Resource Library

Emergency Eyewash Stations

emergency eye wash station in a highway maintenance garageDate: April 2015

Accidental chemical exposures in the workplace can occur even with good engineering controls and safety precautions. As a result, it is important to look beyond the use of personal protective equipment such as glasses, goggles and face shields for protecting employees’ eyes. The Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MNOSHA) recognizes that use of an emergency eyewash station is a necessary and immediate first aid to minimize the effects of accidental exposure to chemicals.

Emergency eyewash stations allow workers to flush away hazardous substances that can cause injury. The first 10 to 15 seconds after exposure to a hazardous substance, especially a corrosive substance, are critical. Delaying treatment, even for a few seconds, may cause serious injury.

Emergency Eyewash Installation Determination

Two factors must be taken into consideration when deciding whether the installation of an emergency eyewash facility is appropriate. The first is to determine if a hazardous product/chemical splash can come in contact with eyes. This conclusion must be made without regard to the use of protective clothing or equipment. If the material cannot physically make contact with eyes, no eyewash is required.

The second is to determine if the product/chemical in use can damage the eyes. If the product has a pH less than or equal to 2, or equal to or greater than 11, it can cause serious damage to eyes and would require the availability of an emergency eyewash. Some products with a pH between 2 and 11 may still cause corrosive damage to the eye and call for an eyewash facility. The safety data sheets (SDS) for the products should note this hazard.

Products with strong corrosive properties with a pH less than or equal to 1, or equal to or greater than 12 may require the availability of an emergency eyewash adjacent to the site of exposure.

Instead of installing an emergency eyewash facility, substitute these products/chemicals with less hazardous alternatives if feasible.

Abatement Guidelines

  1. Eyewash facilities must be provided so that their sole purpose is to serve as an eyewash. That is, they should not be used for other activities or industrial processes. Equipment and installation should be in compliance with ANSI standards.
  2. All eyewash stations should be located so that they are accessible within 10 seconds. (Average person covers about 55 feet in 10 seconds at normal walking speed.)
  3. The eyewash should be well-lit and clearly indicated by signs and directional markings. The paths to the facilities should be on the same level as the hazard and must be kept clear.
  4. Eyewash facilities must be operable at all times. If shut-off valves are installed in plumbed systems, provision must be made to prevent unauthorized shut off.
  5. Drains to sanitary sewers for the emergency eyewash facility are desirable but not essential. The discharge, depending on what is in the immediate area, can go directly onto the floor or ground.
  6. The eyewash should be capable of delivering directly to the eyes a pressure-reduced divergent flow of flushing fluid (minimum flow of 0.4 gallons per minute of flushing fluid for at least 15 minutes) and should be designed and installed so that both hands can be free to assist in irrigation. A quick open valve, which remains open when released, is also necessary.
  7. The flushing fluid temperature must be tepid (between 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 degrees Fahrenheit). If ambient temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit are anticipated, provisions shall be made to ensure that facilities remain operational.
  8. Eyewashes should be tested weekly to ensure proper operation. The testing of plumbed eyewash facilities should include checking for adequate flow of water, unobstructed eyewash head passages and assurance that the water controls operate so that the flow of water is even without spurts and other signs of periodic overpressurization. Eyewashes should be flushed for at least 3 minutes weekly to reduce Acanthamoebae or bacteria. These weekly tests should be recorded and kept near the eyewash facilities. If located within splash distance, the records should be enclosed in a plastic holder or otherwise protected against moisture.
  9. Portable or self-contained eyewash units should be used where fixed installation is not feasible. If portable unitsare provided, the requirements of Nos. 6 and 7 in this list should be met and fluid should be periodically changed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Regular maintenance should still be performed to ensure the unit is clean, functional and accessible.
  10. Employees should be trained about the location and proper use of the facilities.
  11. Squeeze bottles of sterile water or eye flush solution should only be used in conjunction with properly located eyewash and not relied on to be the only source of eye flush.

Emergency Shower Facilities

When chemicals pose damage to the skin and contact is possible, an emergency shower must be installed. Often, plumbed shower facilities are combined with an emergency eyewash. The abatement guidelines above apply to both emergency eyewash and shower stations with the following differences:

  1. The shower should provide a minimum of 20 gallons per minute of flushing fluid at a velocity low enough not to injure the user.
  2. Although there are portable facilities available, most emergency showers are plumbed.

If members have questions about eyewash stations or assistance with other loss control or safety topics, they may contact their MCIT loss control consultant toll-free at 1.866.547.6516. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and Minnesota OSHA have also released the guidance Emergency Eyewashes and Showers.

The information contained in this document is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or coverage advice on any specific matter.