Be Prepared for Emergencies

A thorough hazard evaluation will help determine what each worksite needs.

At worksites across the country, employees are exposed to hazardous, corrosive chemicals as part of their workday. Safety managers and supervisors are key members of the team, as they provide solutions to avoid accidental splash injuries. Injuries can include painful scalds and burns, and it’s important to be diligent in workplace safety to prevent these accidents. It’s also imperative to prepare for a quick response with eyewash and emergency shower equipment.

To be in compliance with 29CFR 1910.151 (c) regulation, OSHA requires employers to be prepared for eye emergencies by providing emergency eyewash and shower equipment in an area that is no farther than 55 feet away, and requires a worker no more than 10 seconds to reach. The general requirement reads:

“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.”

If a chemical splash accident to the eyes occurs, the victim is likely to be suffering from eye irritation, pain, and potentially even blindness, and must be able to get to the eyewash equipment as easily and quickly as possible.

Eyewash units/emergency showers must be installed or placed in well-lit areas free from obstacles, and with prominent signage, so that a person with an eye injury can find it. It must be able to be activated in one second or less.

In order to determine the best type of equipment for a specific workplace, employers should conduct a site evaluation. During the evaluation, at-risk areas and potential hazards can be identified, as well as the emergency needs of those areas.

If employees are working with highly corrosive chemicals, employers should install equipment right next to the hazard. If multiple employees are exposed to the chemicals, there should be enough stations for all to access.

Eyewash stations provide a controlled flow of water to both eyes to flush away spills, splashes, dust, and debris. These stations deliver 15-minute, uninterrupted flow of tepid water.

Generally, there are three types of eye wash equipment.

Plumbed eye wash units are permanently installed in the facility, and can serve as eyewash, face wash, eye/face wash showers, and drench hoses. They’re able to supply a greater flow rate of water–generally between two and five gallons per minute–as compared to self-contained units.

Self-Contained/Gravity Fed eyewash equipment holds the eye wash solution in a chamber within the unit and must be refilled after use. This is a great option for locations where equipment can’t be plumbed. In order to comply with ANSI standards, a gravity-fed unit must hold enough fluid to provide 15 minutes of flushing.

Personal eyewash is often supplied in single-use bottles and used primarily while a victim is being moved to an eyewash unit for additional treatment. However, these do not meet ANSI requirements and should not be used as an alternative to a 15-minute flushing station.

Emergency eye/face wash stations are to be used when the entire face is in danger from dust, debris, spills, and splashes. These stations irrigate the face and eyes at the same time, and distribute a large pattern of water at a minimum rate of three gallons per minute.

Emergency showers are the best choice when larger areas of the body are at risk for exposure to hazardous chemicals. They deliver 20 gallons per minute of fluid for a minimum of 15 minutes to flush a larger portion of the body but aren’t appropriate for rinsing the eyes.

A combination eye wash/drench shower will simultaneously flush eyes and rinse a large portion of the body.

Employees must know where the closest eyewash and emergency shower station is, how to get there with restricted vision, and how to use the equipment.

Tepid fluid provides better, more effective first aid for victims. ANSI requires “a flushing fluid temperature conducive to promoting a minimum 15-minute irrigation period. A suitable range is 16 to 30 degrees Celsius or 60 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The first step in any safety plan is proper, effective training. Employees must be educated as to the location of the equipment and how to use it correctly. Each employee should also be trained on the proper action to take while assisting someone who has been affected and needs attention. Each employee must know how to alert medical personnel during an emergency situation as well.

When workers are exposed to hazardous and corrosive chemicals, employers must be prepared to respond to accidental chemical spills and splashes. Using the proper eye wash and emergency shower equipment makes your workplace safer and minimizes long-term damage and suffering.

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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