Mandatory wearing of eye protection in Biological Containment Laboratories (CL1, CL2, and CL3)

The University’s Biorisk Management Policy (S5/09) states that the wearing of eye protection in Containment Laboratories is mandatory at all times.  It also identifies specific circumstances where this control may be relaxed.  This originally included the wearing of “normal” prescription spectacles when not undertaking hazardous work or when sitting at desk/office space within a Containment Laboratory. 

This particular derogation has been incorrectly interpreted in some departments to mean that safety spectacles do not have to be worn at all if prescription spectacles are worn.  This has resulted in several incidents of exposure to hazardous agents.  Additionally, there have been instances of wearers of “normal” prescription spectacles taking advantage of this relaxation then suffering exposures or injuries to eyes through the hazardous activities of colleagues working in close proximity. 

The Consultative Committee for Health and Safety has therefore considered and approved the removal of this derogation from the policy to prevent any such misinterpretation and the consequent risk of any further exposures and injuries.  The Policy will now read as follows under section 3. Biorisk management procedures:

(m)    Miscellaneous requirements

(i)        Personal protective equipment and laboratory clothing

Protective eyewear must be worn when working in Containment Laboratories, or other overt “wet” biological laboratories or support rooms (e.g. autoclave facilities).  This eyewear may take the form of safety spectacles for general work, or more robust eye protection, such as goggles or face shields where identified as required by risk assessment.  It is recommended that all laboratory workers are provided with their own personal pair of safety spectacles and all departments are obliged to provide employees with prescription eye protection where this is required.[AMHT1] 

Workers seated at write-up areas located in Containment Level 1 or 2 Laboratories and clearly demarcated from wet laboratory benches (see point iv. under Section 3. (l) Containment laboratories and containment levels) are permitted to remove laboratory coats and eye protection whilst undertaking paper, computer, or other “office” type work where there is no risk of exposure to the activities of other laboratory workers or processes in close proximity.  Laboratory coats, gloves, and eye protection must be worn at all times in Containment Level 3 Laboratories.

Most activities in biological containment laboratories involve the use of hazardous agents of one kind or another (biological, radiological, chemical, physical etc.) and most procedural risk assessments will identify that eye protection is required with the hazard - permanent damage to, or loss of eyesight - being particularly high.  The use of eye protection is therefore essential and must be encouraged and reinforced by departments by whatever means are necessary.

Departmental action

  1. Departments must ensure that appropriate eye protection is available to all users of containment laboratories.   Protective eyewear takes the form of safety spectacles or over-spectacles that cover normal prescription safety spectacles, goggles, and face shields.  Further information is given in University Policy Statement S8/10 Eye Protection.
  1. University of Oxford staff and postgraduate students working full time in containment laboratories or other “wet” laboratories must be provided with their own personal eye protection which is expected to take the form of safety spectacles.  NB Containment Level 3 workers will require additional eye protection to be kept within the CL3 facility.


  1. Where point 2. includes laboratory workers having impaired vision and normally requiring prescription spectacles to see properly such workers must be provided with prescription safety spectacles (information below) if required.  The use of contact lenses with normal safety spectacles may obviate this requirement but this must not be used as a reason not to provide prescription eye protection where the worker is not a regular contact lens wearer.  Several manufacturers provide safety spectacles with reading inserts that can be used where the worker has predictable age-related presbyopia (information below).
  1. The Consultative Committee on Health and Safety has determined that funding for all eye protection must be provided by departments as for all other required personal protective equipment.  Departments should determine whether to fund this action centrally but must ensure it is undertaken if it is devolved to research group charge centres.


Visitors, including researchers from other institutions, contractors, or short-term students working in containment or biomedical/life science teaching laboratories must be provided with communal safety spectacles or over-spectacles (where prescription safety spectacles are worn).  Such items should be kept in good order and replaced as necessary.  There is no requirement to provide prescription safety spectacles for this category of worker. NB there is no absolute requirement for any visitor (e.g. administration or security staff, passing research staff or students) passing through a Containment Level 1 or 2 laboratory briefly to don eye protection unless a risk assessment or local policy mandates its use (some departments do operate a mandatory wearing of personal protective equipment at all times in all levels of containment laboratories).

Eye protection must always be worn when working at microbiological safety cabinets.  The sash window of a cabinet will provide some protection but almost all significant eye exposures to high titre biological agents occur when working at microbiological safety cabinets, either through direct work or when clearing materials away afterwards through splashing.

Workers in Biomedical Services units should adhere to risk assessments in their individual units but must wear eye protection when working in procedure rooms, autoclave facilities, or other rooms/laboratories where there may be biological agents in use.

Workers are not expected to wear eye protection when engaged in microscopy but must re-don protection when working elsewhere in containment laboratories.  Additionally, microscopy rooms separated from any wet laboratory work can be deemed dry and are “non-containment”.  Eye protection will not normally be required in such rooms. 

Impact-protective face shields must always be worn when working with cryogenic liquids.  Safety spectacles should also be worn underneath wherever possible.

UV-protective safety spectacles must not be used as the sole eye protection when working with UV light but must be accompanied by a UV-rated face shield to ensure the rest of the face is protected.

Prescription protective eye wear

On-line purchasing: Individuals can obtain prescription spectacles by sending a recent prescription along with an order form indicating the chosen style to one of the following:



Both the above require departmental registration in the first instance.  Other on-line sources are:



In-house clinic:  The Department of Chemistry arranges clinics for its laboratory workers requiring prescription safety spectacles with David Clulow Opticians (  This opticians has an arrangement with Parmalee providing over 30 models of safety spectacles.  Departments may wish to avail themselves of a similar service workers or individuals can arrange an appointment and subsequent purchase themselves using a departmental purchase order.

Off-the-shelf purchase:  Reading safety spectacles with straightforward +0.5 to +2.5 dioptre inserts (“BX Readers”) are available from 3M and are supplied by both VWR and Fisher.  Other similar models are also available from Bollé and Uvex.

Laboratory workers requiring prescription lenses but who have difficulty using prescription safety spectacles or have difficulty obtaining a suitable lens prescription and frame combination should consult with the University’s Occupational Health Service and Safety Office to assist with helping identify a safe means of working.               

4 October 2017                                                                                                

 [AMHT1] BSAG amended para read: Many routine protocols used within Containment Laboratories or other biological laboratories determine that eye protection must be worn.   This control must be enforced  rigorously.   It is recommended strongly that eye protection is worn at all times at Containment  Levels 1 and 2.  Eye protection must be worn at all times when working in Containment Level 3 laboratories. [AMHT1]