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How Safe Is Your Eyewash?

According to a recent article in Safety + Health magazine, Honeywell Safety Products had to recall about 9,700 bottles of Eyesaline emergency eyewash solution due to “a low risk of contamination” of bacteria that can cause eye infections (NSC 2016).

Science teachers need to see if they have this type of eyewash solution and also need to take care of the eyewash stations that have sat in their labs during the summer. Eyewash can mitigate eye injuries when there is exposure to physical and chemical irritants or biological agents.

An Infosheet by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration gives background information on the American National Standards Institute standard Z358.1-2014. The standard states that for plumbed systems, “the eyewash must deliver tepid flushing fluid (15.6–37.8°C or 60–100°F) to eyes not less than 1.5 liters per minute (0.4 gpm) for a minimum of 15 minutes” (OSHA 2015).

OSHA further notes, “Whether permanently connected to a potable water source (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 2015).

If students or school employees use an eyewash that is not properly maintained, biological organisms can come in contact with the eye or skin, or may even be inhaled. Eyes also may be more susceptible to infection after being injured. Eyewashes not properly maintained may serve as a breeding ground for a host of organisms and present serious health hazards. OSHA mentions the following organisms as examples (OSHA 2015):

  • Acanthamoeba—a microscopic single cell organism (amoeba) that may cause eye infections.
  • Pseudomonas—infections typically caused by a common bacteria species.
  • Legionella—bacteria that may cause Legionnaires’ disease, a serious lung infection.

Teachers need to check manufacturer’s instructions regarding how often and how long the eyewash needs to be flushed to reduce or eliminate biological contaminants, which often require a once-a-week flushing regimen. To maintain self-contained eyewash units, consult the manufacturer’s instructions for appropriate procedures.

It is important to first try working with your school administration to address your safety concerns. If your concern is not addressed, you have a right, as an employee, to file a complaint, under which OSHA will conduct an on-site inspection for potential hazards and determine whether your employer is following OSHA rules (OSHA 2014, p. 11).

Teachers or union representatives can call OSHA with questions or additional information at 1-800-321-OSHA. However, many states operate their own OSHA-approved safety and health program. Visit OSHA’s website to determine if your workplace is under Federal OSHA, a state OSHA plan, or other individual state department.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at safesci@sbcglobal.net, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

References

National Safety Council. 2016. Safety + Health. Honeywell Issues Voluntary Recall of Eyesaline Eyewash. August 23. www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/14599-honeywell-issues-voluntary-recall-of-eyesaline-eyewash.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 2015. Health effects from contaminated water in eyewash stations. www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3818.pdf.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 2014. Workers’ rights. www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3021.pdf.

NSTA resources and safety issue papers

NSTA resources and safety issue papers

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