Irrigating the eyes as soon as possible after a chemical exposure burn is the most critical factor in minimising tissue damage. Patients who are able to flush their eyes within 10 minutes of injury have been documented to have less severe injuries and require shorter hospitalisation. This blog is about how to correctly use the emergency eyewash equipment you’ve purchased and installed at your workplace.
Chemical burns to the eyes
Chemical burns can happen in laboratories, decanting areas, construction sites, commercial vessels, oil and gas refineries, food manufacturing plants. And though hazardous liquids splashing over the face are the most common type of injury, chemical burns also happen when toxic and corrosives dusts/powders are blown into the eyes. Examples include:
Flammable liquids splashing onto the face when refuelling a vehicle
Acid spraying onto the face after a connector hose slips from a fitting
Cement powder blowing into the eyes while mixing
Rubbing or scratching the eyes after handling corrosives
Pesticides leaking from a sprayer and soaking into headwear
Liquid chemicals penetrating ill-fitting goggles and facial PPE
There are so many documented examples and we recommend always carrying out a risk assessment to determine the ways workers could suffer eyes injuries (and the likelihood of it happening). Then make sure your eyewash station is in a location that could serve an injured worker.
IMPORTANT: The eyes are soft tissue organs and very vulnerable to trauma, so never use emergency showers and drench hoses to flush the eyes. Dedicated eyewash units manufactured to Australian Standards regulate water pressure so it is safe for the eyes.
Using the eyewash equipment after chemical exposure
Make sure you provide sufficient training and emergency drills so staff know exactly where to locate the eyewash equipment as well as how to use it. The usage instructions below are generic, use them as the base for a work procedure but always tailor them to the specific chemical hazards located at your own job site.
Chemical emergency eyewash procedure
Get the injured worker to the eyewash station as quickly as possible, even a few extra seconds extra could mean permanently blindness or death.
Activate the eyewash unit using the single hand/foot action. The dust covers should open automatically and the water will flow continuously until manually switched off.
With the eyes open (use fingers to hold the eyelids) lower eyes into the water stream.
If only one eye has been contaminated, try to keep the uninjured eye higher (to avoid cross contamination.)
Roll the eyeballs (up and down, side to side) aiming to get as much water as possible into the eye area.
Contact lenses should be removed as soon as you can, but never stop flushing.
Continue flushing for 15-60 minutes based on the recommendations of the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) or a medical practitioner.
IMPORTANT: Beware of peripheral hazards like slippery floors, dropped PPE, or chemical residues that might contact other body parts (or first aiders).
Keeping your eyewash equipment operational
Imagine investing in an eyewash facility, then on the day of a chemical emergency the equipment is not working properly, or completely inoperable. Here’s our 3 workplace essentials for making sure that never happens:
1. Carry out maintenance and testing
It’s an essential requirement under AS4775-2007 Emergency eyewash and shower equipment to ensure your eyewash station is properly maintained. Plumbed units must be activated at least once a week to verify they are operational, plus clear the water supply line of any build up of sediment. This also minimises the likelihood of stagnant water and an accumulation of microbial contaminants.
Both plumbed and self-contained eyewash stations must be inspected and tested each year by a technician who is qualified to certify and tag the units. Self-contained eyewash equipment (which have their own limited supply of flushing fluid) require regular monitoring to ensure the flushing fluid remains intact.
2. Clean up after using the decontamination unit
If you’ve had a chemical emergency and had to use your eyewash equipment, it’s essential that the unit is cleaned as soon as possible. Make sure that all chemical residues are removed, this includes the paddle levers, both water nozzles, and covers. At the same time activate the unit and make sure it is fully operational. For self-contained units you will need to determine their suitability for reuse and then refill the tank.
3. Don’t allow workers to misuse safety equipment
Eyewash stations are exclusively for use during an emergency — they must never be used for another purpose. Using the facility as a common hand-wash area (or for other non-emergency tasks) could expose the unit to unnecessary wear or cause damage/contamination to the unit.
Train your workers and contractors not to use the eyewash station inappropriately, and ensure supervisors or team leaders are enforcing this requirement. Training and induction programs should have specific content stipulating that eyewash stations are NOT:
Common hand and face washing facilities
Laundry stations for washing stains from clothing
Cleaning sinks for PPE or safety equipment
Clothes lines or sites for hanging stuff
The place to wash fruit, smoko containers, or eating utensils
Remind your staff that chemical emergencies can happen on any shift at any time, and would they want to be the person who was responsible for the permanently disability of their co-worker because they were using the eyewash station for some other non-emergency purpose.
If you’re considering installing, upgrading or expanding the emergency eyewash facilities at your workplace, we recommend downloading our free eBook How to select and use compliant emergency showers and eyewash equipment. It’s an excellent resource that will help you determine the eyewash unit that will best suit your safety and compliance requirements.