At worksites across the country, employees are regularly and routinely exposed to hazardous and corrosive chemicals. Accidental splashes of these chemicals is unfortunately common and result in painful injuries like scalds and burns, and in some cases can even permanently blind workers.

Given these dangers, it's important for everyone to exercise diligence when it comes to workplace safety. Safety managers, supervisors, and employees should all be working together to create and implement solutions to avoid accidental splash injuries.

But prevention is never completely guaranteed, so it's critical that the workplace is equipped with eyewash equipment to enable a quick emergency response in the event of a chemical splash. A speedy reaction time goes a long way to lessening the damage and preventing permanent injury.

Emergency Eyewash Requirements

The general requirement from OSHA's 29CFR 1910.151 (c) regulation reads:

Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use.

To be compliant, then, employers must be prepared for eye emergencies by providing emergency eyewash and shower equipment in the work area. And by "immediate emergency use," the standard means that the worker must be able to reach the equipment in no more than ten seconds.

The ten second requirement is not to be overlooked. If a chemical splash to the eyes occurs, the victim is likely to be suffering from irritation, pain, and possibly blindness. Being able to access the eyewash equipment as quickly as possible is essential. Therefore, the eyewash equipment must be placed in a well-lit area that is free from obstacles. It should be accompanied by prominent signage, so that the injured worker (or someone assisting them) can locate it immediately.

The ten second rule is a minimum requirement. If employees are working with highly corrosive chemicals like battery acid, chlorine, or lye, employers should consider installing equipment much closer to the hazard. Not only does this reduce the time it takes to get to eyewash equipment, it shows employees that their safety is valued.

Installing eyewash stations is not the only step employers should take – training must not be overlooked. Employees need to know where the closest eyewash station is, how to get there with restricted vision, and how to use the equipment.

Employers should also consult the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) that accompany the chemicals their workers might be exposed to. Among the useful information provided in these sheets will be a list of the first aid measures required in the event of an exposure to the chemical.

Choosing Eyewash Equipment

Generally, there are three types of eyewash equipment.

  • Plumbed eyewash units are permanently installed in the facility and can serve as eyewash, eye/face wash, eye/face wash showers, and drench hoses (find out whether your workplace needs plumbed or portable eyewash stations).
  • Self-Contained/Gravity Fed eyewash equipment holds the eyewash solution in a chamber within the unit and must be refilled after use. This is a great option for locations where there is no plumbing infrastructure to support a plumbed model. In order to comply with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards, a gravity-fed unit must hold enough fluid to provide 15 minutes of flushing. The fluid must be replaced after each use.
  • Personal eyewash is often supplied in single-use bottles and used primarily while a victim is being moved to an eye wash unit for additional treatment. These do not meet ANSI requirements and should not be used as an alternative to a 15-minute flushing station.

Water Temperature

Tepid fluid provides better, more effective first aid for victims. ANSI requires “a flushing fluid temperature conducive to promoting a minimum 15-minute irrigation period. A suitable range is 16-38ºC/60-100ºF.”

Using water that’s too cold or too hot might prevent the injured worker from carrying out the recommended fifteen minutes of flushing. Failure to completely flush the eyes can worsen injuries and prolong recovery time (learn more about Tepid Water Solutions for Emergency Safety Showers).

Ensure Working Order

Employers are responsible for ensuring that eyewash equipment is working properly.

According to ANSI, equipment should be installed, inspected, and maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Units should be tested weekly, and it’s important to note that self-contained units should also be visually checked to determine whether the flushing fluid should be changed or requires refilling. This kind of check doesn’t take long, but it can make a big difference during an emergency.

Units must also be prevented from freezing. Fortunately, manufacturers recognize that workplaces in cold climates need these special units, and they are readily available throughout the country.

Conclusion

Planning, training, good management, and the right equipment are always vital for workplace safety.

When workers are exposed to hazardous and corrosive chemicals, employers must be prepared to respond to accidental chemical spills and splashes with eyewash equipment. Using the proper eyewash equipment makes your workplace safer and minimizes long-term damage and suffering.