Contact Lens Use in a Chemical Environment

©

Guidelines to help occupational safety and health professionals and employers implement a contact lens use policy

Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Current Intelligence Bulletin 59

Wearing contact lenses under some circumstances provides workers with a greater choice of eye and face protection (such as goggles or full-facepiece respirators without prescription inserts) as well as better visual acuity. However, the risk is unknown for contact lens wearers compared with non-
wearers working with chemicals listed in the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.1

Currently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends against contact lens use when working with acrylonitrile, methylene chloride, 1,2 dibromo-3-chloropropane, ethylene oxide and methylene dianiline. These recommendations are presumably based on best professional judgment, as no specific bases are provided in the preambles to these standards.

RECOMMENDATIONS

It’s important to provide suitable eye and face protection for all workers exposed to eye injury hazards, regardless of contact lens wear. © Vadim – stock.adobe.com

NIOSH recommends that workers be permitted to wear contact lenses when handling hazardous chemicals, provided that the safety guidelines listed here are followed and contact lenses are not banned by regulation or contraindicated by medical or industrial hygiene recommendations. However, contact lenses are not eye protective devices, and wearing them does not reduce the requirement for eye and face protection. The following guidelines for contact lens use in a chemical environment will help occupational safety and health professionals and employers safely implement the contact lens use policy:

  1. Conduct an eye injury hazard evaluation in the workplace that includes an assessment of the following:
    • Chemical exposures (as required by OSHA’s personal protective equipment standard [29 CFR* 1910.132])
    • Contact lens wear
    • Appropriate eye and face protection for contact lens wearers

The eye injury hazard evaluation should be conducted by a competent, qualified person, such as a certified industrial hygienist, a certified safety professional or a toxicologist.

Information from the hazard evaluation should be provided to the examining occupational health nurse or occupational medicine physician.

The chemical exposure assessment for all workers should include, at a minimum, an evaluation of the properties of the chemicals in use—including concentration, permissible exposure limits, known eye irritant/injury properties, form of chemical (powder, liquid or vapor) and possible routes of exposure. The assessment for contact lens wearers should include a review of the available information about lens absorption and adsorption for the class of chemicals in use and an account of the injury experience for the employer or industry, if known.

  1. Provide suitable eye and face protection for all workers exposed to eye injury hazards, regardless of contact lens wear. Wearing contact lenses does not appear to require enhanced eye and face protection. For chemical vapor, liquid, or caustic dust hazards, the minimum protection consists of well-fitting non-vented or indirectly-vented goggles or full-facepiece respirators. Close-fitting safety glasses with side protection provide limited chemical protection but do not prevent chemicals from bypassing the protection. Workers should wear face shields over other eye protection when needed for additional face protection; but they should not wear face shields instead of goggles or safety glasses — regardless of contact lens wear.
  2. Establish a written policy documenting general safety requirements for wearing contact lenses, including the eye and face protection required, and any contact lens wear restrictions by work location or task. In addition to providing the general training required by the OSHA personal protective equipment standard [29 CFR 1910.132], provide training in employer policies on contact lens use; chemical exposures that may affect contact lens wearers; and first aid for contact lens wearers with a chemical exposure.
  3. Comply with current OSHA regulations on contact lens wear and eye and face protection.
  4. Notify workers and visitors about any defined areas where contact lenses are restricted.
  5. Identify to supervisors all contact lens wearers working in chemical environments to ensure that the proper hazard assessment is completed and the proper eye protection and first aid equipment are available.
  6. Train medical and first aid personnel in the removal of contact lenses and have the appropriate equipment available.
  7. In the event of a chemical exposure, begin eye irrigation immediately and remove contact lenses as soon as practical. Do not delay irrigation while waiting for contact lens removal.
  8. Instruct workers who wear contact lenses to remove the lenses at the first signs of eye redness or irritation. Contact lenses should be removed only in a clean environment after the workers have thoroughly washed their hands. Evaluate continued lens wear with the worker and the prescribing ophthalmologist or optometrist. Encourage workers to routinely inspect their contact lenses for damage and/or replace them regularly.
  9. Evaluate restrictions on contact lens wear on a case-by-case basis. Take into account the visual requirements of individual workers wearing contact lenses, as recommended by a qualified ophthalmologist or optometrist.

These recommendations are for work with chemical hazards. They do not address hazards from heat, radiation, or high-dust or high-particulate environments. IHW


  1. 1 www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/default.html

Share on Socials!

Related Articles

Related Articles

Emergency Eyewash & Shower Equipment: ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014

“Standards provide guidance so various groups understand both expectations and their purpose. ANSI Z358.1 explains what is needed to provide a safe environment and the minimum ...
Read More

Uncharted Waters: Navigating During a Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world has been referred to as “unprecedented,” “once-in-a-generation” and called an event that is having “global repercussions.” All of that is ...
Read More

How to Use Gas Detection Data to Your Advantage

It’s not uncommon for workers to doubt gas alarms. Always make sure gas detection software notifies a safety manager if workers shut off gas monitors while ...
Read More