June 28, 2021 | | Comments 1
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In your eyes: The light, the heat, the flushing fluid…

As is often the case (it probably says more about me than anything else, but what can one do?), it seems that there are always conversations to have about the practical nature of the risks of occupational exposure to injurious chemicals and how eyewash stations figure in the greater reality that is healthcare. In general, we know that eyewash stations are only “required” when there is a risk of occupational exposure to injurious chemicals (here’s a reasonable reinforcement of that interpretation), but somehow, everywhere I go there are eyewash stations in areas for which there is no risk of occupational exposure, etc. It’s possible that there might have been in the past, but the organization was able to make good use of the hierarchy of controls to reduce the risk of occupational exposure by either eliminating the hazard or substituting the product with something that is not injurious. That is not always going to be the case, but it occurs to me that rather than just talk about eyewash stations as a going concern, let’s look at what you can do to either remove ones you have or forego having to ever install an eyewash station in the first place. Which reminds me, if you are building new or renovating existing space, make sure the architects/designers with whom you are working understand when eyewash stations are actually required. I’m finding a lot of eyewash stations in new construction that don’t belong—soiled utility rooms, etc. It’s probably worth asking them for a list of locations where eyewash stations are earmarked for installation; it might save you some aggravation in the future.

At any rate, in the previous passage, I noted the “good use” of the hierarchy of controls, so I thought that this might be a good opportunity to walk through that general concept. Fortunately, this is a topic about which the good folks at NIOSH have given some thought. What follows is rather along the lines of a (very basic) primer, but there’s lots of good content available through the CDC/NIOSH portal.

Hierarchy of controls

  • Elimination: Remove the hazard
  • Substitution: Replace the hazard
  • Engineering Controls: Isolate people from the hazard
  • Administrative Controls: Change the way people work
  • PPE: Protect the worker with personal protective equipment

You may notice that eyewash stations don’t really figure in to the hierarchy, primarily because the role of eyewash stations is in the event of an emergency as the result of a failure of the above-noted controls to prevent the exposure (again, it’s kind of basic, but nonetheless true for its simplicity). I don’t know that there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer for any of this (which has a lot to do with why this is such a perennial consideration in the safety field), but I do know that using the hierarchy to work through how you manage risks of occupational exposure makes a great deal of sense (well, at least it does to me). Please look over the available information and let me know what you think.

I wish each of you and your families a most safe and festive Independence Day (the year is half over—who’d a thunk?!?). See you next week!

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Filed Under: Hospital safety

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Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Briefings on Hospital Safety. Contact Steve at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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  1. I love to read Mac’s Safety Space. Good practical recommendations. And always a laugh, which we can use.

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