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Eye Protection in Laboratory Spaces

Protective eyewear must be worn in all laboratory spaces where physical, biological, and chemical hazards are present or whenever there is a chance of an eye injury. Eye injuries in laboratory spaces are very common and can result in serious eye damage. Eye injuries are preventable by wearing lightweight and impact-resistant safety glasses, goggles, or face shields.

Every day about 2000 U.S. workers sustain a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment. Eye protection must be worn when hazards (physical, chemical, biological, radiological) are present in a laboratory space. Commonly overlooked hazards that require eye protection include cleaning supplies (i.e., bleach, 70% ethanol) and working with materials undergoing rapid temperature changes (i.e., heating agarose in a hot water bath or microwave). Cornell's Chemical Hygiene Plan follows the OSHA laboratory standard, which requires the use of eye protection. EHS requires that Principal Investigators and laboratory supervisors make the use of eye protection a mandatory requirement for all laboratory personnel, including visitors, working in or entering laboratories. It is the responsibility of the PI, lab supervisor, or designee to perform a risk assessment for their laboratory spaces, identify whether eye protection is required, and train lab staff on task-specific hazards. When making eye protection required, signage must be posted at the main entrance (on the HASP sign) stating eye protection is required in the laboratory space.

Eye Protection in Biological Laboratories

To help determine whether eye protection is required in your biological laboratory, the CDC publication, Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, states "Protective eyewear is worn by personnel when conducting procedures that have the potential to create splashes and sprays of microorganisms or other hazardous materials."

Some activities that have the potential to create splashes and sprays include:

  • Pipetting
  • Mixing
  • Centrifugation
  • Blending
  • Vortexing
  • Loading Syringes
  • Pouring liquids
  • Opening Containers
  • Streaking Plates
  • Using Disinfectants to Clean

If these activities are being performed, eye protection is required in the laboratory space.

When Working in Laboratory Spaces

  • Be aware of potential eye safety hazards within the laboratory spaces. Hazards can include biological agents, chemicals (including disinfectants), optical radiation, heat, etc.
  • Protective eyewear must be worn in all laboratory spaces where physical, biological, chemical hazards are present or whenever there is a chance of an eye injury.
  • There are prescription safety glasses or over the glass (OTG) safety glasses are available. Standard prescription glasses are not impact resistant and are not suitable alternatives to safety glasses.
  • "Fit testing" is needed to ensure the protective eyewear fits appropriately. 
  • Be sure all safety eyewear is marked "ANSI Z87."
  • Know the location of the nearest eyewash station, what practices should be performed if an eye exposure occurs, how to work the eyewash station, and where to report the incident. Incidents that should be reported include – injury, illness, exposure, injury-free or near miss.

Types of Eye Protection

Specific PPE requirements in the lab must meet the regulation and must be delegated and enforced by the PI or laboratory manager. 
Safety Glasses
Example Image of Safety Glasses

Safety Glasses

Safety glasses provide eye protection from moderate impact and particles associated with grinding, sawing, scaling, broken glass, minor chemical splashes, etc. Safety glasses do not provide adequate protection for processes that involve heavy chemical use, such as stirring, pouring, or mixing. These protective eyeglasses have safety frames constructed of metal or plastic and impact-resistant lenses. All safety glasses must have side shields to provide side impact protection.

Safety Goggles
Example Image of Safety Goggles

Chemical Safety Goggles

These are tight-fitting eye protection that completely covers the eyes and provides protection from chemical splashes, impact, and dust. Goggles are routinely used for protection against chemical splash hazards, use of concentrated corrosive material, and bulk chemical transfer. Some goggles will fit over corrective lenses.

Laser Safety Goggles
Example Image of Laser Safety Goggles

Laser Safety Goggles

These specialty goggles protect different wavelengths of light produced by lasers. The type of laser safety goggles an employer chooses will depend upon the equipment and operating conditions in the space.

Face Shield
Example Image of Face Shield

Face Shields

These transparent sheets of plastic extend from the eyebrows to below the chin and across the entire width of the head. Face shields protect against nuisance dust and potential splashes or sprays of hazardous liquids but will not provide adequate protection against impact hazards. Face shields must not be used alone and are not a substitute for appropriate protective eyewear. When impact protection is needed, goggles or safety glasses must be used in conjunction with the face shield.

How to Obtain Protective Eyewear

  1. Determine which type of eye protection is most appropriate for the laboratory
  2. Both general and prescription eye protection can be purchased through VWR or Grainger.
    • If buying for the laboratory, it is recommended that several sizes are ordered, and "fit testing" is performed with each laboratory member to ensure the glasses provide adequate protection.

Contact EHS Research Safety for consultation on what type of eye protection would be appropriate for your laboratory space and "fit testing" laboratory members.

For more information on Cornell PPE requirements: Visit the EHS PPE Program homepage.

More Information

  1. Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (6th Edition)
  2. Eye Safety NIOSH
  3. Ribes R, Iannarelli P, Duarte RF, Ribes R, Iannarelli P, Duarte RF. Laboratory Safety and Biohazards. In: English for Biomedical Scientists. Springer Berlin Heidelberg; 2009:210-222. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-77127-2_13
  4. OSHA: Eye and Face Protection
  5. Laboratory Safety Manual
  6. Radiation Safety Manual
  7. Biosafety Manual (BSL1 &2)
  8. Cornell University PPE Written Program