The Science of Safety

There is more to emergency equipment design and specification than meets the eye. . . .

LIFE just keeps getting more and more complicated. Between advancements in industrial technologies, increasing productivity pressures, and a general "need-for-speed," most safety professionals are constantly adjusting their thinking and processes.

Today, simply keeping up with advancements in emergency equipment design and specification, as well as safety regulations and standards, can be a full-time job! If considered in a logical sequence, however, it is easier to methodically move toward the proper conclusions. In safety management, one of the best thought progressions to use is to consider your risks, develop a clear understanding of your needs with respect to mitigating those risks, and then consider the alternatives to meet those needs.

Consider Your Risks
While it might seem obvious, there are several important reasons to take a moment and consider your situation. Changes in industrial processes, products, and the size and geography of your operation can alter your risks, either lowering or raising them. Blindly following the path used in the past could be a dangerous error. Likewise, changes in the state-of-the-art emergency equipment, if employed, could have a dramatic impact on your overall risk.

There is also the degree of compliance with personal protective equipment to be considered. Even in companies that absolutely require PPE adherence, we are dealing with human beings here--people who often forget or disregard requirements. Your risk increases proportionate to the degree of non-compliance with PPE standards. And, that increase, if there is one, should be factored into your thinking.

Identify Your Needs
When you objectively consider your risks, the development of your specific needs becomes mostly obvious. The key here is to develop the big picture first and then work toward the specifics from there.

Consider the scope of the geography that could possibly be involved in a single incident and the size of a worst-case simultaneous treatment need. ANSI has specific standards for placement and access time for drench shower and eyewash facilities. Some considerations:

  • How many showers and eyewashes do you need--and where should they be located? Remember: This should be based on the worst-case scenario. So, the number of showers and eyewashes needed, as well as the available water pressure to service multiple simultaneous uses, should be considered.
  • While you're considering available water pressure, also consider the ambient water temperature. Remember: A 15-minute duty cycle using many areas' ambient temperature water can readily lead to hypothermia.
  • What type of equipment do you need, based on the hazardous materials used?
  • What type of activation alarming is needed? In remote locations, centralized monitoring is often needed to assure follow-on treatment and assistance.

Consider Your Alternatives
As with most products we buy, a wide range of emergency equipment is available, usually at prices proportionate with features, content, and quality. (Read: You get what you pay for!) The important thing to remember is that it is possible to buy features you don't need, as well as equipment that will fall short of your requirements.

One of the best things you can do is to be armed with an understanding of some of the standard features available in certain offerings, such as:

  • Flow controls. Integral flow controls assure the flow to both the shower head and eyewash will remain constant in the event both are needed simultaneously. In the absence of an integral flow control, the flow pattern to either the shower or eyewash (or both) could diminish during simultaneous use. These decreased flows could easily fall below ANSI or other requirements.
  • Actuation. Some products provide for both hand (flag handle or pull-rod) and foot (additional foot treadle) actuation. This can be a critically important feature in many applications, where potential injury could limit single or primary actuator use.
  • Colors and high-visibility pipe markers. Both OSHA and ANSI recognize the color green as denoting "safety." Specifically, the color green is reserved for the "location of safety equipment, respirators, safety showers, etc." Standardizing your operation to be consistent with this coding protocol assures compliance while minimizing risk. Some available emergency equipment follows this protocol, some does not.
  • Pre-assembly and pre-testing. Certain available products feature substantial pre-assembly and pre-testing at the factory, prior to shipment. While these features obviously apply only to the initial installation of the equipment, they should be considered at purchase time. Pre-assembly provides the benefit of having experts, for whom emergency equipment is a core competency, assemble critical components of your product for you. This also affords the manufacturer the opportunity to pressure test the assembly, assuring both integrity and operation. And the pre-assembly function often saves up to 40 percent on the final installation labor.
  • Third-party certifications. Specifiers should look for third-party certifications, using the ANSI Z358.1 standard. Independent certifications are your assurance that a third-party has measured a particular product against a standard set of baseline operating criteria.

Finally, specifiers should understand that standard catalog products are designed for general installations, with average "plug-and-play" circumstances assumed by the manufacturer. In some instances, however, the actual use of the equipment falls outside these assumed circumstances. For example, if the ambient water temperature is either higher or lower than appropriate, it may be necessary to add tempering or reverse tempering components upstream from the shower/eyewash. (No specific acceptable temperature ranges are available from ANSI. Specifiers are encouraged to seek input from competent medical professionals regarding appropriate limits for their given conditions.) These added elements will either warm or cool the water, facilitating full 15 minute duty-cycle use. Or, if available water pressure is not sufficient to support simultaneous multiple shower/eyewash use, an upstream booster pump may be needed.

The point is that more aggressive industrial processes and widespread use of hazardous materials continue to change the paradigm for emergency equipment selection. What used to be a simpler matter of selecting a turnkey piece of equipment is rapidly driving consideration of a broader integrated emergency response system that is specific to your business and your facility.

Designing, manufacturing, specifying, installing, and maintaining emergency equipment today is a science--a science involving a close collaboration between manufacturers and informed customers.

This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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