Chemicals and contact lenses

Since 1978, the USA's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended  that workers not wear contact lenses when working with chemicals that can irritate or harm the eyes. In recent years, however, several groups have issued new guidelines that remove most of the previous restrictions on the wearing of contact lenses where there is risk of chemical exposure.

Given the new guidelines, and because there is a lack of data indicating that contact lens wear is harmful in the presence of hazardous chemicals, NIOSH has issued a Current Intelligence Bulletin (CIB) to disseminate new scientific information and make new recommendations.

NIOSH recommends that workers be permitted to wear contact lenses when handling hazardous chemicals, provided that these safety guidelines are followed:

  1. Conduct an eye injury hazard evaluation in the workplace that includes an assessment of chemical exposures (they refer to the OSHA required personal protective equipment standard [29 CFR * 1910.132]); contact lens wear; and 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.
  2. Provide suitable eye and face protection for all workers exposed to eye injury hazards, regardless of contact lens wear.
  3. 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.
  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.
  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.
  10. Evaluate restrictions on contact lens wear on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the visual requirements of individual workers 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. NIOSH recommends these measures provided that contact lenses are not banned by regulation or made not advisable by medical or industrial recommendations.

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Last updated May 2015