Published 01.15.24

Eye Wash 101

Eye safety goes beyond goggles and safety protocols. Get the facts about how eyewash stations can help your team be ready™.

Every year, roughly 20,000 eye injuries occur in the workplace, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those injuries impact not only workers and their families but businesses as well. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) estimates that eye injuries cost about $300 million in medical treatment, worker compensation and lost productivity.

Safety gear can help reduce the risk of eye injuries. However, there is another important piece of safety equipment to keep in mind for your facility: the eyewash station. 

“Accidental chemical exposures can still occur even with good engineering controls and safety precautions. As a result, it is essential to look beyond the use of goggles, face shields and procedures for using personal protective equipment. Emergency showers and eyewash stations are a necessary backup to minimize the effects of accident exposure to chemicals,” states the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) website.

OSHA agrees. Standard 29 CFR 1910.151 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.” 

Both OSHA and CCOHS encourage employers to look to ANSI Z358.1-2014: Emergency Eyewash & Shower Standard for specific regulations and recommendations on the placement and use of these emergency stations.

Do your employees face potential eye health hazards? Here’s a quick primer on what to consider when planning and placing eyewash stations.

Time Matters
Corrosive or hazardous materials, including chemicals or small particles, can cause serious injury — quickly. That’s why one of the most important aspects of an eyewash station is placement. Employees should be able to reach the station within 10 seconds. According to ANSI, an employee can travel about 55 feet in 10 seconds. If employees cannot reach an emergency eyewash station in 10 to 15 seconds, a minor irritation can become a major injury that causes permanent visual impairment.

Keep it Accessible
Time isn’t the only factor in placing your buildings’ eye wash stations. You’ll also need to consider how easy it is for injured employees to reach them. After all, the employee may not be able to see clearly and may need assistance. 

Consider the following when planning your eyewash station:  

  • Placement of stations. Eyewash stations should be located next to areas where employees handle certain hazardous materials.
  • Avoid stairs. The eyewash station should be on the same level as the hazard with no steps or stairs. 
  • Keep it clear. Maintain clearance around the eyewash station. Avoid stacking boxes or piling objects on a counter in front of, behind or next to the emergency eyewash station.
  • Light it up. The eyewash station and surrounding area should be well-lit and have highly visible signage.
  • Watch out for electricity. Install eyewash stations away from energized electrical equipment for everyone’s safety.

Choose the Right Equipment 
There are two types of emergency eyewash stations: plumbed stations and self-contained stations. A plumbed station is directly attached to a building’s plumbing. Oftentimes, a plumbed station includes an emergency shower to offer additional safety measures.

A self-contained eyewash station is just as the name implies: It can be placed in the proper location without needing plumbing. This provides flexibility and convenience. Most self-contained stations should meet ANSI safety guidelines, which require that eyewash stations must:

  • Activate in one second or less.
  • Flush both eyes simultaneously.
  • Be hands free.
  • Offer valves with constant flow.
  • Have a flush rate of 0.4 gallons per minute.
  • Flush for 15 minutes.
  • Be located within 10 seconds of hazard.
  • Be located within a clear path.
  • Include a highly visible sign identifying the station.

The Safety Director® Self-Contained Emergency Eyewash Station from Cintas quickly activates and flushes both eyes at once with over 15 minutes of continuous flushing. The highly visible eyewash station also makes it easy for employees to locate. 

Train Employees on How to Use an Eyewash Station 
An eyewash station is only helpful if employees know how to use it. Make training a regular part of safety discussions and planning and include it in all new hire training. 

Luckily, using the station is fairly simple:

  • Flush eyes immediately for at least 15 minutes.
  • Keep the eyes open and rotate the eyeballs in all directions. This helps remove contamination from around the eyes. Bystanders may need to help hold eyelids open or help support injured employees. 

Be sure employees know the safety protocol for reporting the incident and receiving follow-up care. Poison Control should also be contacted for more information on what treatment to seek.

Maintain the Eyewash Station
The work doesn’t end once eyewash stations are installed and employees are trained. You’ll also need to ensure the stations stay in good working order. Many organizations offer regular maintenance. Cintas offers quarterly services for eyewash stations. This includes draining, cleaning and inspecting emergency eyewash stations.

Between service appointments, help protect your equipment with these steps:

  • Keep openings covered. This helps prevent germs and bacteria from growing and contaminating equipment.
  • Use as intended. Do not use eyewash stations to rinse or clean anything other than eyes.
  • Inspect it weekly. Ensure faucet openings are covered and remove any barriers to the station. Make sure there are no leaks, and everything looks to be in working order.
  • Refill stations after an emergency occurs. Cintas will reset your eyewash stations after being informed by you that they’ve been used.

Help your team respond to an eye emergency. Learn more about emergency eyewash stations and what’s best for your team. Contact Cintas First Aid and Safety today.