Health and Safety ReportVolume 21, Issue 2

On Topic

Look Out for Eye Discomfortprint this article

When people think of ergonomic or repetitive strain injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and shoulder issues, and back pain tend to be the first to come to mind. But eye discomfort sustained at work is also an ergonomic injury, and it affects many workers who spend a prolonged amount of time looking at a screen.

Fortunately, eye discomfort is usually temporary, and many symptoms are remedied when lighting and screen distance are corrected. Workers often alter their posture to relieve stress on their eyes, so addressing the visual ergonomics of their workstations can resolve their neck, shoulder, and back pain.

Know the symptoms and causes

Eye discomfort can include eyestrain, dry eyes, blurred vision, red or pink eyes, burning and light sensitivity, and headaches. Discomfort can also be felt in the shoulders, neck and back. When some of these symptoms are present together, they are often diagnosed as computer vision syndrome.

There are several contributing factors to eye discomfort. Most have to do with lighting and workstation setup, such as an improper distance from eyes to screen, poor resolution or picture quality in a monitor, and poor lighting. A lack of colour variety in the surroundings can contribute to eye strain. Low ambient humidity or low-quality indoor air can also irritate the eyes.

For workers who spend a lot of time at computers, eye discomfort often happens when maintaining a fixed and close visual distance for a long time, or when their workstation has unsuitable dimensions. Discomfort can increase with the glare from unshaded or un-diffused light fixtures, or poor lighting with fixed levels of illumination.

Vision changes gradually as we age, limiting our ability to focus on objects at close range with the naked eye. Uncorrected vision is a common source of eye discomfort, so have your vision checked every one or two years, as recommended by your eye specialist. Provide your eye examiner with information about your job, and consider using task-specific computer glasses if recommended.

Preventing Eye Discomfort

Ergonomic hazards and injury prevention practices should be covered in the workplace health and safety program. To help prevent ergonomic-related eye injuries, employers should identify and assess risk factors and ensure safe work practices are in place to reduce or eliminate the risks.

Get the lighting right

Many eye discomfort symptoms can be resolved with proper lighting. A challenge with lighting is that the computer monitor itself is a source of light and does not need additional illumination from other sources. The right lighting provides enough illumination so workers can see printed, handwritten or displayed documents clearly but are not blinded by excessively high light levels. Light should come from the right direction and not cast obscuring shadows.

Computer screens can cause glare if the brightness and contrast controls are not properly adjusted. Lighting should provide moderate contrast between the task and the background, and limit glare. Another challenge is providing the right light for using the monitor and paper documents at the same time. Paper documents require a higher light level than the monitor. Any type of soft task light, such as a task lamp, can be used to illuminate documents while avoiding excessive light near the monitor.

Improve the workstation setup

Setting up workers’ monitors properly will help reduce eye and neck strain. Workers should be able to look at their screen without tilting their head – the center should be 10-20 degrees below their straight-ahead gaze. The closer an object, the harder eyes must work to focus, so place the screen as far back as it can go while still allowing them to read it easily. If your workplace doesn’t have an in-house ergonomist, it is recommended to designate someone who is trained and knowledgeable about workstation set-up and is competent to address any ergonomic issues as they arise.

Take regular breaks

Employers should encourage workers to take periodic breaks. Focusing on objects at the same distance and angle for prolonged periods of time can also contribute to eye strain. Eye specialists recommend the “20-20-20 rule.” At least every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. Focus your vision on distant objects, then blink several times. Giving your eyes this "stretching" break can prevent them from feeling fatigued.

Provide training and education

Prevention efforts should also include regular training and education. Be sure to train workers on the risk factors for eye discomfort, and how to prevent and reduce the risks before signs and symptoms develop. Provide workers with education on how to set up ergonomic workstations and work practices to reduce the risk of eye injury. Encourage them to come forward to their manager or health and safety representative at the first signs, because like all repetitive strain injuries, symptoms worsen over time.

CCOHS Resources:

Tips and Tools

Stay on Top of Ice-Covered Water Hazardsprint this article

In northern Canada, workers in construction, transportation, mining, and oil and gas are regularly exposed to the dangers of ice-covered water.

There are many scenarios that require workers to work on ice-covered lakes, rivers, and tailings ponds. Operating vehicles and heavy machinery such as bulldozers on the ice in conditions where the ice may not be strong enough to support the weight is an ongoing risk. Falling through can result in physical injuries, hypothermia, or drowning.

