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Infection hazards of improperly maintained eyewash stations

A recent publication issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns employers and workers alike that infections could arise from using improperly maintained eyewash facilities. Both employers and workers in Pennsylvania can use the information to remain aware of the risks and learn how to avoid them.

Work environments that use corrosive chemicals, research labs and production facilities that involve HBV and HIV, and other facilities where employees could be splashed in the eye with solutions that consist of at least 0.1 percent of formaldehyde or other materials that could cause eye injury or infection must have eyewash stations. When these stations are not maintained properly they are likely to carry organisms that cause infections. Some of these organisms can thrive in untreated or treated water that is left stagnant.

OSHA explains that the organisms may get in a worker's eye or skin. The individual could even inhale the organism. Additionally, workers who use eyewash stations after they are exposed to hazardous materials or chemicals could have eye wounds that make their eyes more vulnerable to infection. When the workers have damaged skin or poor immune systems, they are more likely to become ill from the contaminated water.

According to OSHA, contamination from acanthamoeba can cause keratitis, a harmful eye infection. Legionella infection occurs from inhalation and causes a severe and potentially fatal pneumonia called legionnaires' disease. Pseudomonas can cause eye, lung, muscle and skin infections as well as infections of other tissues. To avoid these problems, OSHA advises employers to follow the ANSI/ISEA standard that recommends that plumbed systems be activated every week to eliminate infection hazards.

Workers whose eyes, skin or other tissues become infected after using eyewash stations at work may be eligible to file a claim for workers' compensation benefits, including medical expenses and disability payments. Many injured workers find the assistance of an attorney to be helpful when preparing and filing their claims.

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