using proper eye protection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 300,000 people in the U.S. visit emergency rooms yearly for treatment of eye injuries, which account for almost half of all head injuries that result in time off work.
Workers’ Compensation for Eye Injuries
If you suffer an accidental eye injury in the course of performing your job duties, you’re generally entitled to file a workers’ compensation claim. Worker’s comp is no-fault insurance that covers the work-related injuries and occupational illnesses of most employees in South Carolina. In some cases, vocational rehabilitation is also available.
You do not need to show that your employer negligently caused your eye injury. Even if you’re responsible for your own accident, you may still file a claim for benefits, and your company is not permitted to fire you or retaliate against you in any way for doing so. It is your employer’s workers’ comp insurance company, however, that actually pays claims. If your claim is likely to be an expensive one, as eye injury cases often are, the insurer might try to devalue, delay, or deny your claim in order to save money for its shareholders. When this happens, it’s a good idea to seek the help of an experienced workers’ comp lawyer.
Causes of On-the-Job Eye Injuries
Employees who work in the healthcare, hospitality, education, manufacturing, mining, construction, and auto repair sectors sustain eye injuries in a number of different ways:
- Small airborne objects like metal shavings, splinters, concrete fragments, and dust can enter the eye and scratch the cornea.
- Blunt-force trauma to the eye or damage to the orbital bone can result from contact with larger objects.
- Chemicals can splash into and burn the eye or give off toxic vapors.
- Splashing oil, steam, and grease can burn the eyeball.
- Radiation burns can occur due to UV rays and lasers.
- Kitchen burns to the eye can occur during the preparation of hot foods and liquids.
- Bloodborne pathogens can penetrate the eye’s mucous membranes and spread communicable diseases such as COVID-19, HIV, and hepatitis.
Prevent Blindness America reports that 10% of all work-related eye injuries require the injured employee to miss time from work for treatment and recovery.
Workers’ Comp Benefits for Eye Injuries
If your workers’ comp claim is accepted, your benefits should cover all your medical expenses:
- ER visits
- Appointments with doctors
- All treatment and therapy
- Assistive equipment for your home or vehicle
- Home nursing care, if necessary
- Transportation to and from healthcare facilities
Workers’ comp should also reimburse two-thirds of the wages you lose while off work for treatment and recovery. When you reach the stage of maximum medical improvement (MMI), you’ve recovered to the extent you’re going to, and your doctor can release you to return to work. If you’re fully recovered and able to resume your job at your old salary, your weekly wage benefits should stop at this time.
Permanent Partial or Total Disability
If, however, you’re left with a permanent partial disability (PPD) that prevents you from performing your previous job duties, your doctor may give you an impairment rating, which indicates in percentage form how much vision you’ve lost. You could also receive job restrictions that are based on that rating. Your employer might then offer you a “light-duty” job that accommodates your restrictions. If that job pays less than your previous job, you could be eligible for reimbursement of two-thirds of the difference between your previous and current salaries for a maximum of 340 weeks.
If you’ve suffered total blindness in both eyes, you have a permanent total disability (PTD) entitling you to a maximum of 500 weeks of wage benefits. In either case, your workers’ comp disability claim will be an expensive one that the insurance company is apt to fight. A workers’ comp attorney will know how to counter the insurer’s tactics and might be able to negotiate a lump sum payment of your benefits.
How Your Attorney Can Help
Whether your eye injury results from an accidental injury or develops over time, your lawyer can help you to pursue fair benefits while you’re focused on your medical treatment and recovery. Your attorney can:
- Investigate your accident to determine how it occurred and whether your employer violated OSHA regulations regarding eye protection
- Interview any eyewitnesses to your injury
- Consult with your doctors to estimate your long-term medical expenses
- Solicit testimony from an ophthalmologist and/or other medical experts
- Handle all communications with your employer, the workers’ comp insurer, and the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission (SCWCC)
- Request an informal conference, a SCWCC hearing, or a Commission Review and represent you during the proceedings
- Appeal your denied claim to the SC Court of Appeals
What to Do After an Eye Injury
If you suffer any eye injury on the job, your first priority should be to get treatment at the nearest medical facility. Once you’ve done so, you should take the following steps immediately to begin the worker’s comp claim process:
- Report your injury, in writing, to your supervisor.
- File your claim for benefits by submitting Form 50 from the SCWCC website.
- Seek ongoing medical care from a doctor approved by your employer’s insurance company.
- Keep all medical appointments and follow your doctor’s treatment plan.
- Retain receipts for all your treatments.
- Contact a workers’ comp lawyer
Although the SCWCC gives you 90 days to report your injury and two years to file your claim, you should do both as soon as possible. Any delay on your part could hurt your claim.