The eyes are one of the most sensitive organs in the body, with permanent damage occurring in a matter of seconds. In order to protect workers from an accidental splash into the eye, facilities with hazardous chemicals must maintain eyewash stations in the workplace. Eyewash stations are easily accessible and allow workers to quickly flush out any hazardous substances with a fluid like potable water or saline solutions.
OSHA’s standard for eyewash stations (29 CFR 1910.151(c)) states: “Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick Frenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate use.” That is it for their station requirements but OSHA does refer to the American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment standard (ANSI/ISEA Z358.1).
Some different types of eyewash stations include:
- Portable: Portable eyewash stations are ideal for workers on the move or when worksites change every couple of weeks. Options can range from a simple bottle of flushing solution that can be easily carried around up to stations housed in a hard-shell carrying case.
- Permanent: Permanently installed eyewash stations (also called plumbed stations) are connected to a source of potable water and can activate in one second or less.
- Combo: Some facilities must also install an emergency shower for workers to immediately decontaminate. There are stations available that contain both features of a shower and emergency eyewash.
Eyewashes are not a frequently used first aid measure, but failure to maintain them can be disastrous in an emergency. Facilities and work sites should develop a plan to routinely check up on eyewash or emergency shower stations to ensure they are in proper working order. At a minimum, all stations need to be inspected annually to evaluate compliance with ANSI Z358.1.
Before choosing an eyewash station, it is important to perform a hazard analysis of the workplace. Take note of where the risk for eye contamination is at most risk and how much flushing fluid is appropriate. Even if engineering controls are in place and workers are provided with safety goggles, if the hazard is not completely eliminated then emergency eyewashes should be available in the case of accidental exposure.