Let’s Review OSHA’s Eye Wash Station Requirements.
When working with chemicals or any other products that may damage the eye, it is important to have eye wash stations located nearby. In fact, depending on the irritant that is being used, these stations are often required to be located within the work area, and easy to find even with limited vision. These eye wash stations come in many different designs, but they all allow users to easily flush any hazardous chemicals out of the eyes using fresh water.
Many employers add these stations to their facility even when the chemicals being used are not harsh enough to cause permanent damage. Even more mild chemicals can cause quite a bit of irritation, and it is much better to flush out the eyes so the employees can return to work more quickly. Regardless of why the stations are installed, it is important that they are in the right locations and meet all OSHA requirements.
OSHA Requirements for Eye Wash Stations
Whenever adding an eye wash station there are OSHA requirements that you’ll need to follow. These requirements have been developed over time, and reflect the best practices for ensuring the stations are effective. While some of the details of the standards change based on the industry they are used in, they are largely uniform.
The OSHA requirements for emergency eyewashes and showers, found at 29 CFR 1910.151(c), specify that “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.
The major requirements that all employers need to know about include:
- Emergency eye wash stations should be placed in all hazardous areas. This essentially means that it may be necessary to have multiple stations in a given facility to ensure any employee who is working with hazardous materials can get to the station quickly in the event of an accident.
- Instructions should be posted near the potential danger spots. Any area where hazardous chemicals are in use should have a sign with instructions on what to do in the event that chemicals get into an employee’s eyes. Employees should be trained on these instructions prior to working in these areas.
- Employees must be instructed on where the nearest eyewash station is, and know how to find it with restricted vision. In addition to training employees on where these stations are, this means that no obstructions should be placed around the stations that could make it difficult to locate for someone who has been exposed to a severe eye irritant.
While the OSHA requirements are fairly straight forward for most employers, they are also very important. Following these minimum requirements will go a long way in helping employees properly respond to an accident where chemicals get into their eyes.
It is also important to note that eyewash stations are required even in areas where the chemicals that are commonly used are only hazardous in their undiluted form. For example, some chemicals are very corrosive when in a solid form, but once mixed with water they are only a mild irritant. If the chemicals are ever in the solid form while in the work area, the eyewash station is required in order to allow for rapid responses to a potential accident. Even if the chemical is diluted right away, and only remains in the solid form for a short time, the station must be present.
Similarly, the stations are required in areas where chemicals are stored in sealed packaging if they are ever to be opened or accessed. If, however, a chemical will remain in a completely sealed off area (such as in building piping) than it is not necessary to have the eyewash stations. Of course, just because a station is not strictly required, many employers will still install them to provide that added protection for their employees.
Make Sure Everyone Knows where Eye Wash Stations are Located
In most cases, the employees who work with chemicals that can damage the eyes will know where the stations are located. In many cases, however, employees who don’t normally work with these chemicals will be exposed as well. This is why it is important to take steps to ensure everyone is aware of where the eye washing stations are located, and how to work them.
One of the easiest ways to ensure everyone knows how to find the stations is by using safety signs that point people in the direction of the stations. These signs can be placed throughout the station, so people can easily see them and know how to get where they need to go. Since people will see them on a daily basis, they will learn the locations very quickly.
Of course, if someone’s eyes are irritated and they can’t see, the signs will still be helpful in allowing others to direct them quickly and easily. In addition, signs that direct people toward these stations can use a specific color or large lettering so that even with obstructed vision, people may be able to see the signs. These safety signs are easy to order and install and they are also very affordable, making them an obvious choice for all facility owners.
Used as a Last Resort
While emergency eyewash stations are a great addition to any facility, it is important to note that they are not to be relied on exclusively for eye protection. These stations are only intended as an emergency response to an accident where chemicals come in contact with an employee’s eyes. Ideally, employees should be wearing personal protection equipment that will prevent this type of exposure from ever occurring. This should include protective eye wear, gloves, and other protective gear as is necessary based on the types of chemicals being used.
Like all emergency response devices, eye wash stations are an important tool that everyone hopes will never be used. In the event of an emergency, however, they can help to quickly flush out the eyes and potentially prevent an employee from having permanent damage or even blindness. This is why all facilities should invest in installing these items, providing employees with training on them, and having the necessary safety signs in place to ensure everyone knows where the stations can be located. It is a small investment that can have major benefits for years to come.
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