Emergency eyewash stations and showering stations are located in many work environments, and serve to help mitigate the damage of a harmful chemical coming into contact with a human body part (namely the skin and eyes). While OSHA and ANSI standards and regulations for these stations are dense and detailed, let’s take a look at some of the more commonly asked questions.
Q: When am I required to have an emergency eyewash or shower station?
A: A 2009 letter to OSHA asked some specifics regarding this question, and this is what OSHA had to say:
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.
OSHA – 29 CFR 1910.151(c)
It is worth noting that only these “injurious, corrosive materials” require employers to have emergency stations installed. Short of being a corrosive material with serious adverse affects to the human body, a material doesn’t dictate, under OSHA’s code, the need for washing facilities. However, the current ANSI standard does recommend having such stations when any kind of hazardous materials are involved. Hazardous materials can include anything that is harmful when in contact with the body.
Q: When a corrosive material is involved, do you need to have both an eyewash station and a full body shower?
A: There are a few different types of emergency wash stations, and, in the eyes of OSHA guidelines, they exist independently of each other. If only the eyes and face are at risk for becoming contaminated, then there is no need to have a full-body wash/showering station on site. Conversely, showers must be provided when other parts of the body are exposed. It is worth noting that in cases in which a shower is required, it cannot be substituted for an eyewash station as well. The nature of a shower may make eye rinsing inaccurate as well as dangerous as the water will be more highly pressurized than in an eyewash station. To summarize, an eyewash station can be and often is found on its own, whereas in environments requiring a full body showering station, a separate eyewash station is usually also required. If possible, an all-in-one unit is the best option, as it contains an eyewash station within a standard emergency drench (body) shower, thereby providing for all possible needs at once.
Q: What do I need to know about placement and signage regarding emergency stations?
A: In the case of a foreign object or material entering the eye, vision can be obstructed and therefore reading can be difficult. Large, easily visible. visual signage (like this emergency shower sign) should denote every emergency station and should be visible from far away, anywhere in the workplace. Speaking of distance, stations should be situated so that if someone has a problem they are no more than ten seconds away from a rinse station – referred to as the “10 second rule.” With chemicals, especially penetrating corrosives, the first ten to twenty seconds are critical; after just five to ten seconds, serious injury can occur. Make sure that employees are trained on the use of stations and aware of their locations to ensure quick treatment.
Q: What are the requirements for the capabilities of the station itself?
A: As for the specifics of a station, the CCOHS blog had this to say, taken straight from OSHA’s recommended ANSI standards:
The 2009 ANSI standard recommends that the water should be “tepid” and defines this temperature as being between 16-38°C (60-100°F). Temperatures higher than 38°C (100°F) are harmful to the eyes and can enhance chemical interaction with the skin and eyes. Long flushing times with cold water (less than 16°C (60°F)) can cause hypothermia and may result in not rinsing or showering for the full recommended time (ANSI 2009).
CCOHS – Why are emergency showers or eyewash stations important?
Note the requirement that stations be able to rinse continuously for 15 minutes – this is the minimum amount of time employees should, in most situations, rinse their eyes or other infected body part for. For some highly penetrating corrosives, it is recommended that the area be rinsed continuously for an entire hour. The long length of rinsing time stems from the fact that water itself doesn’t neutralize most chemical compounds, it can simply rinse it away or flush it out of the eyes; to completely remove a substance, you need to maintain water flow over an extended period of time. Also, don’t skip out on the required annual third party inspections, in the case of an incident you may need to be able to provide documentation that you followed all appropriate industry best practices.
Q: How many stations do I need?
A: Unfortunately, it’s hard to find any specific number or ratio on this in the ANSI documentation. Ideally, though, you’ll need to evaluate your risk factors and provide more stations the higher they are, and for the more workers you employ in the same place. Think about how likely it is that two people will need the stations at the same time: Do workers generally work individually, where incidents are likely to be isolated, or if something happened at a multi-worker station could you quickly find yourself with several employees needing emergency stations at the same time?
Ideally, the need for eyewash stations will never arise because employees are wearing proper personal protection equipment at all times, and are careful to adhere to company policy and training. In the event that something does go wrong, though, proper emergency wash stations help to ensure you’ll be prepared to respond quickly and keep your workers safe.
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