A story still circulating around the workplace is about a U.S. worker who was wearing his contact lenses when he was exposed to a welding arc. According to the story, the lenses fused to his eyes, and later, when he removed the lenses, the corneas went with them. Allegedly, the worker was permanently blinded from that incident.
The good news is, that story is false. The even better news is that contact lens wearers probably have no cause for alarm – contact lenses “have no effect on the hazards associated with welding” according to the article linked below. They are also unlikely to affect workers in arc flash wearing proper PPE.
The actual story involves a US worker in a Baltimore shipyard. In 1967, this worker, wearing his contact lens, was plugging in equipment. A switch box exploded in his face. Fortunately, the worker was ALSO WEARING SAFETY GLASSES at the time. He was treated the next day for minor corneal injuries, but both doctors tending to him said the injuries stemmed from over-wearing the lenses, NOT from the arc flash itself. He had already been wearing them before the incident occurred, and then he kept them in his eyes for another 17 hours. The worker regained normal vision in a few days. He also did not suffer long-term effects from the injury.
Since 1967, more scientific research has been done on this issue. Because of this research, the negative views about wearing contact lenses on the job are changing, and new guidelines are being implemented into the workplace.
All About Vision has lots of information about what contact lenses are made of. Contacts contain a high percentage of water. Many of the newer ones are high silicone containing hydrogels.
We did one arc test on a contact lens previously owned by Hugh Hoagland. They were high silicone containing hydrogels, and they shriveled a little and became like glass falling from the mannequin’s eyes. It is unlikely contact lenses would hurt a worker in an arc if the proper PPE is worn. Companies will have to make decisions based on the best evidence. But we still need to tamp down the fake safety news.
A more in-depth list of recommendations by NIOSH is listed in this informative article, published in 2007.
We want to keep this up-to-date; if you find more info, comment with credible links!