Wearing Contacts in An Industrial Environment
About 45 million Americans wear some type of contact lenses. Some people believe wearing contacts provides an extra layer of protection should an eye injury occur, but that just isn’t the case.
Contact lenses can increase the severity of some eye injuries and can themselves be the source of eye injury and infection. However, they can also be beneficial in some industrial environments when established safety guidelines are followed.
Contact Safety in An Industrial Environment
Use the following considerations and tips to develop a safety plan for contact wearers in an industrial environment:
- Contacts do not qualify as personal protective equipment. OSHA requires contact lens wearers to also wear industrial safety eyewear.
- Contacts can be worn with all types of respirators and actually provide “the best visual ergonomics for users of full-face respirator masks.”
- Dry eyes caused by air fed respirators can interfere with vision. Use artificial tears or deliberately increase blinking to keep eyes lubricated.
- Claims by welders of contacts fusing to eyes could not have happened. In fact, according to the American Welding Association, “Wearing contact lenses poses no problem for welders in most normal situations.
- Contacts provide some benefit over wearing glasses. They do not slip down the nose or fog up, making them a better option for some industrial workers.
- Certain situations may make wearing contacts unsafe. Exposure to chemical fumes and vapor as well as the possibility of chemical splash are some examples. Increased dust or other flying particles, and exposure to extreme infrared rays, intense heat and a dry atmosphere are also problematic.
- Wearing hard contact lenses presents an increased risk in dirty, dusty environments and when working with chemicals. Hard contacts cause dirt or dust to wear down or rub on the cornea of the eye. Also, chemicals can become trapped behind the lens. For these reasons, “wearing of hard lenses may be more hazardous than soft contact lenses.”
- Sudden loss (“popping” out) of a contact lens poses obvious dangers, especially if it happens when sight is crucial for safety. Contacts can be difficult to replace and easy to lose, so have a backup plan.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) says
“Improvements in lens materials, design, fitting and care procedures have eliminated many of the problems formerly associated with contact lenses.”
The AOA further notes that contact lenses do not make eyes more susceptible to injury or make matters worse. Wearing contacts in the workplace does not increase the 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.
Contact wearers can feel secure knowing that when paired with the right safety eyewear and when safety protocols are followed, they are operating in the workplace with the best vision possible.