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Plumbing the intricacies of eyewash station selection

Safety tip from Medical Environment Update [1], December 2008

Generally, eyewash stations with bottles of buffered solution don’t meet OSHA requirements—at least not for exposure to injurious corrosive materials. That is because in these types of exposures, OSHA requires “suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body.” The suitability of an eyewash station is not addressed in the standard [2], 1910.151(c), but any OSHA inspector will likely reference the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for eyewash stations [3].

The ANSI standard [3]sets requirements for hands-free activation and operation, flow duration, and volume, among other things.  These are specifications that usually disqualify eyewash stations with bottles. Additionally, most material safety data sheets for corrosive chemicals call for a 15-minute lavage when the eyes are exposed.

Flushing the eyes and mucous membranes after a blood exposure is not covered under 1910.151(c) [2]. Instead, the U.S. Public Health Service, NIOSH [4], and OSHA say to “irrigate eyes with clean water, saline, or sterile irrigants.” There is no time requirement for the lavage.

So what is the point? If you have unplumbed or bottled water eyewash stations—which many medical and dental practices seem to inquire about through the OSHA hotline—make sure staff members know to use them for blood exposures, and document that training in the exposure control plan.

Also, never allow eyewash stations as a substitute for wearing personal protective
equipment. Eyewash stations are for emergency use only.