Responding to Laboratory Emergencies

These are a larger challenge when disabled employees are present.

LABORATORIES can be dangerous places. Because research and teaching labs often work with such a wide variety of potentially volatile and hazardous substances, they are bound by some very strict operational protocols and safety procedures. And because they represent a potentially dangerous environment, labs generally are equipped with significant--and sometimes lab-specific--emergency response equipment.

First response assets in a lab need to be very accessible and useable in often confined spaces. Ideally, these emergency showers and eyewashes should be mounted or fold up so they are completely out of the way when not in use. Obviously, the emergency response "station" also needs to be highly visible when not in use so it can be easily located by a potentially panicked, injured person.

It becomes obvious that designing an emergency response package to be integrated into the average laboratory facility is no small feat. The individual pieces of emergency equipment must be located to conform to the ANSI Z358.1 Standard, which includes provisions requiring (among other things) clear access and well-lighted emergency response areas that can be reached in no more than 10 seconds of transit time by an injured worker. That requirement affects the number, location, and installation of a variety of different emergency response products.

Making the situation in labs even more challenging, lab facilities often are accessed by disabled workers, students, and teachers. So the emergency equipment that is specific to lab applications should also be fully disabled-accessible, complying with the accessible buildings provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is a significant point because the surrounding space and exact placement required for a typical laboratory eyewash, for example, might be different for an application that complies only with the ANSI guidelines, versus the same application when required to meet both ANSI and ADA guidelines.

Disabled-Accessible Lab Products
Let's consider the types of product designs that are appropriate for a laboratory environment:

  • Swing-down, sink-mounted eyewashes. This category of products has been available for a number of years and provides easy access to an eyewash mounted at the back or side of a lab sink. In its "off" position, the eyewash is rotated up and out of the way of other sink use operations. When needed, the eyewash swings down so the spray--which typically turns on automatically when the head is swung down into position--is directly over the sink and its drain.

    Because there is no specific ADA guideline for eyewashes or eye/face washes, the challenge comes in interpreting the general guidelines. ADA requires a maximum sink and/or counter height of 34 inches above the floor. Traditional swing-down eyewash or eye/face wash products extend the spray heads up at least 5 inches above the sink when in the down (activated) position. That means that the spray outlets are usually about 39 inches above the floor. The same ADA guidelines mandate that a drinking fountain bubbler outlet can not exceed 36 inches above the floor for disabled use. It is reasonable to assume that a disabled person using either an eye/face wash or drinking fountain must move to the same degree and will encounter identical limitations. Therefore, traditional swing-down eyewashes or eye/face washes will exceed their maximum range. Recent advancements in product designs have accomplished compliance by allowing the swung-down heads to sit lower into the sink, staying below the 36-inch above the floor outlet maximum.

    This new configuration is also within the height range established by ANSI, making it compliant to both ANSI and ADA, when the sink is properly installed.
  • Wall-mounted, recessed eye/face washes and drench showers. This type of product is very popular in labs because it is highly visible yet completely out of the way until needed. Specifiers should seek out products that can be mounted at a height that allows compliance to both ANSI Z358.1 and ADA guidelines.

    Importantly, the recessed cabinet design allows this product to be installed in hallways and other confined spaces, where disabled access to the area itself might otherwise preclude installation. ADA specifies hallway dimensions and turning space availability for wheelchair access, limiting allowable "protruding objects." Recessed eye/face washes often allow for more flexible use of available space, which can be at a premium in laboratories. They also can materially assist with placement of emergency assets that allows for the ANSI-mandated 10 seconds' transit time.

    When mounted properly, the state-of-the-art recessed eye/face washes (both with and without drench showers) can easily comply with both ANSI Z358.1 and ADA guidelines.

    Finally, activation handles for lowering the eye/face wash tray and to turn on the overhead shower should not exceed 5 pounds of force to operate, per ADA.
  • Floor-mounted combination shower/eye-face wash. In laboratory applications requiring a free-standing combination shower/eye-face wash, it's important to realize that the clear access and turning radius requirements of ADA will also have an impact on equipment placement. Additionally, the same interpreted application of the ADA drinking fountain bubbler height can be used to evaluate ADA compatibility of an eyewash or eye/face wash. Measurements should be:

    Eye/face wash sprayer height, 36 inches above the floor

    Knee clearance, 27 inches above the floor, with the shower actuator pull rod at or below the maximum reach distance when seated of 48 inches

    Additionally, there are depth differences versus non-ADA-compatible products for the shower and eyewash sprayers that are driven by an increased access distance due to seated use of the equipment. Typically, those dimensions are, for an ADA-compliant unit, a 37-inch distance from the wall to the centerline of the shower head and about 14 inches from the wall to the centerline of the eye/face wash bowl. The difference between the two measurements allows for seated simultaneous use of both the shower and the eye/face wash. Those dimensions contrast to a non-ADA-compliant product of 31-inch wall to shower head and about 10-inch wall to eye/face wash bowl. More depth is needed for barrier-free use.

Avoiding Treatment Delays
There is, obviously, an assumption that any equipment selected will meet the ANSI Z358.1 general guidelines for installation, use, maintenance, and overall operation. These parameters are clearly established and well understood by most specifiers.

Finally, ADA guidelines also include a provision stating that no fewer than one in five pieces of eyewash or drench shower equipment (in a specific area) must be compliant to the access and design/operation definitions for use by disabled individuals.

Labs are dangerous places by nature, and the emergency response equipment used in them must meet exacting requirements. Those requirements, we've seen, can be different in disabled-accessible facilities. A small amount of planning and forethought can save considerable confusion, as well as avoiding a possible treatment delay to disabled workers.

This article appeared in the May 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the May 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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