Caustic and corrosive chemicals are a top concern in most healthcare settings. Employees in hospitals, outpatient clinicians’ practices, and Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs) have to work in proximity to corrosive or caustic chemicals. These chemicals could splash into the eyes causing eye damage and are a notable work hazard for this staff. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency that oversees worker safety inclusive of healthcare settings and has issued regulations on how to work with and around these chemicals. In OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.151(c), the necessity of employer-provided emergency-use capability within the work area for quick flushing or drenching of the eyes and body is presented. However, OSHA defers to the standards of the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) for eyewash station and shower specifications in order to maintain compliance with OSHA.
Key ANSI Eyewash Station Requirements
Besides not being located more than 10 seconds away from where someone might need immediate access to them, eyewash stations need to enable at least a 15-minute flush capacity (with a flow of 0.4 gallons per minute [gpm] at 30 pounds per square inch [psi]). The eyewash station valve must also be simple to operate and activated in one second, per the 2014 guidelines. All eyewash stations must include highly visible signage, so that every sign is visible within the given area served by that specific eyewash station. Additionally, the flushing water temperature needs to always be tepid, between 60-100 degrees Fahrenheit (16-38 degrees Celsius). Each eyewash station must be assembled and installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Eye protection that meets ANSI standards is typically checked during routine OSHA inspection of that healthcare facility and should be checked on a weekly basis for maintenance.
ANSI Standards for Free-Standing Eyewash Stations
The two types of ANSI-allowable eyewash stations are plumbed stations (that are permanently connected to a potable water source) and gravity-fed portable stations (which are free-standing eyewash stations). Unlike plumbed eyewash stations, free-standing eyewash stations can be filled with a saline solution (which can be less irritating to the eyes during the 15-minute flushing) and do not require plumber expertise to maintain. However, upon each use, portable eyewash stations requires the flushing solution to be replaced and refilled. Additionally – at no more than three month intervals – portable eyewash stations need to be drained and re-filled (per the nonprofit IAMAW). Depending upon specific kind of free-standing eyewash station, re-filling is either with potable water (with the addition of an antimicrobial solution), or, more commonly, through utilizing a sealed cartridge containing a contaminant-free purified or sterile solution. An example of a widely-used portable station is the Speakman Traditional Series Combination Emergency Shower and Eyewash Station.
The choice of utilizing plumbed eyewash stations and/or portable stations for OSHA eye protection depends upon the plumbing capacities plus needs of the healthcare facility following an in-depth assessment of its plumbing capacities and needs.
Does OSHA Require Eyewash Stations and Showers for Splashes of Blood or Bodily Fluids?
No, but healthcare accrediting bodies do require eyewash stations and showers for splashes of blood or bodily fluids. Notably – besides corrosive or caustic chemicals – the OSHA regulation described above does also apply to eye splash occurrences with solutions containing 0.1 percent or greater formaldehyde (under 1910.1048(i)(3)), as well as HIV and/or HBV research laboratories and production facilities (under 1910.1030(e) (3)(i)).
Therefore – if a splash occurs with resulting eye damage and OSHA eye protection was determined to be insufficient – there could still be adverse legal ramifications and financial penalties accrued by the healthcare facility.
Testing for Pathogenic Organisms in Water used in OSHA Eyewash Stations and Showers
OSHA eye protection implementation needs to include weekly activation of emergency-use eyewash stations and showers to ensure proper functioning (and with a more thorough evaluation annually) as described under ANSI/ISEA Z358.1. Improperly maintained eyewash stations are most likely to contain pathogenic organisms in the stagnant water that can transfer into the eyes, and two of the most common noted by OSHA are Acanthamoeba and Pseudomonas.
According to a published bulletin of the Office of Research Facilities (ORF) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), weekly three-minute flushes of eyewash stations and showers may temporarily decrease the amoebic and bacterial concentration due to water stagnation – so are highly recommended by the ORF as well as ANSI. This ORF bulletin also noted that “dead legs” pipes (which is water-piping no longer in use in the plumbing system) near the eyewash stations or emergency showers can also increase the potential for microbial growth. The existence of such piping near eyewash stations and emergency showers must be eliminated.
For insufficient OSHA eye protection not to result in a stiff financial (and other) OSHA penalty imposed against a hospital or other healthcare-providing facility, performing frequent internal evaluations/audits to check for everyday OSHA regulatory adherence is critical.