Selecting an emergency eyewash station

What factors need to be considered in selecting an emergency eyewash station?

Answered by Christine Mello, senior product manager, Pulsafe/Fend-all, Smithfield, RI.

As the safety expert, you have the important responsibility of understanding and complying with OSHA and ANSI guidelines for emergency eyewashes. While selecting the right emergency eyewash station for your facility may appear difficult, it is really quite simple once you familiarize yourself with a few simple criteria:

  1. ANSI and OSHA requirements
  2. Eyewash station choices available
  3. Flushing solutions associated with the different types of eyewash stations
  4. The respective maintenance and flushing solutions associated with the various eyewash stations
  5. Overall cost of choice

Keep this fact in mind when developing your overall program: A 2005 OSHA report said 784 citations were issued to companies that did not have eyewash in near proximity to employees. Another 1,124 citations were issued to companies that did not provide employees with hazard information and training.

Total penalty: Nearly $800,000

Once you understand the criteria, you will be well on your way to developing an eyewash compliance program tailored to your facility's needs and most importantly, for your employees' precious eyesight – their "window to the world."

The following tips should be a great start to keep you and your employees safe from harm – and your wallet safe from monetary citations.

ANSI at a glance

  • Eyewash stations should be available in "accessible" locations within 10 seconds of the hazard.
  • They should deliver a 15-minute continuous flow.
  • They should be located in areas where caustic or hazardous substances are present. Always check all relevant Material Safety Data Sheets to determine if the chemical or substance in your facility requires 15-minute eye flushing.
  • They should have an on-off valve, pull strap or door that activates with one single motion in one second or less.
  • They should be in a location free of obstructions that inhibit immediate use.
  • They must be clearly visible and identified with a sign.

Eyewash station choices: Plumbed vs. portable

Accessibility concerns regarding plant layout and changing work environments often are a significant factor in the choice of eyewash station. While plumbed eyewash stations can be an expensive option to install and are limited in their ability to be relocated, they are still a reliable choice for emergency eye flushing.

For many, the portability of self-contained eyewash stations is an important consideration for keeping eyewash devices near workers, because work locations and hazards change in the environment. Portable stations can provide added flexibility that is a benefit in today's dynamic work settings.

Cost and maintenance

The unit's flushing fluid and required maintenance can influence both safety and cost of operation.

Plumbed eyewash stations require ANSI-mandated weekly activation to verify proper operation and to flush away buildup that may form as a result of stagnant water. Without weekly activation, bacteria, sediment and mold can accumulate in the plumbing.

Mixed concentrate stations are commonly known as Tank Style Portable stations. These rely on mixing tap water with a preservative. The mixed solution typically expires after six months, thereby requiring a biannual maintenance schedule. These units must be cleaned and refilled in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

Cartridge-based eyewash stations use factory-sealed fluid cartridges and do not require the use of tap water. Some units have a 24-month shelf life if the unit has not been activated. This two-year shelf life is determined by the date of manufacture, and is more than four times longer than any other primary, portable eyewash station. Cartridges can be quickly and easily installed in less than five minutes on most leading models.

Available flushing solutions

  • Tap water: While both plumbed and self-contained stations meet industry standards, each provides a different level of comfort and assurance. Medical experts agree that tap water has the potential to increase damage to an injured eye. Tap water particularly poses hazards in areas that do not offer a bacteria-free water supply. Both plumbed stations and mixed concentrate stations require the use of tap water. Mixed concentrate stations utilize a water additive as part of the mixing. While the ingredients in this additive will help reduce the likelihood of bacterial growth, none will prevent buildup over an extended period of time.

  • Sterile solution: Sealed-fluid cartridges, which require no mixing and measuring, are filled through a sealed process in a clean room environment and use purified water, and just recently, a sterile solution cartridge. As with purified, buffered saline solution, sterile solution lasts for up to 24 months in sealed cartridges, keeping maintenance costs to a minimum. Sterile solution is completely devoid of living organisms and bacteria, making it the most advanced option available today for emergency eye flushing.
Regardless of industry or location, your primary requirement is to maintain compliance with the ANSI Z358.1-2004 standard. Help is available to you whether through ANSI, OSHA, your local distributor or the manufacturer of the product that you select. Some manufacturers even offer hazard assessments in joint cooperation with your local distributor to help you tailor a program specifically to your needs at no cost. The goal is to make sure you are in compliance and that your employees are safe from potential harm.

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