More than 34 million American wear some type of contact lenses. Some people believe that wearing contacts provides an extra layer of protection for our eyes should an eye injury occur, but that just isn’t the case. In fact, contact lenses can increase the severity of some eye injuries and can themselves be the source of eye injury and infection. On the other hand, contacts can also be beneficial and even advantageous in some industrial environments. In fact, following established safety guidelines can make wearing contacts a possibility in most environments, even in industrial work environments.
The following considerations can help companies develop a safety plan with regard to contact wearers in an industrial environment, and it can also help anyone wearing contacts keep eyes as safe as possible in the work environment.
- Contacts do not qualify as personal protective equipment. OSHA requires contact lens wearers to also wear industrial safety eyewear.
- Dry eyes due to low blink rate and air fed respirators can interfere with vision thus causing a safety hazard. Dry eyes can actually cause eyes to burn as they try to compensate for a lack of lubrication, and this can interfere with vision. Use artificial tears or deliberately increase blinking to keep eyes lubricated.
- Contacts can be worn with all types of respirators because they provide “the best visual ergonomics for users of full face respirator masks.”
- According to the American Welding Association, “Wearing contact lenses poses no problem for welders in most normal situations.” In fact, OSHA, the FDA and the NSC have all found that claims by welders of contacts fusing to eyes could not have possibly happened.
- Contacts provide some benefit over wearing glasses. They do not slip down the nose or fog up. For these reasons, contacts may be a better option for some industrial workers.
- Certain situations may make avoiding wearing contacts necessary. Those situations include exposure to chemical fumes and vapors, potential for chemical splash, areas with increased dust or other flying particles, exposure to extreme infrared rays, intense heat and a dry atmosphere, and areas where caustic substances are handled. Note that some of these situations are hazardous for anyone, regardless if a person wears contacts or glasses or does not require corrective lenses.
- Major risk for soft contact lens wearers exist in environments where chemical splash is possible as well as in hot, dry environments. Some chemicals can pass through lenses while dry conditions can cause eye discomfort, and both situations can result in impaired vision and create an unsafe situation.
- Wearers of hard contact lenses have increased risk in dirty, dusty environments as well as when working with chemicals. Hard contacts can cause dirt or dust to wear down or rub on the cornea of the eye. In addition, chemicals can become trapped behind the lens, also causing harm to the cornea. For these reasons, “wearing of hard lenses may be more hazardous than soft contact lenses.”
- Sudden loss (a contact “popping” out) of a contact poses obvious dangers, especially if the incident takes place when sight is crucial for safety. However, the same problem (loss of vision correction) could occur for those who wear glasses. However, contacts may be more difficult to replace and are easier to lose.
- The American Optometric Association (AOA) has stated that “improvements in lens materials, design, fitting and care procedures have eliminated many of the problems formerly associated with contact lenses.” The AOA further noted that contact lenses do not make eyes more susceptible to injury or make matters worse.
The American Optometric Association confirms that wearing contacts in the workplace does not increase risk of eye injury and may actually increase worker safety by improving vision with “a wider field of vision than eyeglasses” as well as a more comfortable fit for wearing with safety glasses and respirators. So, contact wearers can feel secure in knowing that when paired with the right safety eyewear, they are operating in the workplace with the best vision possible.
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Stay tuned for next week’s article on “10 Tips for Safe Wear of Contacts in the Workplace.”