Coming clean about eyewash stations
People in a wide range of industrial and scientific settings handle corrosive and other potentially hazardous chemicals on a daily basis. From solutions used in industrial processes to basic cleaning solutions, these chemicals serve important roles in performing a wide variety of tasks.
Recognizing the potential danger, most workers treat these chemicals with the respect they deserve, and accidents are rare — but they do happen. An unexpected slip or a bump, and these dangerous chemicals splash on a worker’s skin or in their eyes. Even with the proper personal protective equipment, there’s always the potential for some kind of mishap. And a chemical that’s formulated to etch metal or pull grease off a surface will be even more damaging to highly sensitive human tissue.
That’s why safety standards require the installation of eyewash stations in laboratories and other workplaces where dangerous chemicals and other substances (including contaminants) are in regular use. When the eyes become exposed to these substances, seconds count. The more quickly water is used to wash away the substance, the less the potential for serious injury and permanent damage such as blindness.
Typically, you’ll find eyewash stations and emergency showers in areas where chemical soaking or dipping is performed, stations where hazardous substances may be dispensed, settings where spraying of chemicals occurs, laboratory environments, and areas with high levels of dust. While eyewashes and showers may seem like simple devices that just provide the right amount of water, they require careful planning to be effective.
Eyewash and Face Wash Stations
Given the importance of rapid flushing in preventing eye injury, the location of eyewash stations is critical. In addition to ensuring that they are close to where workers are performing tasks, the need to be positioned at the right height so that workers can use them comfortably. According to ANSI, stations should be located where they can be reached in 10 seconds or less by workers in an emergency situation.
An eyewash station needs to deliver a volume of fluid that’s strong enough to quickly remove the contaminant without injuring the eyes. The flow and design should make it possible for the user to hold his or her eyelids open while keeping the eyes themselves in the stream of fluid. The eyewash should begin to deliver that fluid within one second, and allow a continuous flow without the user being forced to keep a hand on a faucet or similar valve.
Which fluid to use and how much?
According to ANSI standards, acceptable flushing fluids include potable or preserved water, saline solution, and other fluids recommended by medical experts. Local safety regulations may specify the use of particular fluids.
While the standards do not specify how long specific body parts must be flushed, equipment must normally be able to provide a flow of liquid for at least 15 minutes. One of the biggest problems with eye and face wash stations is a belief on the part of the worker that the contaminant is quickly washed away, so the flushing is ended prematurely. Often, this may be exacerbated if the fluid is at a temperature that’s uncomfortable for the worker (a good temperature range is 60°F to 100°F). The specific time needed for proper flushing depends upon the properties of the chemical, but a general rule is at least five minutes for non-irritant chemicals, at least 15 minutes for chemicals that provide moderate to severe irritation, or that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin, and at least 30 minutes for corrosives. Once the flushing has been performed, it’s important to obtain immediate medical attention.
Importance of cleanliness
If an eyewash station is not properly maintained, it can become a breeding ground for organisms that can lead to infections or illness in a worker using the station. Those organisms may come into contact with the worker’s skin or mucous membranes, creating health problems. Among the types of organisms that can develop in stagnant water are Acantharnoeba, which causes serious eye infections; Pseudomonas, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria; and Legionella, which leads to Legionnaires’ Disease. That’s why it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and maintaining eyewash stations. Some systems require regular replacement of the flushing fluid.
Are eyewash bottles adequate?
Although eyewash bottles offer the convenience of portability, they can’t provide the constant, strong stream of fluid that an eyewash station can deliver. It’s difficult for a worker to properly rinse the eyes while holding and squeezing an eyewash bottle — and it can only be used with one eye at a time. While a bottle can be used for an immediate response, the worker should be moved to an eyewash station as quickly as possible.
Training is vital
Although it may seem that the method for using an eyewash station (or an emergency shower) is obvious, workers do need training in the proper procedures. It’s particularly important that they understand the minimum length of time the eyes or other area should be flushed, since most people tend to underestimate how much fluid is needed to properly flush contaminants. Special attention should be given to any workers who wear contact lenses, because having to remove those lenses in an emergency could increase the amount of time the contaminant remains in the eyes.
It’s also a good idea to have the workers practice finding their way to the nearest eyewash station and learning how to operate it while blindfolded. In an emergency situation, they may not be able to see the station, and if another worker isn’t immediately available to guide them and help them operate the equipment, they’ll be forced to do so alone.