Safety Showers in Extreme and Challenging Environments
Here's an in-depth look at determining the right product for your application.
- By Ryan Pfund
- Jan 01, 2018
Frigid environments? Corrosive chemicals? Fluctuating work site requirements? When selecting appropriate and reliable safety showers for use within some harsh work site conditions, it can be a real jungle out there.
Extreme environments and conditions such as sub-zero temperatures, high heat, absence of plumbed water, and particularly challenging configurations all require specialized approaches for suitable emergency eyewashes and drench showers. In many of these cases, delivering emergency shower safety is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
The good news is there are plenty of specially engineered solutions that take into account the harshest worksite settings while ensuring compliance with the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment.1 The following considerations will help determine ideal equipment needs for these unique situations.
What Constitutes an Extreme Environment?
In general, extreme environments are driven by either temperature or site hazards. This includes:
- Extreme air temperatures in the range of -25° F (-32° C) to 120° F (49° C)
- Water temperatures between 32° F (0° C) and 110° F (43° C)
- High winds
- Heavy precipitation
- Corrosive materials
- Explosive or ignitable gases, and vapors
- Explosive or ignitable dust
Moreover, there are work environments requiring challenging and unique applications, such as:
- Salt-laden environments (installations near or on the ocean)
- Enclosures that require fire ratings
- Equipment that must be constructed according to seismic ratings
- Mobile operations (such as construction)
- Hot environments
Specifically, there are a number of challenging work settings that require specially engineered safety shower solutions—mining, oil refineries, petrochemical, bio-diesel and ethanol facilities, to name a few.
Extreme environments can lead to many concerns when it comes to safety showers. Sub-zero temperatures can cause pipes to break or burst and cause systemic damage affecting the usability of the safety equipment. In fact, ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 Section 6.4.5 states that in geographic areas where an emergency fixture may freeze, safety personnel should consider purchasing a freeze-protected fixture or additional accessories to prevent the pipes from freezing.
There are a number of highly specialized safety showers engineered to withstand these elements while providing technology to ensure ANSI compliance.
General ANSI Compliance Considerations
As with all emergency shower applications, it is vital for affected users to drench with safety showers that provide tepid water in compliance with the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 standard. ANSI calls for emergency eyewashes and drench showers to deliver tepid water (60-100° F/15.5-37.7° C) for a full 15 minutes to ensure adequate flushing of hazardous materials from users' bodies and/or eyes. A compliant drench shower must provide this tepid water at a flow rate of 20 gpm (76 lpm) for the entire 15-minute duration.
People in extremely cold environments may be less willing to drench for the entire 15 minutes if the water is not tepid. In addition, extended exposure to cold air and water can lead to hypothermia and make the affected person even more disinclined to remove clothing. Conversely, water that is too hot can cause chemical reactions with eyes and skin or scalding.
Further, for immediate and easy access, ANSI recommends that stations be within 10 seconds or 55 feet (17 meters) from a potential hazard.
Types of Emergency Shower Equipment
After analyzing conditions and identifying potential hazards, a facility’s emergency eyewash and drench shower needs can be assessed. Appropriate equipment should be selected based on the level of exposure to workers. In general:
- Emergency eyewash stations
- effective for spills, splashes, dust, or debris likely to affect only the eyes
- provide a controlled flow of water to both eyes simultaneously
- deliver an uninterrupted, 15-minute supply of tepid water. Plumbed units can supply a greater volume of water—between 2.0 and 5.0 gallons per minute (7.5 and 19.0 liters per minute).
- Emergency eye/face wash stations
- used when the entire face is at risk from spills, splashes, dust, and debris
- irrigate the eyes and face simultaneously
- provide a large distribution pattern of water—a minimum of 3.0 gpm (11.4 lpm)—to rinse the eyes and entire face.
- Emergency showers
- used when larger areas of the body are at risk
- flush a larger portion of the body but are not appropriate for the eyes (a combination eyewash and drench shower may be used to simultaneously flush the eyes and rinse larger areas of the body)
- deliver flushing fluid of 20 gpm (75.71 lpm)
Emergency Shower Solutions in Challenging Environments
Heat trace units are common, versatile, and effective solutions for protecting against damage due to frozen pipes and parts, but they do not offer a comfortable environment in which to drench. The freeze and scald valves ensure the uninterrupted flow of water in case of power failure in cold temperatures. These showers can be built for Class 1 Division 1 Class 1 Division 2, and Class 2 Division 2 hazardous locations.
Newer heat trace units incorporate stainless steel eyewash bowls with covers to protect the unit from wind, rain, and snow. Emergency signaling alarms connected to heat trace units will send immediate alerts to co-workers and first responders about the incident. These alarms can also be connected to building systems for remote monitoring. Look for systems that meet the NEMA 4X standard and are certified to ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 and cULus requirements.
Enclosed safety showers come as complete packages offering an enclosed shelter from the elements, privacy, and a warm ambient environment. These showers can withstand seismic activity, hurricane-force winds, and highly corrosive environments in petrochemical facilities, oil and gas refineries, nuclear and power plants, mines, and other industrial applications. These durable products are often made with 100-percent vacuum-formed, fiberglass-surrounded construction. The exterior can feature an ultraviolet (UV) inhibitor gelcoat for extra protection from sunlight UV-ray degradation and exposure to chemicals and salt-laden air environmental conditions.
These freestanding units are insulated to keep the internal temperature warm down to -25° F (-32° C), making them ideal for sub-zero applications. Several units will require a plumbed water supply; however, there are also self-contained units that will require only a full tank of water and a constant power source.
Enclosed safety showers feature the ability to provide tepid water through a thermostatic mixing valve, self-contained tank, or tankless water heater. In accordance with ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 Section 7.4.4, safety systems such as enclosed safety showers with multiple drenching platforms (shower, eyewash, and drench hose) must be capable of simultaneous activation while delivering tepid water for a duration of 15 minutes.
As with heat trace showers, enclosed systems can be built with a range of options, such as design for Class 1 Division 1 and Class 1 Division 2 locations, emergency signaling systems, and may be tied into building systems for remote monitoring.
Portable gravity fed units are ideal for work environments in which plumbed water is not available. These convenient systems incorporate water tanks that provide adequate water volume to complete a full 15-minute flush at the ANSI-mandated flow rate. Some units are designed with hinged eyewash trays that may be activated in one quick motion, while stainless steel clamp mechanisms secure the tank during transport.
To assist in the ANSI-required visual inspection of self-contained eyewashes, some of these units feature a transparent tank that quickly ensures the unit is full and ready for use.
When used in frigid conditions, gravity fed units can be installed with freeze protection equipment, like a heater jacket, to prevent freezing. Easily transportable carts can also be used with these units to capture and drain fluids.
Enclosed safety showers are also available as gravity fed units featuring large overhead water tanks, making these freestanding systems ideal for a range of challenging environments that lack plumbed water.
Custom designed solutions may be required for challenging applications that require more complex and flexible emergency shower or tepid water systems. Variables such as facility size and spatial configurations, plumbing requirements and special needs, and goals and budgets undoubtedly make each application unique.
In specialized cases, engineering specialists can design custom solutions incorporating key eyewash, drench showers, and tepid water delivery systems. For example, this might involve the use of specialized tankless water heaters and portable skid systems to supply water in challenging locations.
In all, when selecting drench showers and/or eyewashes for use in any challenging or extreme environment, identify all of the demands and requirements of your location. While some environments are tougher than others, there is a range of resilient solutions specially engineered to meet those challenges. Consulting with manufacturers and safety specialists can help zero in on the best equipment choices to provide a dependable ANSI-compliant work environment.
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.