Staying Prepared in Remote Areas

First and foremost, the hazard itself should be the most prominent consideration when choosing a specific piece of emergency equipment.

There are many occasions in the modern workplace when an assigned task takes employees into a remote area that has hazardous materials present and yet the basic need of emergency shower and eyewash equipment is unavailable. Access to this type of emergency equipment has to be ensured in these situations. In this case, remotely positioned, self-contained, equipment is required.

The Overall Challenge
Depending on the environmental conditions and the types of hazards that may be present, one must consider the challenges to meet the needs of the worker in an emergency, and the ANSI Z358.1 standard offers a minimum guide to do so. There are tremendous design constraints when a constant supply of plumbed, potable, water is unavailable and self-contained reservoirs have to be used. This includes issues like the immediacy of need, the rate of flow, and the volume of flushing fluid needed for the full time of irrigation. When the hazard can adversely affect the eyes and skin, this volume can be 20-plus gallons of flushing fluid a minute for fifteen minutes to meet the ANSI guidelines. There are situations where this time period is not deemed suitable, when it has been determined that 20 or even 30 minutes of irrigation time is desired by the safety or health team involved in setting first aid and emergency procedures in place.

Having just "a" solution is not the answer. Squeeze bottles and portable gravity-fed and pressurized vessels can be the right solution for many hazardous situations. But these products cannot always be considered the "only" solution. First and foremost, the hazard itself should be the most prominent consideration when choosing a specific piece of emergency equipment.

In many situations, portable solutions will work well. Gravity-fed eyewashes, pressurized portables, and other such sealed units can provide adequate protection against many hazards found in the workplace. The key element here is to have readily available, clean flushing fluid at a temperature that is usable throughout the duration of the required irrigation time.

In many cases, the need may only be for the protection of non-caustic materials where the hazards are of a minimal nature or threat. After carefully considering all of the variables, a portable solution may be acceptable. This solution is certainly the least expensive solution of all.

Extreme Hazards
If there are caustic materials present, you must have the ability to provide the injured person with at least 15 minutes of constant water pressure for use on the entire body, and within a very close proximity to the hazard while ensuring that the irrigation device is not in the immediate spray path or location of the identified hazard. This means that a pressurized portable with a drench hose should not be considered effective enough. Neither should a gravity-fed eyewash unit. This will not provide adequate protection for "whole-body" exposure.

Most assuredly, extreme conditions will call for the effectiveness of a plumbed type of system. Providing a solution, in this case, can become a very expensive proposition and require a great deal of engineering expertise based on the hazard, environment, and proximity.

Environmental Conditions
Both hot and cold temperate exposure can provide the greatest challenge. If the temperature is hot, the fluid must be cooled to a usable temperature. If the temperatures are cold, freezing can be an additional consideration outside of the need for tepidity. Operating within ANSI's specification of 16 - 38 degrees C (60 -100 degrees F) for tepid delivery is not considered suitable for many organizations as a more "user-comfortable" range of 80 to 95 degrees is deemed an acceptable temperature for full-duration irrigation.

Many emergency shower and eyewash companies provide solutions for both plumbed and portable units that mitigate the temperature extremes. Some of these solutions include insulated piping, heated probes, insulation jackets, cooling systems, and other solutions.

In extremely cold conditions, the ability to use heated enclosures has been a common solution. These solutions can be engineered specifically for first aid treatment and shelter from the hazard itself. Most enclosures should be able to protect the equipment to as low as -40 degrees F/C. Most of these units are electrically powered, however. Without electricity, the use of this type of application would be difficult.

On the other extreme, heated conditions can present an even greater challenge. However, scald protection valves plumbed into the water supply lines can be used to mitigate water flow that is above the tepid range. Enclosures, coupled with cooling or refrigeration can also be used to bring the temperature down to a tepid range.

In situations where there is no water supply, many facilities work to use large amounts of fluid in self-contained vessels, as large as 400 to 450 gallons of temperature-controlled water with something remote to propel the fluid to the eyewash and shower. This is often a gas such as air, and sometimes electrically operated pump systems.

Engineered solutions often have to include enclosures to provide an effective tool to protect against nature's offerings and deliver the most suitable solution to outdoor hazards, but they can also be the most expensive. Most of these systems are used as long-term or permanent solutions, especially when being added to facilities that have expansions or retrofit projects underway. Often the emergency equipment was not previously planned for and now the only areas to place these units are out in areas exposed to adverse weather conditions. With newly designed facilities, the engineering of emergency equipment can be undertaken in the early stages of planning and the solutions are often much less expensive and easier to install.

But what if you need mobility or just want to have the protection of emergency eyewash and shower equipment with the worker rather than have individual units at each location that the employee visits throughout the day? Such mobile units may be practical if all that is needed is the amount of fluid for an eyewash, although verification is needed of just how far away from the emergency equipment the hazard is. If vehicle-mounted irrigation equipment is used but the hazard takes the worker more than ten seconds from the position of this shower or eyewash, then it cannot be deemed suitable to use under the minimum guideline of the ANSI Z358.1 standard.

The other and obvious issue is that if an emergency shower is required, then an eyewash almost certainly would be, and this generates the need for more than 306 gallons of flushing fluid at a very minimum -- something not easily moved from position to position throughout the day.

Other Remote Issues
The quality of the flushing fluid quality is an obvious concern for emergency equipment kept in remote areas. While the eyewash needs can be met using gravity-fed eyewash units, these often have maintenance and upkeep limitations because by design they need to have the fluid exposed to air to function. The air exchange can cause early degradation of the fluid and require constant cleaning and refilling of the equipment. Units with sealed bags of fluid that have a multi-year shelf life are often a suitable answer.

Pressurized portables that are filled with clean potable water and a preservative and charged with clean, oil-free air can provide some longer term protection but still require servicing much more frequently than sealed cartridge units. A similar design for emergency showers is available for use as well -- the already described self-contained vessel holding large fluid quantities.

In Conclusion
There are many variables involved when choosing the right emergency shower and eyewash solution for use in remote locations. As mentioned previously, it is a grave mistake to consider common portables as the best solution. It is the duty of all safety-minded professionals to get help from an Emergency Shower and Eyewash Professional to determine the specific hazards in order to provide the correct options for the safety of the workers who are present. Failure to do so can very well create hazards leading to a more costly event and even the most costly, a life.

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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