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OSHA Info Sheet
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently updated a resource to help employers understand how important it is to flush emergency eyewashes to prevent organisms from growing in the stagnant water. Eyewash stations are critical emergency safety equipment intended to lessen the severity of eye injuries from workplace exposure to irritants or biological agents.
The OSHA Infosheet Health Effects from Contaminated Water in Eyewash Stations provides information about the organisms that can grow in stagnant water, how to prevent them from growing, and how to recognize infection signs and symptoms. Improper maintenance may present health hazards that can worsen or cause additional damage to a worker’s eye.
Water found in improperly maintained eyewash stations is more likely to contain organisms such as Acanthamoeba, Pseudomonas, and Legionella. These organisms thrive in stagnant or untreated water and are known to cause infections.
When a worker uses an eyewash station that is not maintained, organisms in the water may come into contact with the eye or 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 from transplant recovery, cancer or cancer treatment, lupus, or other conditions are at increased risk for developing illnesses from contaminated water. Early diagnosis is important to prevent infections from causing serious health effects, including permanent vision loss and severe lung diseases like pneumonia.
Below are just a few organisms that thrive in eyewash stations when not maintained properly, along with the health hazards they present.
This is a microscopic single-cell organism (amoeba) that may cause eye infections. This organism can live in treated water and is commonly found in mucous membranes like the nose, throat, and eyes, and in brain and other neurological tissues without causing harm to the person. On rare occasions, exposure to Acanthamoeba results in harmful eye infections known as Acanthamoeba keratitis. Along with keratitis, workers with compromised immune systems face a significantly higher risk for developing neurological infections or whole body infections. Workers may also experience eye redness, pain, tearing, blurred vision, light sensitivity, and eye inflammation several days after the use of a contaminated eyewash station.
Pseudomonas infections are typically caused by a common bacteria species. Pseudomonas aeruginosa may cause infections to eyes, skin, muscle, lung, and other tissues. One symptom specific to Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection is green-blue pus in or around the infected area. If a Pseudomonas infection spreads through the bloodstream, workers may become very sick with fevers, chills, confusion, and shock, and can even die. This bacterium has also developed resistance to many antibiotics, which may make it harder to treat.
This is a group of bacteria that are found in nature living with amoeba. They may cause a serious lung infection. Although Legionella does not cause eye infections, inhaling water droplets containing the bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a severe and fatal form of pneumonia.
How can eyewash stations be maintained to prevent infections?
Eyewash station manufacturer instructions provide direction on how often and how long to activate specific plumbed systems to reduce microbial contamination, and generally reference the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard Z358.1-2014.
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.