Our eyes provide us with our primary means of experiencing our surroundings. Commonly referred to as our windows to the world, each eye is a complex organ, comprised of 40 components and more than 100 million receptors. They also are delicate, and therefore susceptible to injury from a range of common workplace hazards such as dust, flying debris, chemicals and harmful vapors.
Protecting employees' vision is extremely important, and most employers have initiatives in place to do just that. OSHA also provides guidance for eye protection, calling for employers to equip workers with safety eyewear that offers suitable protection from workplace hazards. While corporate safety initiatives and national standards together have reduced occupational eye injuries through the years, accidents still happen.
In fact, an estimated 2,000 occupational eye injuries occur each day in the United States, according to Prevent Blindness America. The financial cost of these injuries exceeds $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses and workers' compensation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Furthermore, the cost to an individual who loses his or her vision – and whose means of experiencing life and making a living are diminished – is immeasurable. In fact, an estimated 2,000 occupational eye injuries occur each day in the United States, according to Prevent Blindness America. The financial cost of these injuries exceeds $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses and workers' compensation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Furthermore, the cost to an individual who loses his or her vision – and whose means of experiencing life and making a living are diminished – is immeasurable.
When an injury occurs, immediate and proper treatment can make a significant difference in the outcome. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z358.1-2009 calls for a primary eyewash station to be available wherever injurious corrosive materials (harmful chemicals) are present. The standard elaborates that eyewash stations should be located no further than a 10-second, unobstructed walk from the hazard and should provide 15 minutes of continuous irrigation to both eyes. Every second counts, and if treatment is delayed, the effects can range from temporary to permanent blindness.
Employers who properly install eyewash delivery systems wherever they are needed greatly can reduce the severity and related costs of eye injuries. Yet, these important safety devices often are missing from key locations.
Forklift Battery Charging Stations
Small and mid-sized industrial vehicles ranging from small pallet trucks to high-lift trucks are used in a wide variety of industries and applications. Especially prevalent in warehouses, distribution centers and manufacturing plants, powered industrial trucks are found wherever materials of large size or high volume must be moved. The popularity of battery-powered vehicles is on the rise, as models offer increasingly longer run times, shorter recharging times and reduced emissions.
Vehicles such as these run on either lead-acid or nickel-iron batteries, and both types can pose health and safety hazards. First, the gases emitted during charging can be highly volatile. These batteries release oxygen and hydrogen gases when charging and, in the case of overcharging, the concentrations of these gases can become highly explosive. Second, corrosive chemicals exist within the batteries, such as sulfuric acid, which can spill or leak.
Forklift operators, who are responsible for charging vehicles at battery-charging stations, often are not properly protected from these hazards. Furthermore, eyewash stations commonly are missing from battery-charging stations. Exposure to a spill, leak or explosion could result in permanent vision loss to the employee and significant expense to the company. If battery-charging stations are present at your site, be sure to provide workers with eye and face protection appropriate to the identified chemical hazards. Also, be sure that a primary eyewash station is located within an unobstructed, 10-second walk of the hazards there. By selecting self-contained portable units, eyewashes easily can be moved any time the battery-charging station changes location to ensure uninterrupted availability.
Janitorial closets are another area frequently found in noncompliance with eyewash requirements.
From household to industrial-grade cleaning agents, janitorial closets typically contain a variety of corrosive chemicals. They also commonly contain concentrated chemical solutions that must be mixed prior to use, as well as liquids that are flammable or combustible. These hazards pose risks to the eyes through chemical splash, spills and harmful vapors.
Be sure to review the material safety data sheets (MSDS) for each chemical stored in janitorial closets to determine the appropriate level of first aid. A primary eyewash unit located inside the closet is the best defense when accidental contact is made with any harmful material. However, if size constraints don't allow for a primary station to be installed in the closet, secondary (or personal) eyewash bottles may be used as long as a primary unit is placed immediately outside the door.
Field locations are another common source of eyewash noncompliance. Field locations are any off-site work areas such as those in construction, off-site storage, pumping stations, utility hubs and chemical carriers and other vehicles. Eyewash stations often are overlooked in these remote locations due to infrequent visits to the site, lack of plumbing or lack of a properly heated or cooled delivery system for the environment. In cases like these, look for self-contained, portable eyewash units with minimum maintenance requirements. Depending on the environment, you also may want to consider units with heated or reflective coverings to ensure usability in extreme weather.
In some field locations, confined space does not allow for primary eyewash installation. In this case, be sure that secondary eyewash bottles, which can fit nearly anywhere, readily are available. For workers such as agricultural sprayers, who carry chemicals on their person, consider individual saline bottles that also can be carried. In construction, hazards may include powders used in cement mixing, sawdust, steel flecks and heavy dust. Be sure to add eyewashes to the checklist for these field locations as well.
Selecting Eyewash Stations
To ensure eyewash compliance – and a healthy work force – conduct regular walkthroughs of the work site and evaluate field locations. Once the potential hazards have been inventoried, review equipment manuals and MSDS. Then select the proper eyewash delivery system based on the specific hazards and work environment.
Primary units come in a variety of styles to meet the needs of different applications. 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 and temperature. In addition, there is no simple or cost-effective way to move plumbed units once they have been installed.
For changing layouts, confined spaces or remote locations, consider self-contained portable devices. Easy to install, easy to move and extremely cost-effective, portable units can deliver 100 percent sterile, buffered saline for the safest treatment and best possible outcome. Look for units with features that make operation and maintenance easy, such as those that visually can be checked for system readiness. For remote or infrequently visited sites, choosing a unit with a long shelf life is key. Consider sealed cartridge devices containing sterile or purified, buffered saline solution, which require the least maintenance and remain free of bacteria and contamination for up to 24 months.
Secondary eyewash bottles equally are an important means of quick treatment, and conveniently can be located at the site of any hazard to provide immediate flushing. Useful in the presence of nuisance particles and irritants, secondary bottles also are vital for delivering first aid while assisting individuals to a primary unit and when transporting them to a medical facility. Many options are available, including wall-mounted and vehicle-mounted bottles as well as personal travel bags.
Our eyes play a vital role in our ability to experience the world and earn a living. Protecting them on the job should be a top priority for safety managers in every industry. By making eyewash stations available at the site of all hazards – even in locations that easily are forgotten – employers can ensure a healthier work force and reduce injury costs. Considering the benefits, the value of eyewash compliance is something everyone clearly can see.
Kelly Piotti is senior product manager for emergency eyewash, Honeywell Safety Products.