Emergency Eye Wash Stations
By: William (Billy) Kinch
Many organizations struggle with compliance to eye wash stations. I am here to help you with that. OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.151(c) states that emergency eye wash stations are required where an employee is at risk of exposure to a corrosive material. The general guideline for eye wash stations comes from ANSI Z358.1. Here are some of the more important requirements for eye wash stations:
- The flushing fluid must be provided to both eyes simultaneously so as not to be injurious to the user. I have seen many organizations install a hand-held face wash device to be used for the eye wash stations. Most times they are not installed in a manner that is accessible to the user. When I communicate this with the hospitals, I most commonly am given a response that the user would hold the eye wash. As you can see, this would not be permitted as the user would not be able to wash both eyes simultaneously by holding both eye lids open with their hands. Additionally, eye wash stations must be used hands-free.
- The nozzles and flushing fluid components must be protected from airborne contaminants. Most stations have caps on top of them to meet this requirement. The most common deficiency I see with this requirement is having caps removed, broken, or not functioning properly.
- The valve is required to remain in the on position until the operator turns it off. The valve is required to go from off to on in 1-second or less.
- The eye wash station must be identified with a highly visible sign located in the area where the hazard is located. The area must be well lit.
- When the user is standing in front of the eye wash, the fluid flow pattern must be no lower than 33 inches and no higher than 53 inches from where the user is standing. The station must be a minimum of 6 inches from the wall or any other obstruction.
- The water temperature must be tepid. Tepid is defined as being between 60-100 degrees F.
- I saved this installation requirement for last since it is the one that requires the most attention and is most commonly cited. The eye wash station must be in a location that takes less than 10 seconds for the user to reach. The eye wash station should be located on the same level as the hazard and shall be free of any obstructions in the path. As a general rule of thumb, a person walking at a normal pace can travel approximately 55 feet in 10 seconds. It should be noted that a single step up into an enclosure is not considered to be an obstruction. However, a door is considered to be an obstruction. This is the most commonly cited deficiency. Many hospitals have eye wash stations placed in rooms that have a door and many times a lock. The eye wash is located in a room where the hazard is not located. Therefore, the door would be a hazard.
Now that the eye wash station is installed in a proper location, we must maintain the eye wash stations and test them periodically.
- Plumbed eye wash stations are required to be activated weekly for a period long enough to verify the proper operation and that the appropriate flushing fluid is available.
- Self-contained eye washes (or otherwise known as non-plumbed or gravity fed) in many cases cannot be tested weekly due to the nature of the device. Therefore, in these cases the devices must be visually checked weekly to ensure that the flushing fluids do not need to be changed. Organizations are required to check with the manufacturer of the device and the products used to ensure proper maintenance.
- All eye wash stations are also required to be inspected annually. During the annual inspection organizations are required to check for the same requirements as to when they were initially installed. This would include signage, proper flow, obstructions, lighting, and temperature.
- All employees who have the potential of being exposed to corrosive or hazardous materials are required to be educated on the location and proper usage of the eye wash stations they may have to use.
The information discussed is for the use of eye wash stations. This is not inclusive of all different types of devices. Organizations should assess the location of all hazardous materials periodically to ensure that new hazards have not been introduced into the organization. Once the assessment is performed the organizations should evaluate the proper locations of eye wash stations and educate staff. I hope this sheds a little bit of light to assist organizations in their compliance efforts.
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