The start of the new year is the perfect time to review the January 2009 revisions to ANSI standard Z358.1-2009 for emergency eyewash. The ANSI standard has always required that an appropriate mechanism for flushing injured eyes be present at the site of any hazardous material. It mandates that eyewash be made available within a 10-second walk of a hazard and that an injured person flush his or her eyes for a full 15 minutes. It also details how emergency eyewash should be delivered: the rate of flow, fluid angle, temperature, user’s position, and station location, installation and maintenance.

Even though the risks of non-compliance are costly, approximately half of all businesses required to meet the ANSI standard remain in non-compliance. The National Safety Council reports that the average lost-time injury costs nearly $30,000, and eye injuries that are not properly treated can result in partial or complete vision loss to an individual.

Employers who choose the proper eyewash fluid and delivery system can reduce the severity of eye injuries as well as the related costs. This article will help you determine whether your business needs to comply with ANSI’s eyewash standard and how to do so in just five steps.

STEP ONE: Determine whether your site requires eyewash

The first step is to assess your facility for the presence of eye hazards. As a rule, businesses are required to have eyewash stations on the premises if any of the following hazards are found:
  • Paint
  • Solvents
  • Battery-charging stations
  • Hazardous chemical storage
  • Tool parts washers
  • Chemical pumping/mixing areas.
Eyewash protection is likely to be required as well if employees use:
  • Chemical-resistant gloves
  • Cartridge or air-supplied respirators
  • Chemical-resistant goggles
  • Flammable storage containers.
You may be surprised to learn that businesses as common as hair salons, garden centers and home goods centers require eyewash facilities due to the presence of potentially harmful chemicals. Refer to equipment manuals and material safety data sheets (MSDS) on chemical packaging to learn whether emergency eyewash is required because of specific hazardous materials.

STEP TWO: Select the right eyewash for your needs

Planning how and where eyewash will be used will help determine what type of delivery system is best. What are the most common hazards? Does the workspace layout change as new jobs commence? Is plumbing readily available at the site of every eye hazard? Once you have determined your needs, there are two types of primary emergency eyewash delivery stations to consider: plumbed and portable.

Plumbed eyewash units deliver plumbed tap water to the eyes in plentiful amounts. However, they are expensive to install, impractical to move and require weekly maintenance. Furthermore, tap water has proven to be detrimental in treating injured eyes for many reasons. Because its temperature is not easily regulated, plumbed water is often too hot or too cold to flush with for the required 15 minutes. Since it does not match the eye’s natural pH, flushing can cause irritation. And tap water often contains harmful microorganisms or other contaminants that can further damage an already compromised eye. In fact, a 2008 Associated Press study found that public drinking water for at least 41 million Americans was polluted with chemical contaminants, many of which can cause secondary injury and possible vision loss. Plumbed stations also require the most frequent maintenance; ANSI requires that they be activated weekly to rinse harmful particle buildup through pipes and to ensure proper water pressure.

Portable stations come in many varieties. They contain water, saline solution or 100 percent sterile saline, each of which is maintained at room temperature inside the unit. Stations that deliver sterile flushing fluid offer unmatched safety. Sterile saline is the only emergency eyewash solution that must be prepared in an FDA-approved cleanroom to assure purity as well as pH and isotonic qualities that match those of the human eye. Because it is devoid of harmful impurities, sterile saline reduces employers’ risk of liability if further injury results. Portable devices that do not deliver sterile fluid still offer advantages over plumbed units: their fluid is maintained at room temperature, they require less maintenance and those with buffered saline solutions more closely match the pH of the eye. Self-contained portable devices require less frequent maintenance, including cleaning, disinfecting and changing the flushing fluid as often as every three to six months as directed by the manufacturer. Sealed cartridge devices containing sterile or purified, buffered saline solution require the least maintenance and remain free of bacteria and contamination for up to 24 months.

STEP THREE: Make emergency eyewash accessible

An injured worker may have limited or no vision while en route to the station, so it is important to select a location for the unit that is quickly and easily accessible during an emergency. ANSI specifies that stations be located:
  • Within a 10-second walk from the hazard
  • On a travel path from the hazard that is free of obstructions
  • On the same level as the hazard
  • Immediately adjacent to the hazard for strong caustics and strong acids
  • In an area that is well lit and identified with a sign that is highly visible to everyone served by it.
STEP FOUR: Teach proper emergency response

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that every employee is trained and proficient in using emergency eyewash units. Employees must know how to reach and activate the unit and how to properly rinse contaminants from their eyes. The proper flushing technique calls for the worker to hold both eyes open with their forefingers and thumbs and let the fluid rinse across the eyes from the inside corner out for 15 minutes. The employee should be instructed to seek follow-up medical care if needed.

STEP FIVE: Put eye safety into practice

The best way to ensure eyewash compliance in the workplace is by building it into the company’s safety plan. Employ a safety manager, assign safety stewards or use a third-party vendor for employee training and station maintenance. The appointed safety leader should train staff regularly as a group and new associates as they join. He or she should also maintain eyewash units as required according to ANSI and/or the manufacturer.

Emergency eyewash is an important — and oftentimes required — part of a company’s safety equipment. By following these five steps, your business will not only comply with ANSI safety standards — it will also reduce costs related to eye injuries and provide a safer and more productive work environment.