The start of a new year is the perfect time for safety managers to review workplace eyewash implementation and the standards for its use. Hazardous materials or chemicals exist in nearly every workplace that necessitate the presence of primary emergency eyewash stations.

When it comes to eye injuries, immediate treatment is the best defense against long-term vision loss and lost time at work. Employers that choose the proper eyewash fluid and delivery system can not only reduce the severity of eye injuries but also the direct and indirect costs related to them.

Advances in the production of emergency eyewash fluid as well as improved delivery methods mean that eyewash is more effective than ever. Read on to learn the six steps to ensuring emergency eyewash compliance at your workplace in 2012.

1. Determine whether your site requires eyewash

For three decades, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has included an eyewash standard. The latest version, ANSI Z358.1-2009, was revised in January 2009 and makes compliance even easier to understand and follow.

ANSI calls for eyewash to be present at the site of any hazardous material, which is defined as anything that can cause adverse effects on an individual’s health and safety. To determine whether your worksite requires an emergency eyewash station, assess the tasks performed and their related hazards. Activities such as chipping, grinding or sanding; degreasing or plating; woodworking and buffing; and working with blood can allow flying objects, chemicals, or harmful vapors, liquids or dust to enter the eye. Consult the guidelines set forth by ANSI, OSHA and manufacturers’ material safety data sheets (MSDS) to determine whether your site requires eyewash.

2. Select the right delivery system

Planning how and where eyewash will be used helps determine what type of delivery system is best. Take into account the most common hazards present and whether the workspace layout changes as new jobs commence, and determine whether plumbing is readily available at the site of every eye hazard. Once you have determined your needs, there are two types of primary eyewash delivery stations to consider: plumbed and portable.

Plumbed eyewash stations have been a long-standing solution because they deliver tap water in plentiful amounts. However, they are expensive to install, impractical to move and require weekly maintenance. Furthermore, tap water has been proven detrimental in treating injured eyes. Because it does not match the eye’s natural pH, flushing with it can cause further irritation. Similarly, harmful microorganisms and other contaminants commonly found in tap water can cause secondary injury and even vision loss. Lastly, because its temperature is not easily regulated, plumbed water is often too hot or too cold to carry out ANSI’s required 15-minute flush.

Alternatively, portable eyewash units come in many varieties to meet nearly any facility’s needs. They deliver water, saline solution or 100 percent sterile saline at room temperature for safe and comfortable flushing. The fluid in sealed-cartridge devices boasts the longest shelf life and, therefore, requires the least frequent maintenance, and portable units with buffered saline solution more closely match the pH of the eye to protect it during flushing.

Portable units with sterile fluid offer unrivaled safety. Sterile saline is the only emergency eyewash solution that must be prepared in an FDA-approved clean room to assure purity as well as pH and isotonic qualities that match those of the human eye. The Food and Drug Administration has recently begun enforcing sterility within eyewash manufacturing sites, requiring that they employ practices meeting over-the-counter ophthalmic regulations. When selecting eyewash fluid, look for manufacturers that meet these standards.

3. Place eyewash within a 10-second reach

Because every second counts in successfully treating injured eyes and because an injured worker’s vision is diminished, it is imperative that the path to an eyewash station be short, clearly marked and unobstructed. ANSI specifies that stations be located within a 10-second walk from the hazard on a travel path free of obstructions. The station must be located on the same level as the hazard with no steps or stairs, and immediately adjacent to strong caustics and strong acids. The area surrounding the eyewash station should be well lit and marked with a sign that is highly visible to everyone served by it.

Portable units can easily be moved within close proximity of most hazards. Select a location for the unit that is quickly and easily accessible during any emergency.

4. Flush for 15 minutes

ANSI calls for an injured individual to flush his or her eyes continuously for a full 15 minutes. In theory this sounds simple; in practice it may seem impossible. Instruct employees on the proper flushing technique, which calls for holding both eyes open with the forefingers and thumbs and letting eyewash fluid rinse across both eyes from the inside corner out for 15 minutes. The employee should be instructed to seek follow-up medical care if needed.

5. Keep the temperature tepid

Flushing fluid needs to be delivered at a temperature that is comfortable — and not harmful — to the eyes. In order to safely permit a 15-minute flush, ANSI requires that eyewash fluid be delivered at a tepid temperature ranging between 60°F and 100°F, except in the case of certain chemicals.

Keep in mind environmental effects on the temperature of eyewash fluid. In extreme cold environments, look for products with heated options. Depending on your application, consider freeze-rated portable stations, which keep fluid from freezing in temperatures as low as -32°F, or those with heated accessories that maintain a tepid temperature in environments as cold as -40°F. In locations with excessive heat, look for a unit with a solar shield or house the unit out of direct sun.

6. Put safety into place

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 to handle employee training and station maintenance. The appointed safety leader should train staff regularly as well as maintain eyewash units according to ANSI and manufacturers’ guidelines.

ANSI requires that plumbed stations be activated weekly to rinse harmful particle buildup through pipes and to ensure proper water pressure. Self-contained portable devices require less frequent maintenance, including cleaning, disinfecting and changing the flushing fluid every three to six months, as directed by the manufacturer. Sealed cartridge devices containing sterile or buffered saline require the least maintenance and remain free of bacteria and contamination for up to 24 months. New portable stations are equipped with RFID technology to provide instant insight into maintenance schedules, help manage inventory, track expiration dates and more using a handheld computer.