Historically, employers have prohibited their employees from wearing contact lenses in chemical environments, especially in the industrial and laboratory work settings. This prohibition was based upon the best medical judgment and opinions of healthcare professionals concerned with the absorption and adsorption of chemicals to the contact lens surface, as well as complications associated with emergency treatment for chemical splashes to the eye.
Several prominent medical groups issued revised guidelines to removed prohibitions on the use of contact lenses in the industrial environment. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reviewed these guidelines, as well as company policies on the use of contact lenses, published literature on chemical absorption and adsorption of contact lenses, and injuries involving contact lenses.
In June 2005, NIOSH issued Current Intelligence Bulletin #59 that summarized their review of these issues associated with contact lens use while working with chemicals, and they recommended that workers be permitted to wear contact lenses when handling hazardous chemicals, provided:
- Employers follow the guidelines contained in Current Information Bulletin #59,
- Contact lens use is not banned by regulation, and
- Contact lens use is not contraindicated by medical or safety recommendations.
The rationale for this recommendation is that wearing contact lenses provides workers with a greater choice of eye and face protection, as well as better visual acuity.
The standard operating procedures contained in the Rutgers Chemical Hygiene Guide requires individuals to wear appropriate eye protection in all labs where chemicals, dusts, and powders are used. Typically, appropriate eye protection means splash goggles where liquids are prepared, manipulated, and transferred to other containers. However, laboratory and department Chemical Hygiene Plans may specify other eye protection as appropriate based upon a hazard assessment of their work activities.
The Rutgers Laboratory Safety and Design Committee, comprised of tenured faculty and staff members, discussed the guidelines contained in NIOSH Bulletin #59 and reviewed the existing university policy on contact lens use in the laboratory. At the June 15, 2006 Laboratory Safety and Design Committee meeting, the committee recommended the continued use of prescription eyewear with chemical splash goggles while working in the laboratory. However, laboratory workers may wear contact lenses if all the following conditions are met:
- The principal investigator and/or Chemical Hygiene Officer must enforce the use of appropriate eye protection, regardless of contact lens use in the lab.
- Regulations do not prohibit contact lenses for specific substances used in the lab. Principal investigators and laboratory workers must consult material safety data sheets (MSDS’s), hazardous substance fact sheets (HSFS’s), or REHS to confirm compliance with this requirement.
- The principal investigator and/or Chemical Hygiene Officer does not prohibit the use of contact lenses in the Chemical Hygiene Plan.
REHS will initiate an assessment of the work activities, the visual acuity required to complete tasks, and the substances used by an individual in response to any of the following issues:
- When the principal investigator, department chair, or chemical hygiene officer determines an individual may not wear contact lenses,
- When an individual has a medical need to wear contact lenses based upon an optometrist or physician’s opinion, or
- When an employee reports eye irritation while wearing contact lenses in the laboratory environment.
The same requirements and conditions for wearing contact lenses apply in undergraduate teaching laboratories, except that the department chair or the lab director, in consultation with the department chair, has the responsibility and/or authority to determine whether or not students may wear contact lenses.
- NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin #59 – Contact Lens Use in the Laboratory Environment
- OSHA General Industry Standards – Substance Specific Recommendations Against Contact Lens Use