Five Steps to Proper Eyewash Implementation
In January 2009, new revisions to ANSI standard Z358.1-2009 for emergency eyewash took
effect. While the changes do not substantially alter the standard from an employer’s
perspective, they make eyewash design and compliance easier to understand and follow. We’ve
highlighted five key steps that will help you ensure that your business has properly implemented
its emergency eyewash program.
The ANSI standard for eyewash has always required that an appropriate mechanism for
flushing injured eyes be present at the site of any hazardous material. It mandates that eyewash
be made available within a 10-second walk of a hazard and that an injured person flush his or
her eyes for a full 15 minutes. It also details how emergency eyewash should be delivered: the
rate of flow, fluid angle, temperature, user’s position, and station location, installation and
Even with ANSI’s thorough guidance, approximately half of all businesses required to meet this
standard remain in non-compliance, even though the risks of non-compliance are costly. The
National Safety Council reports that the average lost-time injury costs nearly $30,000, and eye
injuries that are not properly treated can result in partial or complete vision loss to an individual.
Employers that choose the proper eyewash fluid and delivery system can reduce the severity of
eye injuries as well as the direct and indirect costs related to them. This article will help you
determine whether your business needs to comply with ANSI’s eyewash standard and how to
do so in just five steps.
Step One: Determine whether your site requires eyewash – Know the hazards
The first step to proper eyewash implementation is to assess your facility for the presence of
eye hazards. As a rule, businesses are required to have eyewash stations on the premises if
any of the following hazards are found: paint, solvents, battery charging stations, hazardous
chemical storage, tool parts washers, or chemical pumping/mixing areas. If employees use
chemical-resistant gloves, cartridge or air-supplied respirators, chemical-resistant goggles or
flammable storage containers, emergency eyewash is likely to be required as well. You may be
surprised to learn that businesses as common as hair salons, garden centers and home goods
centers require eyewash facilities due to the presence of potentially harmful chemicals. Refer to
equipment manuals and material safety data sheets (MSDS) on chemical packaging to learn
whether emergency eyewash is required because of specific hazardous materials.
Step Two: Select the right eyewash for your needs
Planning how and where eyewash will be used will help determine what type of delivery system
is best. What are the most common hazards? Does the workspace layout change as new jobs
commence? Is plumbing readily available at the site of every eye hazard? Once you have
determined your needs, there are two types of primary emergency eyewash delivery stations to
consider: plumbed and portable. Plumbed eyewash units have been used for more than one
hundred years. They deliver plumbed tap water to the eyes in plentiful amounts. However,
plumbed stations are expensive to install, impractical to move and require weekly maintenance.
Furthermore, tap water has proven to be detrimental in treating injured eyes for many reasons.
Because its temperature is not easily regulated, plumbed water is often too hot or too cold to
flush with for the required 15 minutes. It does not match the eye’s natural pH, so flushing with it
can cause irritation. And tap water often contains harmful microorganisms or other contaminants
that can further damage an already compromised eye. In fact, a 2008 study by the Associated
Press found that public drinking water for at least 41 million Americans was polluted with
chemical contaminants, many of which can cause secondary injury and possible vision loss.
Alternatively, portable stations come in many varieties to meet nearly any facility’s needs. They
contain water, saline solution or 100 percent sterile saline, each of which is maintained at room
temperature inside the unit. Stations that deliver sterile flushing fluid offer unmatched safety.
Sterile saline is the only emergency eyewash solution that must be prepared in an FDAapproved
cleanroom to assure purity as well as pH and isotonic qualities that match those of the
human eye. Because it is devoid of harmful impurities, sterile saline reduces employers’ risk of
liability if further injury results. Overall, flushing with sterile saline enables workers to get back
on the job sooner than if their eyes were further harmed by flushing with tap water. Portable
devices that do not deliver sterile fluid still offer advantages over plumbed units: their fluid is
maintained at room temperature, they require less maintenance and those with buffered saline
solutions more closely match the pH of the eye.
Step Three: Make emergency eyewash accessible
An injured worker may have limited or no vision while en route to the station, so it is important to
select a location for the unit that is quickly and easily accessible during an emergency. ANSI
specifies that stations be located: within a 10-second walk from the hazard; on a travel path
from the hazard that is free of obstructions; on the same level as the hazard; immediately
adjacent to the hazard for strong caustics and strong acids; and in an area that is well lit and
identified with a sign that is highly visible to everyone served by it.
Step Four: Teach proper emergency response
It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that every employee is trained and proficient in using
emergency eyewash units. Employees must know how to reach and activate the unit, and how
to properly rinse contaminants from their eyes. The proper flushing technique calls for the
worker to hold both eyes open with their forefingers and thumbs and let the fluid rinse across
the eyes from the inside corner out for 15 minutes. The employee should be instructed to seek
follow-up medical care if needed.
Step Five: Put eye safety into practice
The best way to ensure eyewash compliance in the workplace is by building it into the
company’s safety plan. Employ a safety manager, assign safety stewards or use a third-party
vendor to be responsible for employee training and station maintenance. The appointed safety
leader should train staff regularly as a group and new associates as they join. He or she should
also maintain eyewash units as required according to ANSI and/or the manufacturer. Plumbed
stations require the most frequent upkeep: ANSI requires that they be activated weekly to rinse
harmful particle buildup through pipes and to ensure proper water pressure. Self-contained
portable devices require less frequent maintenance, including cleaning, disinfecting and
changing the flushing fluid, as often as every three to six months, as directed by the
manufacturer. Sealed cartridge devices containing sterile or purified, buffered saline solution
require the least maintenance and remain free of bacteria and contamination for up to 24
Emergency eyewash is an important – and oftentimes required – part of a company’s safety
equipment. Conduct an inventory of the potential hazards at your site, review equipment
manuals and material safety data sheets, and determine what type of eyewash delivery system
best meets your needs. When installing eyewash units, be sure they meet ANSI guidelines for
accessibility and visibility. Assign safety leaders who are responsible for training and
maintenance, and make sure everyone knows how to use eyewash and what to do in an
emergency. By following these steps to proper eyewash implementation, your business will not
only comply with ANSI safety standards — it will also reduce costs related to eye injuries and
provide a safer and more productive work environment as a result.