Solving the emergency eyewash puzzle

August 1, 2007
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Did you know that, according to a 2005 OSHA report, 784 citations were issued to companies that did not have eyewash stations in near proximity to employees? Or that another 1,124 citations were issued to companies that did not provide employees with hazard information and training? Total penalties for the two reached nearly $800,000.

With these harsh realities, it is critical to understand that compliance goes beyond just having the right equipment. To ensure your company doesn’t end up a statistic, you need a balance of knowledge, education, training and maintenance to support your emergency eyewash program.

As the safety expert, you have the task of understanding and complying with OSHA and ANSI guidelines for emergency eyewashes. While this may appear to be a daunting assignment, here are some helpful hints to get you started and to simplify the task.

Identify the hazards
Onsite hazard assessments are the first step. Pay particular attention to areas where workers come in direct contact with chemicals. As a rule of thumb, eyewash stations are required if work environments contain paint, solvents, battery charging stations, hazardous chemical storage, tool parts washers or chemical pumping/mixing areas. If employees are using chemical-resistant gloves, cartridge- or air-supplied respirators, chemical-resistant goggles or flammable storage containers, emergency eyewash stations are most likely required.

During your assessment, review the first-aid section of material safety data sheets (MSDS) to determine if an eyewash station delivering 15 minutes of flushing is required. Dangerous chemicals and substances will note that irrigation of the eyes for 15 minutes is a requirement and therefore signal the need for adequate eyewash stations.

Select the right station
A solid understanding of the ANSI standard will enable you to make the best decisions when selecting an emergency eyewash station. Emergency eyewash stations that meet the OSHA and ANSI guidelines and can deliver flushing fluid to the eyes for at least 15 minutes are often referred to as primary eyewash stations. For complete ANSI eyewash guidelines, refer to the ANSI Z358.1-2004 standard.

Here’s a brief snapshot of the ANSI eyewash standard:

Eyewash stations must…
  • Be located in areas where caustic or hazardous substances are present;
  • Be placed in accessible locations that require no more than 10 seconds to reach;
  • Be located on the same level as the hazard;
  • Be free of obstructions that inhibit immediate access;
  • Be in a visible area identified with a sign;
  • Be positioned with the flushing fluid nozzles no less than 33 inches and no greater than 45 inches from the surface on which the user stands;
  • Flush both eyes simultaneously;
  • Deliver a 15-minute continuous flow of tepid (room temperature) flushing fluid;
  • Have an on-off valve, pull strap or door that is capable of activation in one second or less.

When choosing an eyewash station, there are two types to be familiar with: plumbed and self-contained portable stations.

Plumbed and portable stations differ in features and overall flushing solutions that they deliver. Familiarize yourself with both to understand the pros and cons of each system and to make informed decisions. Investment cost, flushing solution, maintenance requirements and ease of use should all factor into your final decision.

Compare choices
Plumbed stations are permanently connected to a source of tap water. Their greatest attribute is the ability to deliver plentiful amounts of flushing fluid. However, the water quality is only as good as the source that it is being drawn from. Therefore, if the water source is contaminated, the flushing water drawn from this unit will also be contaminated. Another important point is that these stations must be connected to fixed plumbing and are therefore expensive to install and impractical to move.

Portable eyewash stations contain their own flushing fluid and do not require fixed plumbing. These eyewash stations are great for changing work environments or locations where plumbing is not readily available. Portable eyewash stations can be divided into two types: tank-style and sealed-fluid cartridge systems.

Solution in the tank-style unit can be either a mixture of water and additives, or water plus a buffered saline mixture to help ensure safe flushing. Mixing and measuring is required to achieve the right balanced flushing solution.

Today, factory-sealed cartridges that require no mixing and contain a purified, buffered saline solution, free of bacteria or contaminations for 24 months, have become a popular choice. Because these cartridges are factory-sealed, they contain a flushing solution never exposed to harmful contaminants in the air or work environment. Sealed-fluid cartridge systems are the most recent advancement in the emergency eyewash category.

Train & maintain
Knowledge of the standards, coupled with a dedicated program of training and education for employees, is an essential ingredient to any compliance program.

Training should be given to all workers. Never assume that workers are already aware of proper procedures. Before an emergency occurs, employees must know what an emergency eyewash station is, when it should be used and where the closest eyewash station is located.

Without proper maintenance, which includes inspection, care, cleaning and repair, the effectiveness and functionality of the eyewash station cannot be assumed. Plumbed units require weekly maintenance. According to ANSI, plumbed eyewash units should be activated weekly to flush out sediment build-up and dangerous microbial contaminants in the pipes. Maintenance of multiple eyewash units can represent a substantial labor and cost commitment to ensure each eyewash station is flushed and checked for usability.

Self-contained units require maintenance according to the manufacturer’s instructions. That typically involves cleaning and changing the flushing fluid as often as every week with untreated tap water, to every six months with tap water mixed with an additive.

Unlike plumbed fixtures or other self-contained portable systems, which require frequent maintenance and measuring and mixing of the solution, sealed cartridges last up to two years and take less than five minutes to replace. Virtually no maintenance other than visual inspection is necessary over the course of the two-year shelf-life to ensure that the cartridges are intact and not activated.

Seek out support
Complying with OSHA and ANSI is a necessary part of ensuring employee safety and avoiding a fine for non-compliance. Of course, prevention is the first step to keeping employees safe from eye injuries. But it is just as important to make sure you have a system in place should an injury occur. That means not only having emergency eyewash stations available, but also having employees who are educated and trained in their use and maintenance.

Don’t forget that help is available. ANSI (www.ansi.org), OSHA (www.osha.gov) and the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) (www.safetyequipment.org) all provide vast amounts of compliance support. Your local manufacturer and distributor are also there to answer your questions and help with hazard assessments. Using these resources will help you to develop an eyewash compliance program that is suitable for your needs.

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