Eye Wash Stations 101

Some businesses store only small amounts of chemicals used in their operations. Others create, use, or dispose of chemical storage drums full of hazardous substances. Are there risks associated with storing and handling chemicals in any amount? Yes.

However, businesses have the ability and the obligation to mitigate those risks. This can be done through training employees in proper handling and storage, the development of safety policies and procedures, and, of course, storage facilities and equipment aimed at maintaining a safe and healthy work environment.

Along those lines, many businesses install equipment like emergency showers and eye wash stations designed to decontaminate anyone exposed to harmful chemicals. Here's what your business should know about eye wash stations in particular.

OSHA Requirements
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has rules and regulations pertaining to the inclusion of eye wash stations in the workplace. They may vary by industry, business type, the chemicals kept on the premises, and jurisdiction.

It's important to do some research to find out what your legal obligations are. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) also provides guidelines that may be useful even if you've already met OSHA standards.

Choosing Equipment
Isn't an emergency shower enough? Why do you need an eyewash station as well? The main reasons you should have both of these emergency options available is that they have different uses.

Although both are designed to flush away harmful contaminants following exposure, an emergency shower is designed to provide enough pressure to rinse the entire body from head to foot. It isn't safe to expose your eyes to such intense pressure as it could cause further damage.

In truth, you may not need both an eyewash station and an emergency shower. You should purchase and install only the equipment that is suitable for your operations. If it turns out you do need both, consider a combination unit that can be used as both an emergency shower and specifically as an eye wash station.

You should be able to find appropriate specifications for needed emergency equipment through either OSHA or ANSI guidelines (or both). Always follow manufacturer's instructions for installation.

Emergency equipment should be installed near areas where emergency situations are most likely to occur, as in storage areas, labs, or anywhere chemical storage drums or other containers are being opened. When exposure occurs, speedy flushing at an eyewash station could make a huge difference in the amount of damage that occurs, so easy access is essential.

According to ANSI, it should take no more than 10 seconds to reach a station, although it should be noted that a person in distress or devoid of eyesight due to contamination may move more slowly than a person who is healthy and well.  Therefore, you may want to account for this discrepancy. Placing visible signage near emergency equipment is also wise.

Acceptable Fluids
When it comes to the flushing fluids included in eye wash stations, there are several potential candidates.  Options include potable water, preserved water, preserved buffered saline solution, or medically acceptable saline solutions.

It's best to consider local laws, which may limit your options, as well as professional medical advice related to the type of harmful chemicals present. Fluid should be tepid (60-100 degrees Fahrenheit), although temperatures of 59-77 F are preferable in the event of burns.

How to Use a Station
Eye wash stations should be easy to see, easy to reach, and easy to use. They should be as near as possible to hazard areas and they should remain unobstructed.

Users should be able to activate the eyewash station (by lever, handle, valve, etc.) within one second and tepid flushing fluid should be available for a minimum of 15 minutes, although up to 60 minutes is preferable. The station should remain operational once activated without user assistance so that users are able to hold eyelids open with their hands as needed.

Why Install Eye wash Stations
Any time workers are in proximity to hazardous substances, there's a chance contamination could occur. The first several seconds following contamination are crucial as prolonged exposure could increase damage.

Eye wash stations, when properly installed, can be reached in those critical seconds following exposure, significantly reducing the potential for lasting harm. This is why any business that stores or handles hazardous chemicals should include eye wash stations as part of their required emergency equipment.