For employees who work with or around chemicals and other toxic substances, eyewash and shower stations are an essential part of the work environment. From health hazards like irritation and carcinogenicity to physical hazards like corrosion and flammability, these substances pose a wide range of risks to workers and can damage the eyes and skin in a matter of seconds.
The first 10 to 15 seconds after exposure to a hazardous substance are critical – especially if the substance is corrosive. Delaying treatment can cause serious injury to the worker. And yet, eyewash stations are not always given their due.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 2,000 U.S. workers require medical treatment for a job-related eye injury each day. The ANSI Z358 standard, which was most recently revised in 2014, acts as a benchmark to help protect workers from these injuries.
Common Workplace Hazards
When it comes to chemical safety, communication is a top priority. Employers have an obligation to make information about the identities of and hazards of chemicals available and clearly understandable for workers (for related advice, see In Sight, In Mind: Reinforcing Safety Policies and Procedures).
Since chemicals and other toxic substances are found across various industries, let’s look at some of the most common ones and the workplaces in which they are often used.
Common Hazardous Substance
Workplaces Frequently Exposed to Substance
Electric storage battery electrolytes
Construction sites and commercial and manufacturing facilities where batteries are serviced and handled for forklifts and other machinery
Manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of health and beauty products like hair straightener, lipstick, nail polish, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste; paper towels; photographic film; composite panel products; automobiles; wrinkle-free products; building materials; and more
Landscaping, automotive, farming, industrial cleaner manufacturing, and warehousing
Textiles; bleach, soap, and detergent manufacturing; aluminum production; drain cleaner manufacturing
Refrigeration, laboratories, pharmaceuticals, and petroleum
Pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides
Farming, landscaping, nurseries and greenhouses, agriculture
Bleach manufacturers, janitorial services, hospitals, pool and spa companies
Of course, this list is far from exhaustive and plenty more hazardous substances are used in workplaces around the country. If any chemical or other toxic substance is present in your workplace, it’s important that you get acquainted with the ANSI Z358 standard.
The ANSI Z358 Standard
This standard establishes minimum requirements for eyewash and shower equipment, which is essential for the emergency treatment of workers who have been exposed to hazardous materials.
The standard applies to emergency showers, eyewashes, eye/face washes, and combination shower/eyewashes. It provides guidelines regarding:
- Proper design of eyewash stations and showers
- Certification and testing procedures
- Performance and usage
- Maintenance of flushing equipment
- Employee training
To ensure full compliance, become familiar with the standard's major provisions:
- Units must be able to flush the eyes, body, or both for a minimum of 15 minutes
- Water flow must be soft enough not to cause additional damage to the skin or eyes
- An eyewash, shower, or combination unit must be located within 10 seconds (about 55 feet) of any identified hazard
- The eyewash or shower area must be well lit and have adequate signage (find out How to Master the Science of Sign Visibility)
- Every employee should be trained on the location and proper usage of the fixtures
- Units, including self-contained ones, should be inspected and tested every week to ensure their proper functioning
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Types of Eyewash Stations
There are three types of emergency eyewash and shower stations:
- Eyewash stations for splashes or spills where only the eyes are affected
- Eye/face wash equipment for splashes or spills where the eyes and face are affected
- Emergency showers for splashes or spills that affect larger areas of the body
Which kind you need will depend on the toxic substances kept in your workplace and the kind of tasks being carried out. Conducting a thorough job hazard assessment will guide your selection.
Look for Alarm Features on Portable Eyewash Stations – A Summons for Help
People who suffer from eye injuries often can’t see, so they need assistance from co-workers or supervisors. When choosing a portable eyewash station, specify one with an alarm that sounds when the eyewash station is activated. This way, workers will be alerted that a peer needs help.
The alarm also signals to management that the station will be drained of water because of the activation and will need to be refilled to maintain a compliant work environment.
Plumbed vs. Portable
Approved eyewash stations fall into one of two main categories: plumbed and portable. Both share a number of common regulations:
- Required flushing of 0.4 gallons per minute (GPM) at 30 PSI for a full 15 minutes
- Hands-free, stay-open valve should activate in one second or less
- The heads of the units must be positioned 33" to 53" from the surface on which the user stands and a minimum of 6" from the wall
- Eyewash fluid must irrigate and flush both eyes simultaneously
There are benefits and drawback to each type of system, so it’s best to weigh the options and decide which works best for your workplace – it may even be a combination of both.
Potable tap water
Water, pH-balanced saline solution (recommended), or 100 percent sterile saline
Fluid plentiful but may contain chlorine
Fluid must be replaced after each use
Require proper mixing valve to ensure water is tepid (between 60 and 100 degrees F)
Room temperature water
Require weekly flushing and periodic treatment to remove chemical contaminants
Should be cleaned, disinfected, and flushed every 3-6 months
Stationary; cannot be easily moved
Compact and easy to move to various locations in the facility or field
Water lines increase expense
Usually more cost effective than plumbed system
The Importance of Employee Training
It’s crucial that workers who may be exposed to chemical splashes or dust be properly trained before an accident happens. Effective training should include the location, use, and operation of eyewash stations. In an emergency, there should be no hesitation because workers know exactly what to do.
Part of the instructional process should also include a blindfolded walk to the eyewash station. As injured workers often close their eyes, this simulates a real-life scenario and can reduce anxiety and panic if an emergency occurs.
Employers are required to assess, identify, and take measures to address safety hazards. While eye safety isn’t always recognized as an urgent matter, we only have one set of eyes and they are worth protecting.
Providing safety eyewear, eyewash stations, and proper worker training should be a top priority for any safety program. By following the guidance provided by ANSI Z358, you can be sure that your workers will be ready to handle unexpected contact with harmful substances.