Among the many risks workers encounter in the workplace, the loss of eyesight is one that is too great to take lightly, and employers are obligated to make every effort possible to prevent eye injuries. This includes adhering to applicable codes and standards; offering training on the proper use of chemicals, systems and equipment; and providing safety equipment when appropriate.

Completely eliminating such risks as dust, flying debris and hazardous chemicals is not always an option, therefore it is critical to implement a safety plan that minimizes the severity of an injury should an incident occur. With that in mind, let’s examine six key considerations for protecting your workers’ eyes in case of an emergency.

1) Emergency plans and codes

Reducing the likelihood of eye injuries comes down to providing appropriate eye protection, training employees on how to use the eyewear and enforcing its use. The first step is to fully understand the environment and become familiar with all applicable safety codes and standards. Research all chemicals in use and consider all other types of hazards when selecting eye protection and determining hazardous areas. These steps will reduce the chances of a worker being exposed.

The next step is to create a contingency plan in case the first level of protection fails. For hazardous chemicals, there are two important safety standards. OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.151(c) requires suitable drenching facilities wherever workers may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials. However, the OSHA standard does not go into detail on the function, operation, installation and maintenance of these products.

The other applicable standard is the American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment Z358.1-2004. This voluntary ANSI standard provides guidelines on the proper placement, installation, testing and maintenance of emergency eyewash and shower equipment and should be followed by all facilities requiring such equipment.

2) Location, location, location

To ensure proper eye treatment, the ANSI standard requires that eyewashes be placed within a 10-second walk of any eye hazard and be capable of providing a minimum 15-minute flush. If a strong acid or caustic is being used, the eyewash should be placed adjacent to the hazard. Travel to the fixture should be free of obstructions and should not involve going up or down stairs.

Safety products like eyewashes and drench showers should be located in well-lit areas and be easy to identify. This is why most units are offered in bright colors like safety yellow, which stand out against industrial backgrounds. They should also be identified with a highly visible sign. Also be sure to train employees on the location and proper use of the equipment.

3) Flow rate and water temperature

Eyewashes are required to run at a minimum flow of 0.4 gallons per minute (GPM), although most units have a flow of 2.5 to 3.5 GPM. Eye/face washes should not provide less than 3.0 GPM, although most now have flows between 6.0 and 8.0 GPM. For plumbed products, the standard requires that a minimum pressure of 30 pounds-per-square-inch be provided to the fixture.

To eliminate temperature extremes and provide safety for users, eyewash and eye/face wash fixtures should be supplied with tepid water. General guidelines for the tepid water range are between 60ËšF and 100ËšF. Thermostatic mixing valves can be used to blend the supply of incoming hot and cold water to supply tepid water within a particular set point. Check with safety/heath advisors to determine the optimum water temperature for your facility based on the chemicals being used.

Additionally, the ANSI standard has determined an area of coverage that ensures the full eye area will be flushed. Most manufacturers offer a gauge that can be used to check the flow pattern on any eyewash.

4) Routine testing and maintenance

Once installed, all eyewashes should be activated weekly to verify operation and check that flushing fluid is available. This will also ensure that any sediment build-up in the supply line is cleared out. In addition, eyewashes should be inspected annually for full compliance with the ANSI Z358.1 standard. And be sure to keep equipment instructions readily accessible for all maintenance and inspection personnel.

To comply with the ANSI standard and receive certification, equipment manufacturers are required to have emergency products checked by an independent third-party organization that verifies all requirements are fully met. Choose products that have been certified to meet ANSI Z358.1-2004.

5) Specifying eyewash equipment

There is a wide variety of eyewash and eye/face wash equipment available to meet different needs. Typically the options available in eyewashes are also offered in combination eye/face washes, so the eyewash options will be primarily discussed here.

The most basic and popular styles of eyewashes are the traditional plumbed units. These units are highly functional and come in floor- and wall-mounted models. Options and features include:

  • Plastic or stainless-steel bowls;
  • A complete stainless-steel eyewash;
  • Galvanized piping or galvanized pipe with a corrosion-resistant coating;
  • Dust caps or complete dust covers;
  • Hand and foot operation.

6) Special applications

Plumbed eyewashes are also offered in barrier-free styles. While there is no adopted ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standard for emergency fixtures, barrier-free products have been developed to meet these needs. Clearances, reach distances and force requirements are extrapolated from similar products that are covered by the ADA guidelines.

Another option is frost-proof eyewashes for cold climate applications. These products protect against pipe damage and freezing by mounting the fixture on an outside wall and keeping the piping on the inside of a heated building. A more expensive option is to keep piping below the frost line.

When eyewashes are required but a plumbed water supply is not available, self-contained portable eyewash stations can be used to protect workers. These gravity-fed units have a sufficient amount of water to provide a full 15-minute flush of the eyes — just be sure that the equipment is certified to the ANSI standard if it is being used in place of a plumbed eyewash station.

When convenience and/or the appearance of the eyewash station is particularly important, compact “swing down” eyewashes can be mounted near an existing sink basin or countertop. Ideal for laboratories or janitorial closets, these do not require a completely separate fixture. Some units are permanently affixed over the sink and activated with a push handle. Others stow to the side or back of the sink and activate with the motion of swinging them over the sink.

Minimize the impact

For many workers, eye risks cannot be avoided completely. Planning can help mitigate these risks, but it is essential to have eyewashes available to minimize the impact in the event of an incident. Emergency equipment manufacturers together with health and safety advisors can provide valuable information to help you specify and install the right eyewashes or drench showers for your particular application.

SIDEBAR: What’s new in eyewashes?

A relatively new group of eyewash products have been developed for applications where space is a factor and appearance is important. Eyewash units are recessed into the wall to avoid clutter in walkways and hallways. Typically these eyewashes are enclosed in stainless-steel cabinetry, and the unit is quickly activated by pulling down the vertical stainless door. Eyewash waste-water then drains back into piping concealed within the wall. These eyewashes provide a clean appearance and stow conveniently out of the way.

Another option in eyewashes is easy-to-use supplemental bottle eyewashes that provide a secondary level of protection. In many cases, plumbed units are located centrally to several workers. Bottle eyewashes can be mounted at each user’s workstation as an immediate first step in treatment. Look for products that have a one-step design that can be pulled off the wall and used without twisting or unscrewing caps.