In work areas where dangerous chemicals are present, emergency eyewash stations are necessary first aid equipment. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), after a chemical exposure occurs, the first 10 to 15 seconds are critical. If a person doesn’t receive first aid right away, injuries can quickly result.
OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.151(c) states that if corrosive materials that could cause injury are present, appropriate equipment for flushing the eyes must be located in the work area. OSHA also directs safety professionals to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard regarding eyewash stations (ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2009) for further guidelines related to the installation, maintenance and use of emergency eyewash stations.
Complying with these standards and making emergency eyewash stations effective in your workplace shouldn’t be too difficult, though. Get started by taking the following steps.
1. Know Your Chemicals
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If corrosive chemicals are present in your workplace, you definitely need to have emergency eyewash stations. These substances can cause serious damage to the eyes, so workers need to be able to flush their eyes quickly. ANSI also suggests having eyewash stations if there are caustic chemicals or substances that could produce negative health effects.
You’re probably already aware of what kinds of hazardous chemicals you have in your workplace since you need to comply with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom). You can consult these chemicals’ safety data sheets (SDSs) for first aid information. These sheets should indicate how to treat chemical exposures and how long the eyes will need to be flushed if the chemicals get in someone’s eyes.
2. Select Eyewash Equipment
More than one kind of emergency eyewash equipment can satisfy the requirements from OSHA and ANSI, but not all options do. Plumbed eyewash stations are ideal if a water source is available because they can supply more than enough water for any situation. Self-contained stations can also fulfill eyewash requirements as long as they have enough water to flush the eyes for at least 15 minutes (the minimum amount of time the eyes should be flushed after a chemical exposure).
These two options—plumbed and self-contained—are the most common types of eyewash stations, but two other options exist as well. Hand-held bottles can be carried by workers on the job and used to immediately flush the eyes. These bottles do not supply enough water to flush the eyes for 15 minutes, though, so they should be used as a temporary first aid solution until the affected worker can reach a larger eyewash station.
The final option is a hand-held drench hose, which can be directed at someone’s eyes. This equipment is more appropriate when one person is using it on another, since a person couldn’t easily hold the hose and hold his or her eyes open at the same time.
Note: Combined emergency shower and emergency eyewash stations also exist, and those systems usually meet OSHA and ANSI guidelines as well.
3. Place Eyewashes in Proper Locations
Emergency eyewash stations belong in any work area where workers could be exposed to dangerous chemicals, and within those areas, they need to be placed in specific locations. Oregon OSHA advises employers to place eyewash stations within a 10-second walking distance (about 55 feet) because the eyes need to be flushed with water within that short period of time.
Remember that in some cases workers may have impaired vision, so the pathways to eyewash stations cannot be obstructed in any way. Workers should also not need to go through doors to get to an eyewash station (unless another worker would always be present to help the person). Workers should also not need to travel up stairs.
CCOHS also recommends placing eyewash stations near exits so emergency responders can easily reach the person. The agency also points out that emergency eyewash stations should not be placed in locations where further contamination could occur.
4. Make Sure Features Work Properly
Emergency eyewash stations need to be easy for workers to use, so all parts need to function properly.
First, the valves the water flows through must be designed to stay open during use so workers can use their hands to hold their eyes open, according to Oregon OSHA.
Second, the eyewash station should be designed so the heads that spout water stand between 33 and 45 inches above the floor and at least 6 inches from a wall. This height will make it easiest for workers to bend and reach the water source with their eyes.
The eyewash station should also have a drainage system to collect excess water, as you wouldn’t want any chemicals to get into the workplace or flow down a drain.
5. Use Potable Water
Eyewash stations should use potable water (i.e. water that’s safe for drinking). They can also use certain chemical or isotonic solutions that are approved for eye flushing. These water alternatives are typically used in portable squeeze bottles that workers carry with them for immediate first aid.
6. Use Tepid Water
The water temperature should be comfortable, generally between 60 and 100°F. Hotter water can actually facilitate chemical reactions, causing more damage to the eyes. Colder water usually leads to discomfort, which means people tend to not flush their eyes for the full 15 minutes.
According to CCOHS, most people only use an eyewash station for five minutes or less, and that can lead to serious problems. Depending on your climate and the arrangement of your workplace, anti-scalding devices or heated plumbing may be needed to adjust the water temperature so people will be able to rinse their eyes more comfortably.
7. Ensure Eyewash Uses Correct Water Pressure
Water pressure that is too high can actually injure the eyes. The flow of water from an emergency eyewash station should be at a rate of 0.4 gallons per minute for 15 minutes.
8. Train Employees
Perhaps this goes without saying, but you can’t assume employees know how to work an eyewash station. New employees should receive hands-on training with the equipment in their work area so they feel comfortable getting to and using it quickly in an emergency. In the event chemicals splash into the eyes, the worker in question would only have 10 seconds to start flushing his or her eyes with water. Would your workers be confident enough with emergency eyewash procedures to do this?
9. Label Equipment and Routes
To help employees find eyewash stations during an emergency, make sure to label them and use signs to point workers to them. Instructions for how to use the eyewash station should also be posted next to the equipment. The injured person might not be able to read the instructions, but other workers in the area should be able to help.
This is also a good time for a reminder about hazardous chemical labeling. All your hazardous chemicals will soon need to comply with new Globally Harmonized System (GHS) labeling standards. These labels should convey important information about first aid that could help in treating a chemical exposure.
10. Test Eyewash Regularly
Finally, you need to make a maintenance schedule for eyewash stations. When water sits in the supply line of plumbed equipment, sediments can accumulate and microbes can grow. Turning the system on once per week to flush the water is recommended.
For self-contained eyewash stations, you should follow manufacturer guidelines. Fluids may expire and need to be replaced periodically.
At your weekly inspection, the EHS department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst recommends answering the following questions:
- Is the water clear?
- Are the jets working properly?
- Is the area around the station clear of obstructions?
- Is there a bucket located under the eyewash to collect runoff?
- Are there any leaks?
Add any questions that you see fit for the equipment in your workplace.
Eye accidents do happen in the workplace and eyewash stations are necessary. That being said, you should also be sure to do everything you can to protect employees from eye hazards. Read Eye Protection for the Workplace for more information about preventing eye injuries.
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