OHS Canada Magazine

Eyes Wide Showered

October 6, 2015
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By Jeff Cottrill

When hazardous materials or small particles get in a worker’s eye, there’s a good chance that he or she will suffer permanent corneal damage or even lose eyesight ability — unless the substance can be flushed out right away. That’s why eye-flushing equipment is an essential component of many work environments, especially ones where employees handle chemicals, saw lumber or operate in dusty environments.

“There are really two product lines when it comes to eyewash,” explains Ed Maloney, an agent with A-Med Supply in Kingston, Ontario. “There is the emergency eyewash station,” he says, “and then the other type would be a complete shower.” Both of these products can be either operational through plumbing or self-contained, Maloney adds, but the shower tends to be used more in instances when a substance may harm not only the eyes, but also the skin. “The self-contained water is what is called an eyewash water preservative. And so what that does as a preservative, it prevents the growth of fungus, algae, bacteria.”

What distinguishes A-Med from most eyewash manufacturers is that it sells one-litre and half-litre bottles of formulated eyewash solution that one uses manually. “It differs from everything in the market by the chemistry,” says Maloney, adding that A-Med’s eyewash is a multi-purpose product that “can be used to treat a caustic burn in the eye, regardless of acid or base.”

A strong advantage of using bottled eyewash, Maloney says, is that it’s portable — so one can continue to apply it to a victim while he or she is being transported out of the workplace on a stretcher or to an ambulance, rather than holding the worker at one location the whole time. American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z358.1-2014, which oversees the use of eyewash and shower equipment in the United States and Canada, requires tepid fluid to be flushed into a victim’s eye for 15 minutes without interruption.

“This is where there is a role for a litre or half-litre of eyewash to allow continuous flushing,” he says, “at least a continuous supply of a sterile liquid to keep the wound site moist.” Even if a workplace already has an eyewash station, it’s still a good idea to keep a few bottles of eyewash nearby.

Ryan Pfund, an emergency-fixtures product manager with Bradley Corporation in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, points out that drench showers are also available for incidents in which larger areas of the body are at risk. “A combination eyewash and drench shower may be used to simultaneously flush the eyes and rinse larger areas of the body,” he notes.

Pfund stresses the importance of providing the right amount and temperature of water or fluid. The ANSI standard recommends a temperature between 16 and 37 degrees Celsius. “Availability of tepid water is often overlooked — oftentimes due to time and cost,” he explains. “Some incorrectly expect that cold water will be sufficient for eyewash or drench-shower fixtures, but the flushing fluid needs to be delivered at a comfortable lukewarm temperature that is not harmful to the user. If the water is too cold or too hot, the user is much less likely to withstand the full 15-minute flush.” Pfund recommends either thermostatic mixing valves or electric tankless water heaters to ensure reliable, efficient delivery of tepid water.

Another mistake that some employers make is failing to test eyewash stations and showers on a regular basis. “It’s important to establish a weekly eyewash and shower inspection program throughout the facility, to make sure all equipment is working smoothly and able to provide tepid water instantaneously,” says Pfund. “It is recommended to complete checklists for all equipment on a weekly basis to test all units and ensure optimal operation.”

More than smoke gets in your eyes

While the ANSI standard requires regular checks and records of the checking dates by employees, it says nothing about eyewash bottles. “There is no regulation that says they need to check the bottles of eyewash sitting on an eyewash station hanging on the wall someplace,” says Maloney. “And that should be incorporated as part of their due diligence. Because some of the bottles may have been opened, half-used.” As bottled eyewash is a product with a limited shelf life, attention must be paid to expiry dates too.

One of the reasons that A-Med’s bottled eyewash is formulated to treat chemical burns in eyes is that these burns are alarmingly common. A 2011 report from the National Safety Council in the U.S., which used statistics from the Department of Labor, revealed that out of all workplace lost-time incidents that had been caused by eye injuries in the U.S., 54 per cent of them had involved chemical burns.

“A bottle of eyewash is a first-aid treatment,” says Maloney. “So it’s not a matter of a speck of dust, or some sawdust or kind of a ‘not too bad an injury’ idea. ‘Not too bad’ an eye injury doesn’t keep you home from work. You may leave work early that day, but you come back.”

The basic bottled solution isn’t A-Med’s only eyewash product, of course; it also manufactures an eyewash water preservative called iPreserve. This is a new, certified, antimicrobial eyewash flushing concentrate that is sterile and has been certified. As A-Med’s products are considered medicines, they have been regulated by Health Canada’s drug standards.

Before an employer decides whether to invest in an eyewash station, an emergency shower or eyewash bottles, he or she must conduct a thorough jobsite evaluation, notes Pfund. “Such an evaluation should identify high-risk areas, potential hazards and emergency needs and determine key worksite factors such as product location, water supply, water temperature, accessibility and equipment identification.”

One should also review standards and requirements for placement and installation, in addition to any recent technological advancements. “Some emergency-equipment manufacturers offer free jobsite evaluations to help anticipate and assess potential worksite problems,” says Pfund.

These jobsite evaluations may also help with product selection and training, he adds. “Ultimately, workers must be knowledgeable about the location of the fixtures and how to properly use them.

“Eyewashes, eye/face washes and drench showers are a key part of a facility’s emergency-safety plan.”

Jeff Cottrill is the editor of Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News.

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