Benefits and limitations of eyewash bottles

Date Posted: 07/05/2022
Eye Wash

Not every employee who uses chemicals must have immediate access to an eyewash station, and many workplaces don’t need those stations at all. Some employers might provide eyewash bottles for flushing irritants like pollen or dust, and that can be okay, but bottles are not an acceptable substitute if OSHA requires an emergency eyewash station.

Exposure evaluation

The regulation at 1910.151(c) requires suitable facilities for flushing the eyes in the immediate work area if employees are exposed to “injurious corrosive materials.” To determine if an eyewash is required, employers must evaluate employee exposure to hazardous materials.

As noted, employees don’t necessarily need an eyewash station just because they use chemicals. Among other things, refer to the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). If the SDS indicates irritation only, an emergency eyewash might not be required. However, if the SDS states that burns, corneal damage, or blindness could happen, the material would be considered hazardous and an eyewash must be provided.

Note that the need for an emergency eyewash station is based solely on the potential exposure to a corrosive material, regardless of the actual quantity or volume present in the workplace.

Making bottles available

While employers may provide bottles, they can’t be the only eyewash available for workers exposed to corrosive materials. One reason is that an eyewash must deliver 0.4 gallons of flushing fluid per minute for at least 15 minutes. Bottles do not have that capacity.

In rare cases, employers can provide eyewash bottles where plumbed or self-contained units cannot reasonably be provided in the immediate work area (e.g., an outside yard), but only until they can reach a unit that can flush the eyes for at least 15 minutes.

Employers must evaluate the risks and provide eyewash systems accordingly. The eyewash standard is meant to cover strong acids and alkalis, and the requirement to provide suitable facilities depends on the exposure and the strength of the hazardous chemical. However, chemicals and materials such as household detergents or cleaners, sawdust, or metal filings would not require an emergency eyewash.

If your facility does not require an eyewash station, you might still provide eyewash bottles for employees exposed to pollen or nuisance dust. Although employees should wear eye protection, a preventative flushing of the eyes before breaks and at the end of the day using a hand-held bottle could help reduce eye injuries.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

Tracking injury trends can help identify hazards and prevent future injuries. For example, eye irritation (even where employees should be wearing eye protection) may mean that additional steps could reduce injuries, such as preventative flushing of eyes. The Incident Center in the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE helps you track recordables and other cases, sorting them by type to identify potential hazards.

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