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Emergency Eyewash Stations for the Workplace

The first 10 to 15 seconds after exposure to corrosive substances or hazardous chemicals are critical to preventing serious eye injury. Emergency eyewash stations provide on-the-spot drenching facilities which allow workers to flush away hazardous substances that could cause injury if not quickly removed.

Because accidental exposures can occur even with good engineering controls and personal protective equipment programs in place, an eyewash station is a necessary backup to minimize their effects.

Requirements for Emergency Eyewash Stations

According to OSHA, emergency eyewash stations are required where a person’s eyes may be exposed to harmful corrosive materials. Work areas and operations that may require eyewash stations include, but are not limited to:

  • Battery charging areas
  • Laboratories
  • Spraying operations
  • High dust areas
  • Dipping operations
  • Hazardous substance dispensing areas

Eyewash equipment should always be accessible. Injured employees may have difficulty locating the eyewash station, so place it as close to the hazard as possible.

ANSI recommends that a person be able to reach the emergency eyewash station in no more than 10 seconds, or approximately 50-75 feet. The location of each station should be well lit and identified by a sign understood by all employees.

Emergency eyewash stations should also:

  • Be on an unobstructed path from the hazard area
  • Not be separated by walls or doors from the hazardous work area
  • Be located near an emergency exit where emergency response personnel will have easy access to the employee
  • Not be located near any energized electrical equipment
  • Have drainage or water collection means under the device
  • Be protected from freezing, if installed outdoors

Plumbed Emergency Eyewash Stations

Plumbed emergency eyewash stations are preferred in most situations. The injured employee should be able to open their eyelids with their hands and still have their eyes in the water.

According to ANSI, plumbed eyewash stations should be:

  • Designed to deliver tepid (60-100º F) water to both eyes at a volume of at least 0.4 gallons per minute for 15 minutes
  • Between 33 and 45 inches from the floor
  • A minimum of 6 inches from the wall or nearest obstruction
  • Equipped with nozzle covers that are removed automatically when the unit is activated to protect the nozzles from airborne contaminants

For plumbed eyewash station maintenance, ANSI recommends:

  • Testing for at least three minutes each week to flush the lines and verify proper operation
  • Completing preventative maintenance inspections at least annually to check for problems such as valve leakage, clogged lines and nozzles and adequacy of water volume
  • Retaining documentation of completed tests

Self-Contained Emergency Eyewash Stations

Self-contained, or portable, emergency eyewash stations should be used where installation of a plumbed eyewash station is not feasible, such as for mobile crews and temporary work locations. Self-contained eyewash stations follow the same guidelines as plumbed eyewash stations regarding placement, fluid volume and signage.

Self-contained eyewash units require regular maintenance of the flushing solution used to control bacterial growth.

  • The flushing solution should be changed several times per year, based on the manufacturer’s specifications
  • The tank should be flushed with fresh water prior to refilling to eliminate any residue
  • A record showing the date of the last solution change-out, initialed by the responsible party, should be attached to the exterior of the portable unit

Know When to Use Eyewash Bottles

The main purpose of eyewash bottles is to supply immediate flushing of the eyes until a self-contained or plumbed emergency eyewash can be reached. Eyewash bottles should not be used as the only method for employees to flush their eyes because:

  • Holding the eyelids open while handling the bottle can be very difficult
  • Eyewash bottles cannot flush both eyes simultaneously
  • The water supply does not usually last long enough to completely flush the eyes

Eyewash bottles have expiration dates. Perform monthly inspections of eyewash bottle locations to ensure bottles are full, present, and not expired. Expired eyewash bottles should be replaced.

If your facility uses eyewash bottles as the only method for an employee to flush their eyes, a plumbed or self-contained unit should be installed.

Train Employees on Proper Eyewash Station Procedures

All employees who may be exposed to corrosive substances or hazardous chemicals should be trained on the location and operation of eyewash stations. Never assume that employees are aware of the proper procedure for using the units in your facility.

Studies have shown that despite the 15-minute flushing recommendation, exposed employees usually flush for less than five minutes. Eyewash training should cover at least the following information:

  • Location and operation of emergency eyewash stations
  • “Hands-on” experience using the eyewash station
  • Quick removal of contact lenses prior to using the eyewash station
  • Review of exposed chemical’s Safety Data Sheet to determine the manufacturer’s recommended flushing times
  • Procedures for summoning emergency personnel, if necessary

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