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Don’t Blink: Accessibility is Key for Eyewash Stations

Liz Cuneo, Contributing Writer

When handling hazardous materials in the workplace, safety remains a critical consideration for companies, as they design the best plant, laboratory or facility. And, within these plants, eyewash stations are key components to maintaining a high level of safety.

One may ask why eyewashes are such crucial apparatuses. Each day, about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Chemical splashes or airborne debris are serious threats. To combat this, a properly installed and operational eyewash station must be readily accessible to employees. When working properly, these stations allow workers to wash away hazardous materials from the face before serious damage can occur.

“The most dangerous hazards to workers’ eyes and skin are chemical splash hazards, particularly corrosives. Personal protective equipment and preventing exposure in the first place is important, but if protective equipment is not used, is inadequate or fails, immediate emergency flushing should be sought. Sometimes even seconds can mean the difference between a speedy recovery or long-term effects on your health,” according to the experts at Haws & Co.

These stations don’t replace the necessary goggles, face shields or eye wear, but they do offer another layer of defense. To protect workers from caustic and corrosive materials, both OSHA and The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have created standards to help guide companies along, as they work to install properly functioning eyewash stations. The major takeaway? Eyewash stations must be operational, clean, reliable and easily accessible.

What You Should Know as You Consider Your Eyewash Station

The OSHA 29 CFR 1910.151 regulation requires that, “Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use.”

Regarding specific standards on the installation, operation and maintenance of these stations, OSHA turns to the ANSI Z358.1-2014 Standard for pertinent requirements. And, one major requirement lies with its accessibility. ANSI’s standard states that it is “the installer’s responsibility to assure that the shower or eyewash station is positioned so that it is highly visible and accessible, being in locations that take no more than 10 seconds to reach.”

Ten seconds isn’t a long time, but it is imperative due to the seriousness of exposure to corrosive chemicals. But what constitutes a corrosive chemical? OSHA’s regulations states that a corrosive chemical is one that “destroys or irreversibly changes the structure of human tissue at the site of contact after exposure for a specified period of time.”

So, how do you know the best style of eyewash station and location to prevent (or help alleviate) these types of injuries, as well as make sure workers can access them quickly? According to Encon, before you start to plan exactly where to put the eyewash station, you should first be aware of the hazards that are present in your workplace.

“Know your codes by reviewing the MSDS sheets for all the solvents and/or chemicals you are currently using. Once you have identified the hazard, and to comply with the ANSI 10 second rule, a Risk Assessment Professional or either a Safety or Quality Assurance Manager will be an instrumental resource in the planning and installation phases of your shower and eyewash stations,” said Encon experts.

Risk assessments can help determine the best spot for your station and help determine if the station meets requirements, in regards to its operation and location. The ANSI Standard states that the station be located in a well-lit area and be identified with a highly visible sign. It also states that the eyewash station must provide flushing fluid to both eyes, and that the water temperature for the flushing fluid be tepid (approximately 60-100° F).

Which Style Is Best?

Once you know what types of hazards you’re dealing with, you are ready to look at where to place the eyewash station and determine the style of station. Be aware that with portable, or unplumbed, the station is free-standing and can be moved around. This makes it ideal for places without access to water. With plumbed, it is a fixed structure connected to a continuous source of potable water. Both unplumbed and plumbed equipment must meet nearly all the same requirements from ANSI Z358.1, including annual testing.

“Portables are best if there is no access to plumbed potable water, or if there is a change in the work environment due to the implementation of a hazardous chemical, and there is no easy access to plumbed potable water,” stated Encon experts.

As far as location goes, it really is all about accessibility. Remember that eyewash stations should be located on the same level as the hazard, along with being properly and clearly marked. They must be positioned within 10 seconds (about 55ft) of the hazard, along a path that is free from obstructions.

“Ideally, when selecting a location for emergency first aid equipment, you want to decide on an area that is as close as possible to the hazardous area, while still being a safe distance from the hazard, so the victim is not continually exposed while trying to receive first aid. Also, selecting an area that is consistently well lit and one that employees are familiar with is critical, since the employee may not have the best use of their eyes or other senses during an emergency… navigating the facility in this state could cause further harm,” cautioned Haws & Co.

Workplace safety is a key consideration for any successful business, especially one that deals with hazardous materials. If you have questions about the proper type and location of your eyewash station, know that there are resources available to you. You may want to start by hiring an expert in the emergency eyewash industry to perform an on-site evaluation and issue a report that will guide you through the steps you need to take to ensure your facility is compliant.

According to the experts at Encon, you should follow the guidance of ANSI 5.4 Installation Section to install the eyewash station within the ANSI guidelines. Remember that accessibility is key; be sure the eyewash station is in a well-lit spot, free of obstructions and can be easily accessible within ten seconds. To read all of the ins and outs surrounding the Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Stations, go to WMHS

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