Safety Eyewear and Emergency Eyewash: Prevention and Preparation Matter

Non-compliance with protective eyewear and emergency eyewash safety standards is still a serious issue in the workplace, resulting in worker injury and hours of lost productivity. For a worker who partially or completely loses his or her sight, the personal cost of an eye injury is immeasurable in terms of a diminished quality of life, as well as lost wages and medical expenses. What may not be as obvious, though, are the staggering costs a company pays as a result of eye injuries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that workplace eye injuries can cost employers more than $934 million in direct and indirect costs each year. Taking the proper preventative measures before an accident happens is the first step in protecting employees’ eye health. These measures include understanding regulatory and facility safety requirements, providing and installing the proper equipment and adequately training facility managers and employees to help ensure safety is top of mind.

Choosing the Right Eye Protection

Everybody knows protecting your eyes is important, and eye protection can be a significant and visible first step toward having an effective overall safety program. The first step is to define the requirements and the specific eye protection needs of the workplace environment. This can be achieved through an analysis and hazard assessment of the work areas, job applications, access routes and the equipment itself. There should also be an examination of any past eye accident/injury reports to ensure problem areas have been addressed. Vision testing should also be a part of a company’s safety program, as uncorrected vision can be a contributing factor to injuries.

The eye protection chosen for specific work environments depends upon the nature and degree of the potential hazard, the circumstances of exposure and other personal and workplace factors. The ANSI Z87.1-2010 standard contains a selection chart that can help you choose recommended eye and face protection for particular job applications. This eye and face protection is generally of three different types: safety eyewear (spectacles), goggles or faceshields. The most common form of eye protection is safety spectacles that are designed with side protection and can resist an impact up to 150 feet per second.  For workers who also require vision correction, prescription safety frames with sideshields are also available, as are non-prescription over-the-glass (OTG) styles that can be worn in conjunction with regular prescription eyewear. Second, there are goggles, which form a protective seal around both eyes. There are two basic types of goggles; impact and chemical. Chemical goggles have hooded or indirect ventilation paths protecting the worker from chemical splashes. Impact goggles have direct ventilation holes and protect against direct impact or large particles. In addition, there are faceshields which are used in welding, grinding or sanding applications.  However, faceshields are considered secondary protection and must be worn in conjunction with protective eyewear or goggles.

Impact and splash protection, as mentioned above, are probably the first kind of hazards that come to mind when evaluating safety eyewear, but they are not the only consideration. Protection from types of invisible radiation should also be considered.  Where workers are exposed to harmful glare, ultraviolet or infrared radiation, tinted lenses or special filters are essential for protection. Tinted lenses also enhance visual perception by counteracting light distortion and preventing eye fatigue.

Once the types of eyewear and lens tint have been selected, there are still a few additional factors to consider. The eyewear chosen must meet the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) Z87.1 standard in the United States or the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) Z94.3 standard in Canada. It should provide the appropriate amount of coverage and should fit each individual worker properly and comfortably. By selecting adjustable eyewear, employers can ensure greater on-the-job comfort for workers who are more likely to keep comfortable eyewear on longer. Similarly, it’s also important for protective eyewear to provide some level of style to increase worker acceptance.

Be Prepared with Emergency Eyewash Stations

When an accident does occur, the difference between a very serious injury and one that can be mitigated often comes down to a matter of seconds. Lack of first aid eyewash or emergency shower facilities ranked fifth on the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) 25 most-cited general industry violations in 2005. Though reasons for this type of violation may vary, employers’ lack of understanding is often a major factor; sometimes it’s simply a case of not knowing that a facility requires emergency eyewash stations.

Determining Eyewash Needs

As a rule, eyewash stations are required if work environments involve paint, solvents, battery charging stations, hazardous chemical storage, tool parts washers or chemical pumping/mixing areas. If employees are using chemical-resistant gloves, cartridge- or air-supplied respirators, chemical-resistant goggles or flammable storage containers, eyewash protection is most likely required as well.

Although OSHA sets the overall requirements for providing emergency eyewash, it refers to ANSI to guide employers in establishing and maintaining work practices relating to eye safety. Specifically, the ANSI Z358.1 safety standard requires that eyewash stations:

  • Be located in areas where caustic or hazardous substances are present
  • Be placed in accessible locations that require no more than 10 seconds to reach
  • Be located on the same level as the hazard
  • Be free of obstructions that might inhibit immediate access
  • Be in a visible area identified with a sign
  • Be positioned with the flushing fluid nozzles no less than 33 inches and no greater than 45 inches from the surface on which the user stands
  • Flush both eyes simultaneously
  • Deliver a 15-minute continuous flow of tepid flushing fluid
  • Have an on-off value, pull strap or door that is capable of activation in one second or less and activates in one single motion

Eyewash Stations: Know Your Options

In order to meet compliance standards, there are two main styles of emergency eyewash stations available—plumbed and portable units—each with different features and implications for eye health.

Plumbed eyewash systems are permanently connected to a source of tap water. Their greatest attribute is the ability to deliver plentiful amounts of flushing fluid. However, tap water does not match the pH of the eye and may also contain contaminants and microorganisms — both of which could further irritate and injure the eye, and potentially lead to serious complications such as corneal cell damage. Additionally, untempered tap water may be too cold or too hot, making it uncomfortable to rinse the eyes continuously for the required 15 minutes. These stations also must be connected to fixed plumbing—making them expensive to install and impractical to move should work areas change. They also require weekly flushing maintenance.

Portable stations are available in tank-style or sealed-fluid cartridge and are less expensive to install than plumbed stations and can be moved to adapt quickly to changing work environments or locations.

Portable, tank-style eyewash units contain their own flushing fluid that can be either a mixture of water and preservatives, or water plus a buffered saline solution to help ensure safe flushing. They must be cleaned and refilled in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions; however, this only needs to be done every six months.

Portable, sealed-fluid cartridge devices offer added benefits. Leading units feature factory-sealed cartridges containing either a sterile or purified, buffered saline solution that remains free of bacteria or contamination for 24 months. This two-year shelf life is determined by the date of manufacture, and is more than four times longer than any other primary, portable eyewash station. The units can only be refilled with a sealed-fluid cartridge, thus avoiding the contaminants found in tap water.

For specifics on OSHA and ANSI requirements, refer to OSHA Standard 1910.151, titled Medical Services and First Aid, and the ANSI Z358.1 Standard for Emergency Shower and Emergency Eyewash Equipment.

Make Informed Safety Decisions

Creating a safe work environment should be a top priority for all employers and employees alike, notwithstanding the fact that non-compliance with OSHA regulations for workplace safety is a violation of the law. After all, for the worker who experiences an eye injury, there is no price on the loss of vision or associated pain and suffering. To ensure a safe workplace, it is critical to take the time to assess eye safety hazards in your facilities, determine the necessary protective equipment, and provide employees with the products and training they need to not only protect themselves from injury, but also to be prepared when an accident does occur.

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