Ask the expert: Emergency eyewash stations and blood exposures

By: June 28th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

Q: Are emergency eyewash stations required for blood exposures to the eyes?

A: There is a fine technical debate among healthcare safety officers as to whether OSHA’s Medical Services and First Aid standard (1910.151[c]) applies to blood splashes to the eyes. And the answer is: Maybe.

Some experts maintain that the phrase “Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials” (emphasis added) eliminates blood, which is not corrosive even if infected, from consideration.

Indeed, Medical Environment Update has consulted with an OSHA industrial hygienist confirming this interpretation.

Other experts point to section 1910.1030(d)(2)(vi) of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard as logically indicating the need for an eyewash station:

“Employers shall ensure that employees wash hands and any other skin with soap and water, or flush mucous membranes with water immediately or as soon as feasible following contact of such body areas with blood or other potentially infectious materials.”

However, the only part of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard that specifically makes reference to “an eyewash facility” is the section applying to HIV and HBV research laboratories and production facilities, 1910.1030(e)(1), which are distinguished from “clinical or diagnostic laboratories engaged solely in the analysis of blood, tissues, or organs,” according to the standard.

In addition, U.S. Public Health Service guidelines and NIOSH publications on occupational blood exposure call for flushing exposed eyes and mucous membranes, but neither agency gives a minimum flush time, further weakening the regulatory mandate for a dedicated emergency eyewash station for blood exposures.

As a best practice, however, Medical Environment Update recommends either an emergency eyewash station for responding to workplace blood splashes to the eyes or readily accessible personal eyewash devices. In either case, provide specific training on how staff members may use them for protection.

Editor’s note. Excerpted from Medical Environment Update, July, 2011.

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By Robert Hunn on June 28th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

This is very helpful. I am currently conducting a safety analysis and reviewing construction plans for a new large medical center which includes ,looking at all eye washes or where they are missing.

By Bruce Cunha on July 3rd, 2012 at 9:33 am

We have included an eye wash in any area where there are chemcials and/or blood exposure potential. Since many departments have both, we just put them in.

The big issue we have is if we comply with ANSI Z358. Putting tepid water eye wash units runs around $1500 per unit and our maintenance people hate them as they require a very high maintenance schedule to keep the mixing valve working.

We measured our water temperature from the tap and found it to be about 57 degrees, while below the 60 degrees that ANSI calls for, for eye flushing, we do not feel this is an issue. Risk of hypothermia is pretty much not an issue, and the water is not cold enough that should cause anyone to not flush their eyes.

By Sandra Presley on July 3rd, 2012 at 11:43 am

Who is the ultimately responsible, the employee or manager, when it comes to ensuring compliance in unauthorized work areas if the employee can not be fit tested due to a medical wavier?

By David LaHoda on July 3rd, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Not sure what you mean by unauthorized work areas, but concerning workplace hazards and possible OSHA citations, the employer is ultimately responsible. A citation and fine due to repeated employee non-compliance could be mitigated by exercising progressive disciplinary measures with documentation. See “Will OSHA let me off the hook for PPE violations due to non-compliant workers?”


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