OSHA Warns Employers Of Potential Eyewash Station Water Contamination

OSHA is lodging concern about the safety of water used in emergency eyewash stations, noting the possibility of numerous infections that can result from using contaminated water and raising the possibility that the issue will be increasingly scrutinized by compliance officers, and specifically citing voluntary industry standards as the most effective means of reducing the hazards.

The agency just released an information sheet dedicated to concerns about contaminated eyewashes, citing specific organisms including Acanthamoeba, Pseudomonas and Legionella found in stagnant or untreated water and known to cause infections.

OSHA recommends employers follow the American National Standard Institute’s (ANSI) standard Z358.1-2014 for maintaining eyewash equipment. The information sheet, however, makes clear in a disclaimer that the guidelines neither create any new legal obligations on employers nor constitute new regulations or standards.

An industry legal source notes, however, that OSHA has previously used ANSI standards as a basis for citations, making the references in the new guidance document significant.

The ANSI standard says plumbed systems need to be activated once a week for at least 15 minutes to reduce microbial contamination, OSHA notes, while self-contained eyewash units “must be maintained and employers should consult the manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance procedures. This includes flushing the system and using only solutions appropriate for flushing eyes.”

Eyewash stations are intended to mitigate eye injuries when control methods do not prevent exposure to a physical or chemical irritant or a biological agent, OSHA notes. The ANSI standard for eyewashes specifies that eyewashes must be capable of delivering tepid flushing fluid to the eyes not less than 1.5 liters per minute (0.4 gpm) for 15 minutes after a single movement and subsequent hands-free operation.

“Whether the eyewash station is permanently connected to a source of potable water (i.e., plumbed) or has self-contained flushing fluid, improper maintenance may present health hazards that can worsen or cause additional damage to a worker’s eye,” OSHA says.

The agency notes that the issue applies to several standards, as eyewash facilities are required in workplaces where corrosive chemicals are used (29 CFR 1910.151(c)), as well as in HIV and HBV research laboratories and production facilities (1910.1030(e) (3)(i)), and where there is any possibility that an employee’s eyes may be splashed with solutions containing 0.1 percent or greater formaldehyde (1910.1048(i)(3)).

“They may also be found in research and production laboratories, in medical facilities and other workplaces with materials that may cause injury to or infection of the eyes,” according to OSHA, which cautions that when a worker uses an eyewash station that is not maintained, organisms in the water may come into contact with the eye, skin, or may be inhaled. “Workers using eyewash stations after exposure to a hazardous chemical or material may have eye injuries that make the eye more susceptible to infection.”

“Also, workers with skin damage or compromised immune systems (e.g., transplant recovery, cancer, lupus) are at increased risk for developing illnesses from contaminated water,” OSHA says. “Early diagnosis is important to prevent infections from causing serious health effects, including permanent vision loss and severe lung diseases (e.g., pneumonia).” — Christopher Cole (ccole@iwpnews.com)