New Guideline Issued for Contact Lens Use in the Workplace

Contact lenses are not eye protective devices and wearing them in an industrial environment does not reduce the need for eye and face protection, says the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) in its newest guideline, "The Use of Contact Lenses in an Industrial Environment."

ACOEM's guideline supports OSHA's position that the use of contact lenses does not pose additional hazards to workers, and reiterates the agency's regulations that require individuals who wear contact lenses in the workplace to combine them with appropriate industrial eye protection.

Many of the more than 34 million Americans who wear contact lenses are employed in the industrial workforce. "Individuals who wear contact lenses in the workplace must combine them with appropriate industrial safety eyewear or a respirator as required by the hazard analysis," says Bernard Blais, M.D., chair of the ACOEM Eye and Vision Committee that developed the guideline. "The recommendations set forth in the ACOEM guideline will aid occupational and environmental medicine professionals to implement a sound and safe contact lens policy one that will facilitate the proper use of contact lenses in an industrial environment," he adds.

ACOEM's guideline recommends that workers be permitted to wear contact lenses when handling most hazardous chemicals and in other eye-hazardous environments provided safety guidelines are followed and the use of contact lenses is not banned by regulation or contraindicated by medical or industrial hygiene recommendations. Workers needing corrective lenses may wear full-face respirators since the lenses do not interfere with the face piece seal. In fact, contact lenses provide the best visual ergonomics for users of full-face respirator masks.

Other recommendations include establishing a written policy documenting general safety requirements for the wearing of contact lenses taking into account the visual requirements of individual workers wearing contact lenses, as recommended by a qualified ophthalmologist or optometrist and conducting an eye injury hazard evaluation in the workplace. In addition, employers should provide training on proper contact lens use and on first aid for contact lens wearers experiencing a chemical exposure.

The guideline is posted on the ACOEM Web site at www.acoem.org and will also be published in a future issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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