Understanding the limitations of eyewash bottles

By: Ray Chishti

Publication: Employee Safety Management Today

Date Posted: 08/04/2020

OSHA's 1910.151(c) standard, Medical Services and First Aid, requires that employers provide emergency eyewashes when employees may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials during the course of their work. Employers have a wide range of eyewash types available to choose from on the market, including portable units (i.e., eyewash bottles). While many employers use bottles, OSHA says that they can’t be the only eyewash made available to employees, and their use should be limited.

Bottles vs. other eyewashes for emergency equipment

The OSHA standard does not provide a great deal of detail on eyewashes for employers. However, where the regulation is silent, OSHA refers employers to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard Z358.1-2009, “Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment,” regarding installation, operation, and maintenance of emergency eyewashes. This includes capacity and flushing requirements. The ANSI standard states that an eyewash must deliver 0.4 gallons of flushing fluid per minute for at least 15 minutes.

As such, ANSI says that an eyewash bottle does not meet these criteria; therefore, it can only be used to support eyewashes that do (i.e., plumbed and self-contained units), but cannot replace them.

Capacity of eyewash bottles

The reason for this limitation is that eyewash bottles simply cannot provide the required 15 minutes of flushing. Eyewash bottles typically hold less than a gallon of water, which would supply the user with flushing fluid for approximately 1 minute. Even larger self-contained units (those with bladders) that have a capacity of 5 to 10 gallons would only provide maximum use of about 5 minutes.

In other words, eyewash bottles don’t provide an adequate amount of flushing fluid and cannot be considered a primary means of protection.

Limitations of usingeyewash bottles

For this reason, OSHA warns that the use of eyewash bottles should be limited. In a 1986 memorandum to Regional Administrators, the agency states, “In general, squeeze bottles should not be used except where the hazard severity or distance from plumbed eyewash equipment requires personal equipment at work stations for immediate flushing prior to prolonged flushing at a plumbed or self-contained unit.”

In other words, employers can provide eyewash bottles in instances where plumbed or self-contained units can’t reasonably be provided (e.g., an outside yard) in the immediate work area, but only until they can reach a unit which can provide the amount of flushing fluid necessary to flush the eyes for at least 15 minutes.

OSHA expects the employer to determine the level of the potential risk to employees and provide eyewash (and/or shower) protection accordingly. The severity of the hazard(s) involved is a critical consideration when making this determination. In the past, OSHA has said that 1910.151(c) is meant to cover strong acids and alkalis, and the requirement to provide suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing depends on the exposure and the strength of the hazardous chemical. Chemicals and materials such as household detergents or cleaners, sawdust, metal filings, etc. would not require emergency eyewash (or shower) under the standard.

OSHA Enforcement on eyewashes

If an employer determines that an eyewash is needed, then it must meet the provisions set forth in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard Z358.1-2014. The agency uses the ANSI standard as an enforcement tool. This is clarified in a November 1, 2002, Letter of Interpretation, which says, “If OSHA inspects a workplace and finds unsuitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body, a citation under 29 CFR 1910.151(c) would be issued. When determining whether the eyewash or shower facilities are suitable given the circumstances of a particular worksite, OSHA may refer to the most recent consensus standard regarding eyewash or shower equipment…”

Without the ANSI standard, employers would find it difficult to demonstrate to OSHA exactly how their eyewash and shower units were suitable exclusive to the regulatory language under 1910.151(c) since it’s limited and vague.

Key to Remember: Eyewash bottles don’t meet the requirement under 1910.151(c) to provide “suitable” facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes. They cannot be the only eyewash provided in the workplace.

About the author
Ray Chishti - EH&S Editor

Ray is an editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. and has over 12 years of EH&S experience in a variety of industries, including EPC projects, fossil fuel power plants, gas distribution and transmission, and electrical transmission work.

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