I was doing some follow-up work at my station when I saw that someone left an open canister on the edge of the table. I didn't want it to fall, so I picked it up to move it to a safer spot. But it was really full and some of it splashed out and got in my eye. Because I wasn't supposed to be working with chemicals, I didn't have my safety goggles on. I ran to the bathroom to flush it out. Turns out it was just a minor irritant, but it could have been much worse.
Workplaces where chemicals are used on a daily basis expose workers’ eyes to chemical splash hazards. Even if workers don't work directly with chemicals, having to move around a workspace in which hazardous chemicals are present means workers are still at risk.
It's important to follow strict safety procedures when handling chemicals and to make sure every worker has the proper chemical safety equipment available to them. Unfortunately, the kind of activities that result in a chemical splash often happen without the appropriate PPE because there is a low level of perceived risk. Anyone coming into contact with chemicals – no matter how briefly – must wear safety goggles (find out How to Combat Fogging, the Number One Complaint from Safety Eyewear Users).
To protect workers’ eyes from harmful chemical splashes include close-fitting goggles in your safety toolkit. Goggles are a key safety product to limit the exposure to dangerous industrial chemicals, including:
- Sulfuric acid (battery acid)
- Sodium hydroxide (lye, caustic soda)
- Anhydrous ammonia
- Hydrochloric acid
- Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides
- Chlorine (bleach)
- Gasoline and oil
Specify goggles that have indirect or built-in ventilation systems for breathability and anti-fog coatings. Anti-fog coatings are crucial because goggles that fog up often are taken off, once again exposing workers’ eyes to risk of chemical splash.
Saline and Personal Wash Units and Bottled Eyewash
In a facility with chemicals, a safety toolkit should also include saline solution to wash the eyes and skin. It's important to start washing immediately after contact with the chemicals, and it's best if complete flushing occurs on-site.
However, saline and bottled eyewash or other personal wash units are considered to be supplemental equipment only. These types of flushing units do not meet ANSI’s requirements for eyewash stations and should not be used as an alternative to a 15 minute flushing station.
The ANSI Z358.1 standard states,
“A personal wash unit may be kept in the immediate vicinity of employees working in a potentially hazardous area. The main purpose of these units is to supply immediate flushing. With this accomplished, the injured individual should then proceed to a plumbed or self-contained eyewash and flush the eyes for the required 15-minute period.”
If the exposure is not from an identified MSDS-related hazardous chemical (such as dust or debris), the use of personal wash units are an excellent source for relief. As always, in any event, the affected personnel should seek additional medical evaluation (learn more about Eyewash Stations and the Z358 Standard).
Although personal PPE toolkits can’t contain an eyewash station, all workers exposed to chemical splash risk need to know where the eyewash station is located and should be trained on how to use it properly in order to be in compliance with the Eyewash Station Emergency Wash market standard, ANSI Z358.1-2014.
Compliance with ANSI includes the following 7 key areas.
- Proper installation of the eyewash station according to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Knowing the chemicals you are working with and the types of fixtures needed in an emergency. The SDS will tell you what is required: eye only or both eye and full body flushing
- Knowing how many workers you have simultaneously in hazardous areas to determine the number of fixtures needed if multiple workers are exposed
- Minimum Flushing Duration & Performance – all units must be able to meet a minimum of 15 minutes’ worth of flushing time for the eyes, body or both. Dependent upon the exposure type (hazardous material), the user should consult the MSDS, prior to contact, to determine what type of fixture is needed
- Non-Injurious Flow – the flow from the fixture should be “soft spent.” In other words, the flow of the water should not be able to cause additional damage to skin or eyes
- Fixture Location – a shower, eyewash, or combination unit must be located 10 seconds from an identified hazard. Generally speaking, this would be around 55 feet in distance. The area around and in the pathway should also be free of debris, temporary or fixed equipment, or structures
- Signs and Lighting – The area where the fixture is placed needs to be well lit and should have adequate signage which points the end user to the fixture in the event of an emergency exposure
- Employee Training on the usage of the Fixture – All employees who are potentially exposed to a hazard should be thoroughly trained on the location of each unit and the proper usage of the fixture itself on an on-going basis
- Regular Inspection – All eyewash, eye/face, or shower fixtures should be flow tested and inspected for the aforementioned each week. The exception to this would be self-contained units such as pressurized portables or gravity fed eyewashes, showers, or combination fixtures
Policies and Procedures
Every employee working with or around chemicals should be well versed in the company's procedures for handling spills, splashes, and other chemical incidents. But that doesn't mean they'll remember every single step when they're dealing with an issue. A simplified, easy-to-read card or reference sheet can be a great way to make sure they remember key steps of the procedure even if they get flustered in an emergency. Step-by-step instructions, pictures, or diagrams are good ways to keep the information simple and easy to reference.
One of the key things management can do is provide comprehensive training to employees. Sessions should include:
- Identifying hazards
- Proper PPE for chemical exposure
- Working safely around chemicals
- Handling chemical splashes and other emergencies
- How to properly use an eyewash station
What Can Workers Do?
Employees play an enormous role in ensuring their own safety. They can do this by:
- Participating in training sessions and asking questions to make sure they understand
- Reporting unsafe practices or potential hazards
- Using proper PPE when handling or working near chemicals
- Understanding and applying appropriate emergency and first aid procedures
Chemical safety is everyone’s responsibility. Accidents like splashes happen, but having a chemical safety toolkit and an eyewash station nearby means workers can efficiently handle the situation and minimize further risk.