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No eyewash station: alkaline exposure can cause serious damage

Eley_10102013_1.jpgLab workers, listen up! Did you know that your workplace needs to have a standard eyewash station? In fact, any type of environment where workers are handling hazardous chemicals, such as alkalines or acids, should have eyewash stations that are accessible to workers.

Why is this so important? The longer a worker's eyes are in contact with a dangerous chemical, the more damage it can do. In extreme cases, this type of exposure can cause blindness and other long term injuries. So how can you tell if your workplace has eyewash stations up to standards?

According to the American National Standard for Emergency Eyewashes and Shower Equipment, eyewash stations must:

  • Be within 10 seconds of travel time from anywhere that a worker might be exposed to a dangerous substance
  • Be easily activated, whether with the worker's hand or foot
  • Stay on, once activated, without help from the worker
  • Provide at least 15 minutes of continual flow of tepid water to both eyes

While statistics from recent years were not available, in 2008 there were more than 2,500 reported eye injuries that resulted from chemical burns that forced workers to take time off. This number may be even greater if it included exposure that was treated in a timely manner with an eyewash station.

Employers should be aware of these standards as well. If there are currently not enough eyewash stations in a lab or similar environment, there are a few options for ensuring that standards are met. The first is to update an existing sink with a faucet-mount. This essentially converts a regular sink into a sink, plus an eyewash station, with both sharing the water supply. The downside is that a worker who is frantically trying to wash chemicals out of his or her eye may accidentally wash their face with hot water.

The other solution, and many would say the best solution, is to install dedicated eyewash stations that run on their own water supply. These can be dual-function units, swing-down stations, or free-standing units. The water temperature is regulated and prevents workers from sustaining hot water burns in addition to eye injuries.

Eley_10102013_2.jpgUltimately, your employer should be providing the appropriate protective equipment to prevent exposure to hazardous chemicals. However, if exposure does occur you should also have easy access to eyewash stations.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "The 10-Second Race: Better Eyewash Stations Reduce Injury," Imants Stiebris and Steven H. Miller, Oct. 1, 2013.

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