Each day, almost 2,000 U.S. workers incur job-related eye injuries requiring medical treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 1,000 workers are blinded on the job every year. Chemical burns to the eyes from the splashing of industrial chemicals and cleaning products are among the most common eye injuries in the workplace. If your business works with corrosive materials and keeps them on site, you will have to provide an emergency eyewash station, and possibly a shower, in the event of a chemical splash.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that employers provide a safe workplace and protect their employees from death or injury at work. OSHA rules require emergency eyewash stations and drenching showers where workers' eyes or bodies may be exposed to hazardous and corrosive materials. Each chemical must be labeled to describe to its potential hazard to humans. These rules apply to businesses of any size if these chemicals are present.
Material Safety Data Sheet
A chemical's Material Safety Data Sheet tells whether it is a corrosive and gives information about its degree of hazard to humans, including whether eyewash stations or showers are needed where the material is stored or used. Chemicals labeled as “eye irritants" are among those that require eyewash stations. No comprehensive list names which types of businesses must install an eyewash station, but many common small business meet the requirement. Businesses that work in dipping and coating operations and pulp and paper milling, and those where formaldehyde and carcinogens are used, often need eyewash stations on site. This can include businesses that have large rechargeable batteries for use on equipment. Dental offices are often required to have eyewash stations if they use phosphoric acid to clean teeth.
The American National Standards Institute also has standards for addressing emergency eyewash and shower equipment. While not required by government regulation, ANSI rules are considered proper safety standards for many industries and often required by insurers. ANSI regulations require that eyewash stations be hooked up to a lukewarm water source and be capable of maintaining flows of .4 gallons per minute for up to 15 minutes, according to the Occupational Health & Safety Online site. ANSI regulations also require proper lighting around the eyewash station and an unimpeded path so employees can reach it within 10 seconds.
Most workplace eye injuries are due to poor safety practices and lack of appropriate personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses, goggles and face shields. However, eyewash stations are not an acceptable substitute for protective eyewear. Employees should use appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids, chemical gases, vapors or radiant light. When flying objects pose a hazard, side protection is required on goggles; detachable side protectors such as clip-on or slide-on side shields are acceptable.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Eye Safety
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Eye and Face Protection
- Occupational Health & Safety: Help Is out There
- Occupational Health & Safety Administration: Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklift)
- EyewashDirect: ANSI Eyewash Z358.1-2009 In-Depth Compliance Guide
Terry Lane has been a journalist and writer since 1997. He has both covered, and worked for, members of Congress and has helped legislators and executives publish op-eds in the “Wall Street Journal,” “National Journal” and “Politico." He earned a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Florida.