Eye injury – flash burns

From time to time, farmers need to weld. Flash burn, also known as ‘welders flash’, ‘arc 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. Flash burns is like really bad sunburn in the eye. Flash burn occurs when the eye is exposed to bright ultraviolet (UV) light which can occur when using a welding torch. 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 eye)
  • watery eyes
  • sensation of “sand in the eye”
  • abnormal sensitivity to light
  • inability to look at light sources (photophobia)

The treatment of flash burn will depend on the severity and includes local anaesthetic drops, pain killers and eye padding to rest the eye.  Darkening the room and avoiding light can assist. If you have contact lenses remove them.  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 is when welding is undertaken without using appropriate 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.

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. It can also occur during a solar eclipse if you are looking directly at the sun for a prolonged period of time. Given farmers, at times, need to work in direct sunlight, owning and wearing a pair of approved UVA and UVB protectant sunglass will assist with preventing an episode of flash burn.  

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 bright ultraviolet (UV) light If you experiencing symptoms of flash burn, see medical attention and follow instruction.
  • Untreated flash burns can cause infection and permanent eye damage.
  • Always use a recommended AS/NZS welder’s visor when welding.

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

Industrial Safety and Hygiene News
All about welder’s flash or arc eye

Clinical care:

Australian Doctor
How to treat: minor farm issues

Safer Care Victoria
Eye injuries (Flash burns) 

Research & reviews:

Australian Institute Health and Welfare
Eye-related injuries in Australia

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