Eyewash Stations and Emergency Showers: Where, When and How

If you think eyewash stations and emergency showers belong only in hazardous industrial settings, you could be leaving your employees and your business in danger. Although OSHA’s requirement for showers and eyewashes is quite broad, understanding the diverse range of locations where these products should be used will help make your facilities safer for employees who are working with a variety of chemicals.

A recent article in ISHN by John Eliszewski and Imants Stebris explains how to identify areas for emergency showers and eyewashe stations. Their article is recapped here, with some additional information to explain more about the topic.

Identify Chemical Hazards

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) are good tools to help identify chemical hazards. The symbols on the GHS labels clearly identify chemicals that are corrosive, irritants, flammable, etc., and accompanying Safety Data Sheets (SDS) will give instructions on first aid needs for exposure to the eyes or body.

Now look for places where hazardous chemicals are commonly used – and not just in processing applications. If your employees use forklifts, aerial lifts or other warehouse equipment, you probably have battery charging or maintenance stations. In some cases, eyewash stations may be needed. Your janitor’s closet probably is full of chemicals that require eye PPE and flushing with water if accidental exposure occurs. How about pool chemical areas in a school or hotel. Commercial kitchens are another overlooked spot where chemical cleaners and degreasers are commonly found.

A risk assessment should be the determining factor for placing emergency showers and eyewashes. Evaluate the specific chemicals being used and the potential hazards to employees. OSHA’s Three Lines of Defense philosophy states that personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last line of defense after engineering and administrative controls. When PPE doesn’t adequately protect the worker and a chemical incident occurs, an emergency shower and/or eyewash with tepid water is required within 10 seconds of travel distance.

Follow the Standards

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for emergency eyewashes and showers, and OSHA’s 1910.151(c) standard provides only basic direction when it comes to emergency eyewashes and showers:

“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.”

To further confuse the issue, OSHA does not define “suitable facilities,” so employers must look to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z358.1 Standard for Emergency Eyewashes and Shower Equipment for guidance. ANSI Z358.1 helps users select and install proper emergency equipment to meet OSHA requirements. OSHA often uses ANSI Z358.1 as a guide during inspections and may elect to issue penalties for those found not to be in compliance. The standard specifies how close emergency washing facilities must be to workers (50 feet or 10 seconds or less, and on a single level), the water temperature range (60-100°F) and the amount of time that water needs to flow to the affected areas (at least 15 minutes).

Keep Stations Ready

Requirements for testing and maintaining wash facilities are based on manufacturer instructions and ANSI protocols. Recommended weekly inspection points include:

– Installation within 10 seconds from the hazard and on the same level as the hazard (no stairs or ramps)
– Pathways to the station clear of obstructions
– Activate equipment to ensure compliant operation and clear any sediment
– Ensure units are free of broken or missing parts
– Protect units from freezing
– Ensure users are protected from scalding water

So, does your office, school, retail store or hotel need an emergency shower or eyewash station? Does it need more than one? How about your manufacturing or storage area? There’s no single official answer, but these tips can help you decide if you need to investigate further. When in doubt, err on the side of safety.

Eyewash Station Resources: