New guidelines for wearing contacts around chemicals
New guidelines for wearing contacts around chemicals
NIOSH updates recommendations
In the wake of new medical guidelines for contact lens use in industrial settings, the National Insti-tute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued new recommendations for safe use of contact lenses in chemical environments.
The American Optometric Association, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Chemical Society, and Prevent Blindness America have, in recent years, issued new guidelines that remove most of the restrictions that they previously had placed against wearing contact lenses in industrial environments.
NIOSH reviewed the new guidelines, the limited literature on the use of contact lenses in a chemical environment and the potential absorption and adsorption of chemicals by contact lenses, and company policies on contact lens use and injuries involving contact lenses among a small number of chemical manufacturing firms, and responded with new guidelines of its own.
NIOSH recommends that workers be permitted to wear contact lenses when handling hazardous chemicals provided that some safety guidelines are followed and that contact lenses are not banned by regulation or contraindicated by medical or industrial hygiene recommendations.
However, in its announcement of the new guidelines, NIOSH reminds occupational health managers that contact lenses are not eye protective devices, and workers should be aware that wearing them does not reduce the requirement for eye and face protection.
The guidelines advises employers to:
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.
A competent, qualified person such as a certified industrial hygienist, a certified safety professional, or a toxicologist should conduct the eye injury hazard evaluation. 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.
2. 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 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. 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.
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. Besides 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.
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. 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.
These recommendations are for work with chemical hazards. They do not address hazards from heat, radiation, or high-dust or high-particulate environments.
The full text of the new guidelines are found at www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2005-139/#f.
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