Vision Conservation and Readiness

Medical Services and First Aid for Eye Injuries - Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment

Last Updated: October 22, 2018
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While the use of appropriate primary eye protection is required in the workplace, accidents can still happen.  It takes only one splash from a corrosive or caustic chemical and lack of an adequate emergency response system to cause permanent blindness. Chemicals represent about 7%-10% of eye injuries and about 15%-20% of chemicals to the face involve at least one eye. 

The selection of the appropriate emergency eyewash and/or shower equipment if complicated because it must consider design and engineering issues and compliance with regulatory requirements and compliance standards.  One thing is clear, however, the cost of adhering to OSHA's emergency eyewash regulations is far less than the potential cost of losing an employee and paying workers’ compensation benefits for years.  It is important. 

OSHA has a general requirement for emergency showers and eye wash stations applicable to all facilities that require the installation of an emergency shower or eye wash station equipment as a form of first aid.   29 CFR1919.151 states:

"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."

OSHA regulations specify where and when emergency eye wash and shower equipment must be available, however, they do not specify minimum operating requirements or installation set-up requirements.   As a result, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed the ANSI standard Z358.1, "Emergency Eye Wash and Shower Equipment" which helps the user select and install emergency equipment to meet OSHA requirements.  This standard follows the established medical opinion that a 15 minute flush of the eyes and body with flushing fluid and establishes performance, installation, maintenance and use information requirements as well as testing procedures and certification requirements.  While ANSI standards do not have the full force of an OSHA regulation, they cover situations when employees are exposed to hazardous materials although many states do require compliance with ANSI/ISEA 358.1.   ANSI's definition of "hazardous material" includes caustics, as well as additional substances and compounds that have the capability of producing adverse effects on the health and safety of humans.

The following guidance is based upon ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 and is not all encompassing.   Instead, it is designed to cover details based upon questions we have received.  Make certain that you are aware of all laws and regulations that are pertinent to your site and service since the do vary.  It is strongly recommended that you consult the manufacturers of potential hazards for requirements and manufacturers of your emergency eyewash and shower stations for testing and maintenance requirements.   As always, if you have any questions Contact Us.

Determining If You Need Emergency Eyewash and/or Shower Equipment

The following steps will assist you in determining your current requirements.

  1.  Determine if you currently have emergency equipment in your facility.  In larger facilities, it is strongly recommended that you maintain a list of the number and locations of all eyewash stations at your site.
    1. Make a list of the type of emergency equipment remembering that the requirement is dependent upon the risk of injury by the hazard.
    2. Is it operational?  If not, what will it take to make it so.  If required, remember that operations involved hazardous substances should cease until it is repaired.
  2. Identify those operations where hazardous materials are generated, used or present.
    1. Maintain a list of all of the hazardous materials in the facility and have the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for each.
    2. If the SDS states that immediate flushing required then you need some type of eyewash/shower device.
    3. If you are still uncertain, contact Safety, Industrial Hygiene and/or Occupational Medicine and request either a hazard assessment on the operation or a recommendation.


Determining the Type of Equipment That You Need

When deciding what type of equipment, ask the following questions:

  1. Is the hazard likely to expose the eyes, face, body or a combination of them?  Make certain that the
  2. How many workers could be exposed at the same time?  If the answer is more than one then you need more than one device.
  3. Is there plumbing near the potential risk?   This assists in determining whether you need a plumbed or self-co0ntained device.  Always remember  that another possible solution is to move the operation to a location that is within the 10 second requirement of existing emergency stations.


​Types of Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment Available

All emergency eyewash and showers can be divided into two types:

  1. Plumbed - equipment that is connected to a continuous source of potable water.
  2. Self-contained - stand-alone devices that contain at least 15 minutes worth of flushing fluid.

Items common to all devices:

  • All units must have hands-free activation and must activate in one second or less and stay running until manually closed.
  • Eyewash units must deliver 0.4 GPM (Gallons per Minute)  for at least 15 minutes and must reach high enough for the worker to be able to keep their eyes open using their hands.
  • The nozzle heads must be protected from contaminants.
  • Eye/Face Wash units must deliver 3 GPM for 15 minutes.
  • Drench showers must deliver 20 GPM for 15 minutes.

Types:

  1. Eyewash Fixtures - Should be considered when hazardous substance is most at risk to the eyes.  The nozzles must be protected (covered) from airborne contaminants and these covers must automatically come off when the device is activated.  Many sites utilize eyewashes located on sinks.  Be aware that they still need to comply with all aspects of ANSI/ISEA 358.1-2014 for standalone devices.
  2. Eye/Face Wash Fixtures - Should be considered when both the skin of the face and the eyes are at risk.  Water flow must be high enough to allow user to hold eyes open while rinsing and must delver at least 3 GPM.
  3. Safety Drench Showers - do not have eye irrigation systems.  Appropriate in situations where the potential of full-body exposure exists.   For use then there is no significant risk of eye exposure. 
  4.  Combination Emergency, Eye and Eye/Face Systems - all systems must operate simultaneously.  If hazardous material is caustic to all areas of the body including the eyes, this system provides the best solution.  The shower must deliver 20 GPM.  If part of the system,  the eye/face system must deliver 3 GPM and an eyewash only system must deliver 0.4 GPM.
  5. Drench Hoses - considered to be supplemental in most cases and cannot be used in place of a dedicated eyewash or shower system.  Some companies sell combination eyewash/drench hose units but they must meet all ANSI requirements for both eyewash and drench hose systems.  If used, it is recommended that a backflow preventer be used to prevent cross contamination.
  6. Personal Wash Units - considered to be supplemental in most cases and cannot be used in place of a dedicated eyewash or shower system.  Usually kept closer to the hazard and is used to provide treatment until the worker can be moved to the location of the primary emergency equipment.  Used as a first response when immediate rinsing is needed to prevent damage to the eye or in areas where primary equipment does not exist such as outside.

