Chemical injuries to eyes – Lessons learnt

In the latest web alert of “Lessons Learnt” from UK P&I Club, Captain David Nichol recounted a case of chemical injury to an engineer’s eye.

When conducting his rounds of the engine room on a container ship, the duty engineer noticed an accumulation of fluid on the boiler flat deck, which had apparently been caused by leakage from the chemical dosing units of the auxiliary boiler.

The engineer stopped the dosing pumps and investigated the source of the leak. While the engineer was checking the joints, a delivery side plastic hose for one of the dosing pumps disconnected due to back pressure in the system, causing the chemical to spurt out from the hose onto the face and into the left eye of the engineer. The chief engineer was immediately informed and the engineer’s face and eye were flushed with water from the drinking fountain and with medicated eye wash. Further flushing and medication was continued in the ship’s hospital under the supervision of the master.

Captain Nichol noted that the engineer was transferred to hospital when the ship docked the following day. His left eye had sustained serious injury, with vision remaining impaired even after a succession of operations and treatments before and after repatriation.

The boiler treatment chemical that hit his eye was an oxygen scavenger used to inhibit corrosion in the feed water system. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the chemical indicated that it was strongly alkaline and that contact with eyes would cause irritation. Although the engineer was said to have been wearing eye goggles and other PPE at the time of the incident, the degree of protection provided was evidently insufficient for preventing liquid entering the eyes.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Before handling or working with hazardous chemicals, crew members should always refer to the applicable MSDS to confirm the hazard presented, what PPE is required and necessary first aid measures.
  • Open spectacle type or ventilated eyewear may not always provide sufficient protection against chemicals splashing into the facial area and running into the eyes. Full face visors should also be made available and worn as appropriate.
  • Full PPE, including eye / face protection, chemical resistant aprons, gauntlets and medicated eye wash should be readily available at chemical stores and also adjacent to chemically charged systems such as water treatment plants.
  • Always be aware of the potential seriousness of injuries to eyes and skin caused by contact with chemicals. Apart from appropriate first aid measures, professional medical advice should be sought from ashore as soon as possible.