Eye injury – flash burns

From time to time, farmers need to undertake welding. Flash burn, (also known as ”arc eye”, “welders eye” or “arc flash”) is a common and painful complaint reported by farmers after workshop or situational welding on the farm. Flash burns occur when the cornea (the clear tissue that covers your eyes) has been exposed to ultraviolet light and radiation from welding. Flash burns is like sunburn in the eye. Flash burn occurs when the eye is exposed to bright ultraviolet (UV) light when using a welding torch device. Flash burn symptoms will start to develop a few hours after exposure, and become increasingly and incredibly painful.

Symptoms of flash burn include:

  • pain – ranging from a mild feeling of pressure in the eyes to intense pain in severe instances
  • tearing and reddening of the eye and membranes around the eye (bloodshot)
  • sensation of “sand in the eye”
  • abnormal sensitivity to light
  • inability to look at light sources (photophobia)

Treatment of flash burn will depend on the severity and includes: local anaesthetic drops, pain killers and eye padding to rest the eye. It is important to always seek medical advice if symptoms of flash burn continue as burns can become infected. If infection occurs, antibiotic treatment will be required. If an infection is left untreated there is an increased risk of vision impairment and loss.

The most common cause of flash burn on farms when welding is the absence of UV eye protection. Flash burn is easily prevented by using personal protection equipment such as a welder’s visor with an Australian and New Zealand Standard approval (AS/NZS). Eye protection against radiation generated in welding includes AS/NZS1338.1 for eye protection and AS/NZS1337 and AS/NZS1337.1 for face protection. Welding and Flash burn has been associated with increased risk of ocular melanoma.

Importantly, if welding and performing a task which generates particles damaging to the eyes, an auto darkening welding helmet / visor should comply with AS/NZS1337 or AS/NZS1337.1 face protection for high impact, otherwise protection is not suitable.

Other sources of UV radiation burns (flash burn) on farms include exposure to direct sunlight and the reflection of sun off water or snow.

Find out more information on flash burn visit Better Health Channel

See your local doctor or healthcare professional if:

  • you have increasing pain in your eyes
  • your vision is getting worse (or is blurry)
  • your eye is getting more sensitive to light
  • you are concerned for any other reason.

For health advice from a registered nurse you can call NURSE-ON-CALL 24 hours a day on 1300 60 60 24 for the cost of a local call from anywhere in Victoria.

Fast facts:

  • Flash burns feel like sunburn in your eyes and is caused by the bright ultraviolet (UV) light that comes from welding.  If you experience symptoms of flash burn, see medical attention and follow instructions.
  • Untreated flash burns can cause infection and permanent eye damage.
  • Always use a recommended AS/NZS welder’s visor/ or helmet when welding and make sure bystanders are not present.

References used for this topic

More information:

Better Health Channel
Eye safety at work

Safe work
Recommended Personal Protection Equipment for Welding

National Ag Safety Database (US)
Eye protection for farmers

Clinical care:

Safer Care Victoria
Eye injuries (Flash burns)

Research & reviews:

Lancet Oncology
Carcinogenicity of welding, molybdenum trioxide, and indium tin oxide

Australian Institute Health and Welfare
Eye-related injuries in Australia

Monash University – Monash Injury Research Institute
Unintentional adult eye injuries in Victoria