Anytime there is an area of where chemicals are being handled, or there is the potential for airborne materials or projectiles, there is the potential for workers to get a substance or object into their eyes or on their skin. This can result in pain and the inability to focus vision as well as irritation and possible damage to exposed skin areas. The most important step against skin and eye damage is prevention or elimination of the hazard however, this may not always be possible. If there is chemical or foreign body contact with the eyes or skin, immediate flushing or rinsing is often the best action to take. This is why eye washes and safety showers are invaluable pieces of equipment for this purpose.
When there is the possibility that a material can be splashed, blown, or shot into a worker’s eyes, employers are required to install working eyewash stations. These devices must be located in the reasonable vicinity of where an injured worker could reach the equipment within ten seconds of contact with the chemical or foreign object. The eye wash stations also must be highly visible, clearly marked, and easily accessible with pathways free of clutter and other impediments.
Eyewash stations can be either primary or secondary eyewash units. Primary units are required to deliver at least fifteen minutes of free-flowing fluid which is the amount of time generally needed to remove most objects from the eye. There are primary units designed in both permanently plumbed and portable formats. Portable units have a self-contained liquid source, and the plumbed units are permanently connected to a water line. Primary units are also installed for hands-free operation so workers hands are free to care for their injured eyes or to hold their eyelids back so that the water can adequately rinse the entire eye surface.
Secondary units are intended to support the use of the primary unit and they supply a much lower level of flushing fluid. They are intended to get the injured employee from the point of injury to a primary unit eyewash to allow fifteen minutes of flushing. Examples of these units are the irrigation bottles that are usually mounted in areas to buy the employee the time of travel to get to a primary unit. The proper method for flushing the eye is to hold the eyelids back allowing the water stream to touch the cornea itself, holding this position for fifteen minutes to ensure all materials are washed away.
Safety showers are designed to flush the entire body when activated. To use correctly an employee must thoroughly rinse for fifteen minutes and make sure that all contaminants are washed off. Clothing that is contaminated must be removed and disposed of properly.
Once installed, eyewash stations and safety showers must be regularly inspected, tested, and maintained to ensure they will work in the manner required when an emergency occurs.
Additionally, workers that have the potential to use either of these pieces of equipment must be trained on the operation and location of it so they will know where to go and how to use it should they have a need to flush their eyes or shower off a contaminate.