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Judges tosses OSHA eyewash citation

No evidence of hazard exposure during battery charging.

An OSHRC Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has voided a manufacturer's citation for not having an eyewash unit located in the immediate area of a battery charging station. In the citation, OSHA claimed the company committed a serious violation of 1910.151(c) for failure to have an eyewash station within the work area for emergency use.

The Company's Situation
The company has a battery charging station near the loading dock where four forklifts are left overnight to recharge their batteries. A wall-mounted eyewash machine is located approximately 50 feet from the battery charging station.

The company uses its four forklifts on a daily basis. After the facility shuts down for the evening, the employees connect the forklift batteries to the battery charger and charge them overnight. The employees are not otherwise required to work with the forklift batteries, although they may occasionally add water to the batteries. The company has a contract with another company, which periodically comes to the facility to service the forklifts. The contractor's responsibilities include maintenance of the forklift batteries.

OSHA's Reasoning
The OSHA citation states that for the company's battery charging station, the "eyewash was located more than 25 feet away, [and] the unit did not contain enough water to provide for 15 minutes of continuous use." To prove its case, OSHA had to establish that the cited standard applies to the cited condition, i.e., that the battery charging area creates exposure "to injurious corrosive materials" such that "suitable facilities" would be required.

In issuing the citation, OSHA relied in part on a Standard Interpretation and Compliance Letter addressing "Quick drenching or flushing facilities in battery charging areas," issues August 16, 1976. Paragraph one of the letter states that battery charging areas are not specifically mentioned in 1910.151(c) but are considered to be covered if the battery caps are removed and if electrolyte acid is added, removed, or spilled. The letter further says that if the battery is simply undergoing charge, it is not necessary to have quick drenching or flushing facilities for the eyes or skin.

OSHRC's Decision
According to the ALJ, the Standard Interpretation undercuts OSHA's case against the company, as there was no evidence that anyone added electrolyte acid to the batteries. Therefore, the ALJ ruled that there is no reason for the company's employees to have any contact with the batteries, other than connecting them to the battery charger, which does not expose them to corrosive materials. Because OSHA failed to establish that any employees were "exposed to injurious corrosive material" which would make the eyewash standard applicable to the battery charging area, the Judge vacated the citation.