As long as there are eye hazards in the workplace there will always be a need for emergency eyewash protection, both in terms of meeting the legal requirements established by OSHA and for practical emergency first-aid. To help safety personnel understand what types of equipment are needed for which situations and where eyewash stations should be located, here are answers to commonly asked questions.

What types of emergency eyewash stations are available?

There are two main categories for eyewash devices: primary and secondary. Primary units are those that meet the OSHA and ANSI standards and can deliver flushing fluid to the eyes for at least 15 minutes at no less than 0.4 gallons (1.5 liters) per minute.

Eyewash stations are available in either portable or plumbed versions. Portable eyewash stations feature a self-contained source of flushing fluid and are either gravity-fed or pressurized from an external source. Plumbed stations are those that are permanently connected to a source of potable water.

Secondary devices are intended to support primary units, and include eyewash stations and bottles that supply less than the primary minimum flushing amounts. Secondary eyewash units may be placed close to hazards to be available for immediate flushing en route to a primary device, and can also be used for continued irrigation while transporting an injured person to medical care. Secondary devices are also helpful for flushing the eyes of irritants, such as dust, that do not require the full 15 minutes of flushing.

How do I determine if my facility needs eyewash stations?

As a general guide, you can be sure you need 15-minute, primary eyewash stations if your facility has a laboratory or conducts any of the following operations:
  • painting and solvents;
  • battery charging stations;
  • hazardous chemical storage;
  • tool parts washers;
  • chemical pumping or mixing areas.
If you are already using chemical-resistant gloves, cartridge or air-supplied respirators, chemical-resistant goggles or flammable storage containers, chances are you will need to provide eyewash protection. For more complete details, refer to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.151, which is quite specific about defining need.

How do I know if a chemical is hazardous, and what constitutes adequate first-aid?

Employers are required by law to have a material safety data sheet (MSDS) on file for all chemicals used in the facility. The MSDS provides information about that chemical’s identity, properties and potential health hazards. The MSDS also contains emergency and first-aid procedures. If the MSDS says to flush eyes for at least 15 minutes, you need a dedicated, primary emergency eyewash station.

We have water readily available, so why do I need a dedicated “flushing station?”

ANSI Z358.1-2004 defines clear standards for the design of flushing facilities and mandates that 15-minute primary eyewash devices “be in accessible locations that require no more than 10 seconds to reach.” The standard also requires that eyewash stations be designed “to ensure that a controlled flow of flushing fluid is provided to both eyes simultaneously,” that they be on the same level as the hazard, and that the unit can “be used without requiring the use of the operator’s hands.” The idea, as noted later in the standard, is “to allow the eyelids to be held open with the hands while the eyes are in the flushing fluid stream.” This requires a device designed specifically for this purpose.

How many stations do I need and where should I put them?

The size and complexity of your facility, in conjunction with the 10-second rule, will determine both need and placement of eyewash stations. They must be “located in an area identified with a highly visible sign,” and the area around the eyewash shall be well-lit and the path from hazards to the eyewash station shall be “free from obstructions.” If you have any additional questions, check with your distributor or manufacturer’s representative. They may even offer an onsite evaluation to help you determine your needs.

What are the maintenance requirements for plumbed versus self-contained stations?

Whichever eyewash device you choose, proper maintenance is essential. Self-contained devices must be inspected and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. For devices using sealed fluid cartridges, fluid changes may not be required for up to 24 months. To meet ANSI requirements, plumbed stations must be activated weekly to flush the line and verify proper operation.

Workplace eye injuries continue to be a costly and widespread problem, but having the proper emergency eyewash can help minimize the effects of these injuries. Emergency eyewash stations are neither difficult to install or maintain, nor are they costly. In fact, multi-unit facilities can frequently be equipped with self-contained eyewash stations using buffered solutions for less than the treatment cost of a single eye injury. Clearly, it’s worth taking a look at getting compliant.

Sidebar: Why should I consider self-contained eyewash units?

Depending on the number of stations required, installation of plumbed emergency eyewash devices can be extremely costly. They also deliver tap water, which may be too cold or too hot, causing potential discomfort that can limit effective flushing. In addition, tap water may contain chlorine, solids, irritants and microbial contaminants.

Though self-contained units may also contain water, they more frequently use a preserved, buffered saline solution, specifically designed to provide safer, more comfortable flushing and lower system maintenance. Self-contained units are also portable and do not require expensive plumbing.