The Crucial Role of Emergency Eyewash Stations

The Crucial Role of Emergency Eyewash Stations

Emergency eyewash stations are central to the safety of everyone around them. What are some key innovations to eyewash stations, and how do companies ensure proper usage?

Employees walk by their work sites’ emergency eyewash or shower station every day, hoping they never need to use them or, more likely, not giving them a second thought. However, when these stations are needed, they must work properly.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen the state of pipes in manufacturing plants and certain other facilities, and the water that flows from them. Many of us have seen online videos of teachers using their emergency showers for the first time in years (if ever) and having a slew of brown, dirty water pour out. While these videos are presented as lighthearted and amusing, imagine needing to use an emergency eyewash station and having rust and mineral-filled dirty water shoot out. The importance of maintaining, flushing, and regularly checking these fundamental pieces of safety equipment isn’t something we should look past.

These stations are central to the safety of everyone around them, providing a first line of defense against dangerous burns and eye damage from chemicals, debris and more. However, the technology used remains largely the same as it’s been since the 1980s – simply activate the flow of water by pulling on a shower chain or pushing a valve handle to flush your eyes.

Advantages of Sensor-Enabled Stations

One of the few advancements we’ve made has been in sensors and alerts that go off when an eyewash station is activated, but those sensors and alerts are only as useful as people make them. So, what are some of the benefits of these sensors, and what should the people responsible for using, maintaining, and responding to incidents involving them know?

First, these sensors will improve the response and reliability of the stations, alerting the security or front office if it’s used. Additionally, to prevent dirty water from pouring out of the station and flowing into the victims’ eyes, these systems can provide reminders to conduct regular maintenance, keeping the water clean and ready to go for when it’s needed. Even if the system has a false alarm, someone must go visually to inspect the station to turn the alarm off, providing a touchpoint to make sure nothing is wrong and that things are working properly.

How Eyewash Station Alarms Enhance Safety

Washing station alarms can help first responders in case of an emergency. If someone is working with corrosive chemicals that splash in their eyes, their priority is getting to the eyewash, and therefore they may not be able to let anyone know what has happened. By the time they have finished flushing their eyes for the recommended 15 minutes, and can go seek help, a lot of vital time has passed.

Put simply, if someone is using an emergency eyewash station, something within your facility has gone wrong. With an alarm that goes off when the station is used, supervisors and first responders within your facility can begin to address the situation, gauge the need for additional emergency medical attention and get help to the person in need faster.

Emergency showers and eyewash stations are simple, and yet they are vital and effective for ensuring the safety of people working with corrosive chemicals. Quickly flushing and diluting chemicals from the skin and eyes can minimize or prevent the damage these chemicals can cause. And while showers and eyewashes are not specifically required for non-corrosive chemicals it would be a big relief to have them around if you were to get something like bleach in your eyes.

Training and Education: Ensuring Proper Use of Eyewash Stations

Training and education for everyone who works near these systems is necessary to ensure that after the simple “push the valve and flush your eyes,” the proper actions are taken — like holding your eyes open and flushing for 15 minutes.

Training someone on how to use an emergency shower or eyewash station is straightforward – but what happens when such a system is actually used? There must be a protocol in place. For those monitoring the systems from an office, that means knowing how to assess the situation quickly and effetely to make sure that the person using the station gets any help they might need, and if needed, the right first responders make it on-site as quickly as possible.

While not always a 911-level emergency, using an eyewash station only happens when something has gone wrong. Everyone working onsite should be able to understand what to do not only in the event of an accident, but in the event of a specific type of accident. The response if someone gets a splinter in their eye or if flammable gas is leaking are different, and people need to know how to identify the difference — and act accordingly.

In the case of an emergency in which first responders are called, those near the station and the incident should be able to identify the risk present and evacuate the area if needed. And for those impacted and using the eyewash station, they need to know —
once the immediate danger has passed – what to do. Calling the facility emergency number, which hopefully has already alerted first responders, reaching out to colleagues for help and getting yourself to safety are all important steps.

These are all things that people may assume they’ll know how to handle, but while emergency eyewash stations seem simple to use, constant maintenance to ensure they’re ready to go when needed is vital, the response afterward is crucial, and yet often overlooked given the simple appearance and functionality of an eye wash station.

Training everyone on the job site regularly with signs, training sessions, and constant communication about the importance of maintenance and what to do in the event of an emergency is time well spent to help improve outcomes for both the individual and the work site at large in the event of an accident. While I always hope these devices won’t be used, they are safety-critical pieces of equipment that need to be properly maintained. But ultimately, having a workforce who knows what to do after an emergency shower or eyewash station is used is just as important as having a proper working station.

This article originally appeared in the August 1, 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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