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OBJECTIVES: To describe the current epidemiology of serious ocular trauma which necessitates admission to hospital so that health and safety strategies for the prevention of ocular injuries and their role within the national health strategy, The Health of the Nation, can be better informed. DESIGN: A prospective observational study of all patients with ocular trauma admitted to hospital under the care of a consultant ophthalmologist between 1 November 1991 and 31 October 1992. SETTING: All ophthalmic department in Scotland. SUBJECTS: All patients with ocular trauma admitted to hospital in Scotland. The population of Scotland represented the population at risk of injury. MEASURES AND MAIN RESULTS: Measures included the type and cause of injury, the place where it occurred, and awareness of risk and safety. All ophthalmic departments in Scotland participated and 428 admissions were reported. The home was the most common place for a serious injury to occur (30.2%), followed by the workplace (19.6%) and a sports or leisure facility (15.8%). The home was the single most frequent place of injury for the 0-15 year and 65 year and over age groups. Tools or machinery, either at home (13.9%) or at work (10.3%), were collectively (24.2%) the most frequent cause of injury, followed by assault (21.8%) and sports-related activities (12.5%). The most frequent type of injury was a blunt injury (54.4%). Six per cent (n = 25) of all injuries were bilateral. Only 13.2% of patients were aware of any risk of injury, with 5.6% aware of any risk at home. When applicable, protective eye wear was only available to 48.6% of patients and only 19.4% of these used it. CONCLUSION: Serious ocular trauma frequently occurs at home and the young and the elderly are particularly at risk. This represents a significant change in the epidemiology of serious ocular trauma and has important implications for prevention. Health and safety strategies specifically aimed at preventing eye injury should now include the home as a high risk environment in addition to the work-place and sports/leisure facilities. The target groups for accident prevention in The Health of the Nation strategy include those at risk of serious ocular trauma with potentially sight threatening sequelae. Those involved in implementing the national accident prevention strategy should be aware of this, for in this process it is possible that some serious eye injuries may also be prevented.