Safety Shower Solutions in Freezing and Challenging Work Environments
Chemicals pose a significant threat to worker safety, so there must be protocols in place and proper equipment available to prevent harm while on the job.
- By Ryan Pfund
- Feb 01, 2021
Working with corrosive chemicals, materials and contaminants poses serious health and safety challenges which can often be mitigated with the proper use of emergency shower and eye wash equipment. However, add in cold weather variables like sub-zero temperatures, snow and freezing rain to the application, and the prospect of delivering heated water becomes much more complicated.
The list of uncontrollable environmental factors that impact plumbed safety shower equipment isn’t limited to freezing weather. There is a long list of other worksite extremes—like explosive gases, high heat and salt-laden conditions—that can also impede optimal performance.
Still, when chemical and safety hazards exist, even the most challenging worksite environments must have emergency eyewashes and drench showers that meet certain requirements.
Why Tepid Water?
Specifically, the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1–2014 American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment requires that emergency eyewashes and drench showers deliver tepid water (60 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and supply enough flushing fluid for a duration of 15 minutes. Water must be delivered at 20 GPM for the shower and .4 GPM for the eyewash simultaneously to help remove particulates while soothing chemical burns and preventing chemical absorption.
Tepid water temperature for emergency safety fixtures is crucial in getting workers to use them for the entire washdown period. Imagine having to use untempered water from a safety shower or eyewash unit while working indoors, or even worse, outdoors on a cold day. It is nearly impossible for most people to sustain a full washdown with cold water. In fact, some experts believe that human tolerance for showering with untempered water is about three minutes—a far cry from the 15-minute washdown. Flushing with cold water for a long period of time can even lead to hypothermia. Therefore, a dependable delivery system of on-demand tepid water is a must for encouraging a full flush of hazardous chemicals and materials from the eyes and/or body.
In all, ensuring that plumbed emergency safety equipment has access to properly heated water will help avoid worker injury, prevent workers from having to use ice cold water (or discovering the pipes are frozen) in the event of an emergency, avoid equipment downtime and costly repairs and help encourage peace of mind for all employees.
Safety Shower Inspections
Cold weather conditions undoubtedly make safety showers and eyewash stations vulnerable to the effects of cold temperatures. This makes it even more important to inspect these units on a weekly basis. It is critical to ensure safety showers and eyewashes are capable of providing flushing fluid on the coldest days of winter. The weekly test will ensure the unit is working properly and that lines are flushed of sediment or stagnant water.
A thorough safety servicing and winterization of equipment should be done at least annually. This includes inspection and a compliance assessment for every on-site safety shower, eyewash station and the pipes supplying the water. Be sure to record shower flow rates and water temperatures for each location. Test the water temperature and make sure tepid water will be available for a full 15-minute drench period.
Valve actuators must activate water flow within one second or less of being turned on while being hands-free. For eyewashes, the controlled flow of flushing fluid must be able to handle both eyes simultaneously.
What is an Extreme or Challenging Environment?
In addition to sub-zero temperatures, a long list of variables can stand in the way of providing plumbed emergency fixtures within a worksite’s at-risk areas. These may include: *Extreme air temperatures
- Extreme water temperatures
- High winds
- Heavy precipitation
- Corrosive materials and environments
- Explosive or ignitable gases, and vapors
- Explosive or ignitable dust
- Salt-laden environments (installations near or on the ocean)
- Enclosures that require fire ratings
- Equipment that must be constructed according to seismic ratings
- Hot environments
- Elevated hazards
- Mobile operations (like construction)
- Lack of space
- Lack of plumbed water
- Tepid water limitations
- Plumbing requirements
- Budget limitations
Despite these types of uncontrollable factors, providing reliable eyewash and shower safety throughout worksites is still mandatory. Moreover, the ANSI/ISEA standard states that fixtures must be located within 10 seconds or 55 feet (17 meters) from a potential hazard. Equipment must also be located on the same level as the hazard with an unobstructed path of travel.
Different Types of Safety Shower Solutions
Whether you’re dealing with polar vortex, dust bowl, salt box or tropical heat conditions, there are adaptable safety shower products and engineered solutions that help meet ANSI/ISEA requirements in both freezing and challenging settings. The following are common safety fixture challenges and product solutions designed to address them.
Freezing temperatures, harsh environments and high winds? Consider heat trace units and enclosed safety showers. Heat trace units are helpful when frigid temperatures put safety fixtures at risk for frozen pipes and parts. These specialized showers feature insulated jackets over an electrical heat trace cable that wraps the piping and protects the water from freezing. Some units are protected from freezing down to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. The showers can be built for Class 1 Division 1, Class 1 Division 2 and Class 2 Division 2 hazardous locations and use freeze valves to maintain the continuous flow of water in case of power failure in cold temperatures.
In areas where high winds are prevalent, some units feature entire bowls and bowl covers to keep the spray heads clean and ensure that the covers will not flip off in the wind. In especially harsh environments, stainless steel eyewash bowls with covers may be used for extra protection from the elements.
When harsh environments threaten the performance of safety fixtures, enclosed safety showers are necessary. These showers are designed to work in extreme temperatures, high winds and highly corrosive environments. These insulated units have 100-percent vacuum-formed, fiberglass-surrounded construction, making them ideal for sub-zero applications and salt-laden environments.
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 15 minutes.
Like heat trace showers, enclosed safety showers can be designed for Class 1 Division 1 and Class 1 Division 2 locations.
Lack of plumbed water? Consider self-contained safety fixtures. When there is no access to a plumbed source or using plumbed water is not an option, portable gravity fed units are an excellent choice to get tepid water where it is needed. These flexible units are designed with water tanks that supply enough water for a full 15-minute flush. Some incorporate transparent tanks for easy inspection of the water supply.
If freezing temperatures are an issue, gravity fed units can be installed with freeze protection equipment, like a heater jacket. These units can be used with moveable carts to catch and drain fluids.
For specialized situations, gravity fed emergency showers/eyewashes are available. These feature galvanized steel structures and large overhead gravity fed units that can be used in a number of challenging environments lacking plumbed water. They can include an immersion heater to ensure tepid water in cold environments and can also include a heated enclosure to protect the user from freezing temperatures.
No access to tepid water? Consider electric tankless water heating. Tankless water heaters provide an infinite amount of water heated at a specific temperature on demand, making them ideal vessels for providing tepid water in eyewash and drench shower systems. Unlike a thermostatic mixing valve that requires an ample supply of hot water, tankless water heaters only require access to a cold water supply and a source of power.
The benefits of tankless heating units are they draw energy only when needed, reach the ANSI standards for tepid water temperatures in 20 to 30 seconds, hold outlet temperature to with a degree and have a low pressure drop (as low as 8 pounds per square inch). These features minimize potential post-installation complications that could be caused by a sudden decrease in pressure.
Newer water heaters are designed with redundant safety and anti-scald features to meet ANSI tepid water requirements. They also provide overshoot purge protection that will automatically open to purge excess hot water whenever necessary.
When selecting drench showers and eyewash equipment—especially for use in a challenging or extreme environment—it is a good idea to consult with manufacturers and safety specialists. These experts can identify the best equipment choices for providing a safe and dependable ANSI-compliant work environment. Even when safety equipment options seem limited, custom-designed products can turn a seemingly impossible situation into a solid and secure safety solution.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.