Workers’ eyes are vulnerable to many hazards on the job, including dust, fumes, pieces of material flying out of equipment, and splashes of hazardous substances. And according to CNIB, every day, 700 Canadian workers sustain eye injuries on the job, often resulting in lost time and, in some cases, either temporary or permanent vision loss. The primary way to protect workers’ vision is to keep things from getting into their eyes, such as by requiring them to wear safety glasses. But if something should get into a worker’s eyes despite your efforts, it’s critical that he flushes his eyes as soon as possible to prevent or minimize any damage. To do so, you need to have eyewash stations in your workplace and those stations must meet the requirements in the OHS laws. So here are five basic steps you should take to comply with those requirements.
TAKE 5 STEPS
Every jurisdiction’s OHS regulations have some requirements for eyewash stations, although some are more detailed than others. In several jurisdictions, the OHS laws require eyewash stations to comply with ANSI Standard Z358.1, American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment, which establishes minimum performance and use requirements for eyewash equipment. Of course, you should always consult and comply with the specific requirements in your jurisdiction’s OHS laws, including the ANSI standard if applicable. (See this chart to see your jurisdiction’s requirements.) But taking these basic five steps will help you comply with those requirements:
Step #1: Determine if Eyewash Stations Are Required
In general, if there’s a risk of workers being exposed to hazardous substances or other harmful materials that could burn, irritate or otherwise injure their eyes, you’re required to have an eyewash station.
Step #2: Select Appropriate Stations
If you determine that you’re required to have an eyewash station, you must ensure that you select appropriate equipment. For example, there are portable units, so-called “plumbed” units that are permanently connected to a continual source of potable water and personal eyewash units. To determine the right equipment, the number of stations you’ll need and where they should be placed, conduct a risk assessment with the JHSC or health and safety representative that considers:
- The types of chemicals and other hazardous substances or materials used in the workplace, their quantity and concentration, and the manner in which they’re used;
- The areas in the workplace or at the work site in which these substances are used;
- The degree of risk of workers’ eyes being exposed to such substances or materials; and
- The nature of the harm they pose to workers’ eyes, such as mild irritation or irreversible damage.
Step #3: Properly Install and Maintain Stations
When you install an eyewash station, be sure to follow the requirements in the OHS laws, ANSI Z358.1 and the manufacturer’s instructions. Stations vary and have precise installation instructions to ensure their proper performance, including installation height, the rate of fluid flow, required spray pattern and more.
Also, eyewash stations should be installed near where workers are exposed to hazards to their eyes. Ideally, a worker who’s gotten something in his eyes should have to walk no longer than 5-10 seconds to get to an eyewash station. And in some jurisdictions, such as Alberta, a first aid room must be equipped with an eyewash station.
In addition, eyewash stations should be easily accessible and the path to them shouldn’t be obstructed by equipment or materials. And don’t place an eyewash station behind a closed or locked door. Although the station may be used infrequently, remember that when it’s needed, someone’s vision is on the line—and every second counts. Lastly, eyewash stations should be clearly identified by signs that indicate their location and provide clear directions for their use.
Once an eyewash station has been installed, take steps to ensure that it’s properly maintained. It should be kept clean and sanitary, and all elements should be in working order. In addition, avoid using expired flushing fluid. Like any standing water, eyewash fluid can grow bacteria that may be harmful to eyes. Be sure that someone’s responsible for conducting regular inspections of your eyewash stations that include checking expiration dates and refilling/replacing expired fluid according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, such as every two to three years for sealed-fluid cartridges and bottles. In addition, plumbed stations should generally be flushed weekly and tank-style fluid stations every three to six months.
Step #4: Establish Procedures for Use of the Stations
Make sure you take steps to ensure that your eyewash stations are used properly and only for their designated purpose. Here are some best practices to include in your safe work procedures:
- Don’t hang the station at an angle. Doing so can interfere with the proper flow of flushing fluid and may force an injured person to stand in an uncomfortable position to flush their eyes properly.
- Don’t block access. Instruct workers to avoid placing anything underneath, around or in front of an eyewash station, which can block an injured worker’s ability to find, access or stand comfortably at the station.
- Watch the fluid’s temperature. Don’t allow the flushing fluid to become too hot or too cold. Storing flushing fluid in extremely hot or cold environments can cause its temperature to rise or fall outside of standards for tepid water. And flushing eyes with scalding or ice-cold solution can cause further damage to an already compromised eye.
- Fill the station properly. Avoid mistakes when mixing flushing fluid. Always prepare this fluid according to the manufacturer’s instructions. And don’t substitute regular, unsterile water for the eyewash solution.
- Clean thoroughly after use. Don’t forget to clean, disinfect, rinse and completely dry the station after each activation, including its hoses, nozzles and nozzle covers (but not the sealed-fluid cartridges). Any lingering cleaning chemicals or particles may harm the next user’s eyes. When the wrong chemicals mix, the fluid may turn brown or another color and colored fluid shouldn’t be used.
- Don’t cover the station. Don’t place a plastic bag or other makeshift cover over the station to keep out dust or particles, which can hinder an injured person’s ability to properly activate the unit in a single motion and start the flow in one second or less.
Step #5: Train Workers
As with any other equipment, train workers on how to properly use an eyewash station and on your safe work procedures for this equipment.
When a worker gets a hazardous substance in his eyes, he may have mere seconds before his vision is compromised. That’s why it’s so important to have working eyewash stations conveniently located and easily accessible in an emergency, and to properly maintain them. Otherwise, a worker could suffer serious and even permanent eye injuries—and your company could be fined. For example, at a steel mill in Ontario, a worker was checking a truck’s battery when it exploded in his face. He tried to use the emergency eyewash fountain, but it wasn’t working. The employer pleaded guilty to failing to maintain an eyewash fountain and deluge shower in good condition and was fined $25,000 [Essar Steel Algoma Inc., Govt. News Release, Oct. 12, 2010].
Additional Eye Safety Resources
The OHS Insider has additional articles, tools and other resources you can use to protect workers’ eyes, including: