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    Who is responsible for protecting workers’ eyes from UV? It depends on the source, say OVP optometrists

    Vancouver, May 22, 2008 – Either workers or employers are responsible for protecting employees’ eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation, depending on whether the UV source is the sun or is man-made, says the B.C. Association of Optometrists.

    “UV can harm the cornea, the lens and the retina of the eye, both immediately and long-term,” says B.C. Optometrist, Dr. Robert Reid, who practices as part of the association’s Occupational Vision Plan (OVP).

    In B.C. workplaces where employees can be exposed to man-made UV radiation, employers are required to measure the levels of UV radiation, and ensure that exposure is within the guidelines. If not, they have to make changes to protect the worker – which may include providing protective clothing and eyewear if other means cannot reduce the UV to acceptable levels. Employees who work with or near high sources of UV, such as arc welders, should ensure they have proper UV protection for their eyes.

    However, sunlight is by far the greatest source of UV radiation, and there is no regulation requiring employers to provide outside workers with UV eye protection – whether that’s sunglasses or anti-UV coatings for prescription or safety eyewear.

    “We teach our kids not to look directly at the sun, but we often overlook the danger to employees, particularly those who regularly work outside and have long-term exposure to the damaging rays,” says Dr. Reid. “If you don’t already belong to a vision plan that provides safety eyewear, we strongly recommend you buy a good pair of sunglasses or safety glasses with UV protection and wear them.”

    Noticeable signs of UV harm to the eyes may include immediate, but temporary, pain, inflammation of the cornea of the eye, and an aversion to light. This type of burn is commonly known as welder’s flash, snow blindness, ground-glass eyeball, or flash burn, depending on the UV source.

    However, it’s the cumulative, long-term damage from the sun’s UV-A and UV-B rays that concern optometrists most. Long-term exposure can prematurely age the eyes and lead to cataracts. While UV-C from the sun is absorbed by the ozone layer, man-made sources of UV-C can harm the eyes of workers if they’re not wearing the appropriate safety eyewear.

    Man-made ultraviolet sources include various types of UV lamps, arc welding torches, and mercury vapour lamps. In dental and medical practices, UV radiation can be used for killing bacteria, creating fluorescent effects, curing resins and phototherapy. Suntanning booths also use UV radiation.

    The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety indicates examples of workers at potential risk from exposure to UV radiation include outdoor workers, construction workers, paint and resin curers, plasma torch operators, welders, farmers, food and drink irradiators, hairdressers, laboratory workers, lighting technicians, lithographic and printing workers and police.

    The Occupational Vision Plan is an employee eye safety program operated by the B.C. Association of Optometrists. With a province-wide network of more than 270 optometrists, OVP has been providing expert eye care and leading prescription safety eyewear to B.C. workplaces for more than 20 years.

    For more information on eye health, or to locate an OVP optometrist near you, visit www.ovp.bc.ca.

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    For more information: Mahafrine Petigara, media relations, 604.623.3007