10 Steps to Keep Contact Wearers Safe in Chemical Environments

To keep contact lens wearers safe in chemical environments, NIOSH recommends these guidelines.

NIOSH recommends that workers be permitted to wear contact lenses when handling hazardous chemicals provided that the safety guidelines below here are followed and that contact lenses are not banned by regulation or contraindicated by medical or industrial hygiene recommendations.

1. Conduct an eye injury hazard evaluation in the workplace that includes an assessment of the following:

  • Chemical exposures
  • Contact lens wear among affected employees
  • 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

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2. Provide suitable eye protection for all workers exposed to eye injury hazards, regardless of contact lens wear. NIIOSH says the wearing contact lenses does not appear to require enhanced eye protection. For chemical vapor, liquid, or caustic dust hazards, the minimum protection consists of well-fitting nonvented 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.

3. Establish a written policy documenting general safety requirements for wearing contact lenses, including the eye protection required and any contact lens wear restrictions by work location or task. In addition to providing the general training required by the OSHA PPE 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.

4. Comply with current OSHA regulations on contact lens wear and eye and face protection.

5. Notify workers and visitors about any defined areas where contact lenses are restricted.

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6. 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.

7. Train medical and first aid personnel in the removal of contact lenses and have the appropriate equipment available.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

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