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Emergency Eyewash Stations and Blood Exposures

The answer to this question offers some interesting information on blood exposure to eyes.

Q: Are emergency eyewash stations required for blood exposures to the eyes?

A: There is a fine technical debate among healthcare safety officers as to whether OSHA’s Medical Services and First Aid standard (1910.151[c]) applies to blood splashes to the eyes. And the answer is: Maybe.

Some experts maintain that the phrase “Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials” eliminates blood, which is not corrosive even if infected, from consideration.

Other experts point to section 1910.1030(d)(2)(vi) of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard as logically indicating the need for an eyewash station: “Employers shall ensure that employees wash hands and any other skin with soap and water, or flush mucous membranes with water immediately or as soon as feasible following contact of such body areas with blood or other potentially infectious materials.”

However, the only part of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard that specifically makes reference to “an eyewash facility” is the section applying to HIV and HBV research laboratories and production facilities, 1910.1030(e)(1), which are distinguished from “clinical or diagnostic laboratories engaged solely in the analysis of blood, tissues, or organs,”according to the standard.

In addition, U.S. Public Health Service guidelines and NIOSH publications on occupational blood exposure call for flushing exposed eyes and mucous membranes, but neither agency gives a minimum flush time, further weakening the regulatory mandate for a dedicated emergency eyewash station for blood exposures.

As a best practice, however, we recommend either an emergency eyewash station for responding to workplace blood splashes to the eyes or readily accessible personal eyewash devices. In either case, provide specific training on how staff members may use them for protection.

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