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Workplace eyewash may cause eye infections, report says

Production and research laboratories and medical facilities in Colorado and across the country may be exposing their employees to eye infections. According to a recent Infosheet report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the employees most at risk are those who flush their eyes at potentially contaminated workplace eyewash stations.

OSHA requires eyewash facilities to be present in work environments where employees face the danger of eye exposure to harmful substances containing at least 0.1 percent of formaldehyde. This includes HBV and HIV research laboratories, production facilities and any workplace where the employees handle corrosive chemicals. However, employees using the stations may be washing their eyes with contaminated water because the emergency equipment was not correctly maintained.

If the water in the eyewash station remains unchanged for a long period, it can become stagnant, inviting the growth of organisms such as Legionella, Pseudomonas and Acanthamoeba. Then, when employees use the contaminated water, they may be in danger of a serious illness or infection. First, the harmful eyewash may increase the risk for eye injuries, which could lead to an eye infection. Secondly, the tainted water might also affect employees suffering certain skin problems and diseases such as lupus, cancer or any sickness whereby their immune system is weakened.

To avoid the possibility of contaminated eyewash station water, employers are required to flush these systems regularly by strictly following the product's maintenance guidelines. The report stated that employers must adhere to the ANSI/ISEA standard, Z358.1-2014 regarding weekly maintenance of the company's plumbed systems.

Employees suffering a serious injury or illness directly linked to their workplace have the right to file a workers' compensation claim. Benefits under the claim may include a certain percentage of the employee's wages and medical costs related to the workplace accident or illness. Many people who have been injured on the job obtain the assistance of an attorney when preparing and filing their claims.

Source: OH&S Online, "OSHA Warns of Contaminated Eyewash Water", Aug. 7, 2015

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