Before any work begins, employers must identify and assess the hazards and risks involved with working on ice-covered water. This will help determine the appropriate control measures and procedures that need to be in place. This is critical for situations where there is a risk for the submersion of vehicles or heavy equipment with enclosed cabs, and other situations where workers can fall through the ice.  Employers must also make sure all workers are trained on the control measures and emergency plans, including the procedures to follow and how to safely operate the required equipment.

Tips for working on ice-covered water

  • Make sure you understand what control measures need to be in place, and emergency procedures to follow.
  • Always be on the lookout for hazards and changing conditions, and do not go on the ice until you know it is safe.
  • Follow the procedures for assessing the ice before travelling on it and when working on it. This includes determining the minimum ice thickness that is required to support the type and weight of the load and monitoring the integrity of the ice while working.
  • Work in pairs. Never go out on the ice alone and stay off the ice if there is any chance that it may be unsafe.
  • Leave the planned route and a return time with a supervisor who will follow up.
  • Carry an axe or ice chisel, ice auger and air temperature thermometer to measure ice thickness and air temperature.
  • Carry a cell phone, satellite phone or two-way radio when working at remote sites.
  • Carry safety equipment such as warning devices (pylons, reflectors, flares, flags) to warn others of danger, rope, and ice picks, plus a small personal safety kit that includes a first aid kit, pocketknife, compass, whistle, and a fire starter kit.
  • Wear layers of clothing that provide protection from wind and cold but will not impact your ability to swim or float if you fall through the ice.
  • Wear a personal floatation device (PFD). However, if you are in a vehicle and the PFD may hamper your escape, do not wear one.
  • Do not wear a seat belt and keep the door unlatched while operating vehicles or equipment on ice.
  • Wear appropriate footwear (rubber treads, crampons) to prevent slipping.
  • Make sure to have equipment such as a snow shovel, candles, flashlight, waterproof matches or lighter, and a fire extinguisher.


Partner News

Updated Tool to Help Assess and Protect Mental Healthprint this article

In today’s evolving workplace, protecting your workers' mental health is more important than ever. The updated Guarding Minds at Work online tool can help you assess, protect and promote psychological health and safety at your organization.

Many employers genuinely want to address psychological health and safety but are not sure where to start. Guarding Minds at Work is free and allows organizations to send out confidential surveys to understand what they can do to promote positive mental health.

The assessment tool and its accompanying resources have been improved with new indicators and enhancements that align with international guidelines and changes in the way we work. The generated report contains clear, updated statements and additional resources to manage psychological hazards and risks, including stress, trauma and inclusion.

Guarding Minds at Work was commissioned by Canada Life and is supported by Workplace Strategies for Mental Health. Try the tool at:  


Four Tips for Improving Workplace Safety with Plain Language print this article

CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.

New Podcast: Four Tips for Improving Workplace Safety with Plain Language

Are jargon and acronyms used everywhere in your workplace? Create a safer and more inclusive environment by using plain language. Here are four tips to get started.

Podcast runs: 5:03 Listen to the podcast now

Encore Podcast: Tips to Help Raise the Awareness on RSI Day

International Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day is February 28th. As the only non-repetitive day of the year, it’s the ideal date to devote to raising awareness of repetitive strain injuries. Listen for tips to help identify the risk factors and avoid the patterns that can lead to these injuries.

Podcast runs 3:26 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.

See the complete list of podcast topics or, better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes or Spotify and don't miss a single episode.

Last Word

Resources for Repetitive Strain Injury Awareness Dayprint this article

As the most frequent type of lost-time injury and the single largest source of lost-time costs in the country, preventing musculoskeletal disorders, also known as repetitive strain injuries (RSI), deserves repeated and ongoing attention in the workplace.

Help amplify RSI Awareness Day on February 28 by sharing information about the risk factors, signs and tips to help keep workers safe. Download social media cards and website badges on our RSI Awareness Day webpage to spread the message. This central hub also provides access to free fact sheets, infographics, posters, podcasts and online courses.


The CCOHS Forum is Back: Register Nowprint this article

Join us September 26-27 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

There is no other health and safety event like this in Canada. This two-day national event will bring together leaders, change makers, and subject experts representing government, labour, and workplaces, to share their knowledge and experience around current and emerging health and safety issues.

Register now at the early bird rate. A student rate is also available.

More information is available on our website:

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