Testing and Maintenance

It is important that the equipment be maintained in working condition at all times.  To do this, someone should be assigned to follow the care instructions provided by the manufacturer of both the equipment and the solution if utilized as well as maintenance schedules found in ANSI Z358.1-2014.   If the hazardous substances are rarely used, it is important to inspect the stations prior to initiating operations.  Also, remember to always document and maintain records that state that the testing has been performed.

  • Weekly Testing - All devices should be inspected weekly to ensure that:
    1.  The path to the device is free from obstructions.
    2. The unit is in proper working order.
    3. For plumbed units, run the water long enough to ensure that it operates as needed and to clear the supply line of any sediment build-up and to minimize microbial contamination due to standing water.  For more information on the importance of this, go to the OSHA Infosheet on the Health Effects from Contaminated Water in Eyewash Stations  External Link.  To avoid getting water on the floor creating a slip hazard if it does not have a drainage system, have the unit drain into a bucket.
    4. For self contained units, you should at least make certain that the device is clean, the activate device works and that the water levels are at appropriate levels.  In addition:
      1. If using tap water only, the water should be drained, the unit cleaned and refilled at least weekly. 
      2. If using tap water mixed with a manufacturer's preservative or a prepared liquid concentrate plus an additive, test the mixture for bacteria and change the fluid completely according to the manufacturer's recommendations - usually every three to six months.
      3. For factory sealed solution cartridges, inspect and clean only, do not activate and replace according to the cartridge's expiration date.  Prior to changing the cartridge is a good time to test the system completely using the expired solution prior to replacing it.
  • Annual testing - While a relatively new requirement, all equipment, including both plumbed and self contained, must be inspected every year to ensure that the device conforms to installation requirements to ensure that the equipment functions properly and that any changes in the area have not affected the safe use and operations of the equipment.  At a minimum, the equipment must perform according to the manufacturer's and ANSI Z358.1-2014 instructions and includes the testing of all functional aspects of the device.  If you do not have those instructions, it is recommend that you obtain them from the manufacturer.


Things to Consider when Installing Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment
  1.  Supply lines - Each manufacturer provides guidance in regards to the size of the supply lines and this should be followed since changing the size could change the flow rate and intended water pattern.
  2. Water capacity - Most facilities utilize a water pressure of around 45 psi to fixtures and compliant systems here usually need at least 30 psi.  Care should be taken when the pressure is too high or too low.
  3.  Valve operation - It is essential that shut off valves in supply lines for plumbed units remain open at all times and should have some system for preventing the water supply from being accidentally shut off.  Remember that, if the water supply is shut off for some reason, operations involving hazardous materials should cease.  Such provisions can be as simple as removing the shut off valve's handle.
  4.  Alarms - Especially when the workers are relatively isolated, alarm systems that provide visual and audible alerts whenever the system is activated serves to notify others that the accident has occurred and enables medical personnel to know where to respond.
  5. Signage and lighting - ANSI requires that all eyewash/shower stations are well lit and have a highly visible sign positioned so that it is easily identifiable in the area it serves.
  6.  Placement of emergency eyewash and shower equipment - Remember that all emergency eyewash and showers must be within 10 seconds (roughly 55 feet) of the hazard, on the same level as the hazard and that there cannot be anything blocking the pathway to the device from the hazard. 
  7.  Flushing fluid temperature - Tepid water is required to be available for at least 15 minutes of use.  Tepid is now defined as 60-100 degrees but remember that the worker must be able to continue to use the device without risking hypothermia.  Consider adding a device, such as a thermostatic mixing valve designed for eyewash and drench shower equipment, that prevents the water from reaching high temperatures still ensures adequate water flow even it is cold water.  Cold water is better than no water at all.  Make certain that you obtain one that does not reduce the flow rate of the water in those cases.
  8. Water Disposal - There are not any specific provisions for this but the disposal of the waste water must be a consideration, especially when the waste water may create an additional hazard.  Remember that the waste water may also contain materials that cannot be simply drained into the sewer or floor drains.  In those instances, it is recommended that the drainage be connected to some sort of collection system.
  9. Environmental conditions - The temperature in the area around the systems needs to be evaluated and freeze or scald protection should be considered when indicated.
  10. Response to emergencies - Simply installing the equipment is not enough.  Workers must be trained on the location of the equipment and its proper use as well.  In addition, someone must be accountable for ensuring that the equipment is properly maintained, testing it weekly normally and inspected at least annually.  More on the testing and inspection requirements will follow.
Some of the most common causes for ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 non-compliance include:
  • Missing dust covers expose nozzles to airborne contaminants,
  • Lack of proper signage on the equipment,
  • Poor lighting around the wash station,
  • Providing the improper equipment for the application (for instance, an eyewash instead of a face and eye wash),
  • Physical obstructions on the way to eyewash stations,
  • Incorrect assembly of the unit parts (improper alignment of showerheads),
  • Lack of flow control to the eye wash, not providing the tepid water, and
  • Insufficient water pressure and flow rate.

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