Streamlining Safety

Streamlining Safety

User-friendly features in eyewashes and emergency fixtures make all the difference.

User-friendly features in eyewashes and emergency showers are essential for ensuring quick and effective response during emergency situations. After all, when less time and motion is required for activating plumbed emergency equipment – with readily available tepid water – the better the outcome for users in need of prompt washdown relief from chemical or hazardous exposures.

This article analyzes key product features of eyewashes and emergency shower equipment that are designed to streamline operation of this equipment and improve results. At a glance, these features include ergonomic activation, extended washdown coverage technology, reliable tepid water delivery systems, integrated eyewash and shower systems, portable eyewash stations and emergency signaling systems.

First, it’s helpful to understand how eyewashes and emergency showers operate, in general, and the standard technique employed by users.

Understanding How Equipment Should Work

Emergency safety showers and eyewashes are designed to flush away hazardous substances from the eyes, face or body, and prevent permanent eye and skin damage from chemical burns or foreign substances generated by grinding, hammering, chipping, testing, pouring, storing, transporting and disposing operations.

Emergency, or drench, showers work by simply pulling down on the drench shower handle while standing directly underneath the showerhead to drench the entire body. In general, the shower valve operates by a pull rod mechanism. It is important to remain under the shower for a 15-minute continuous flush and be sure to remove clothing while drenching, as contaminated clothing left on skin could exacerbate the user’s injury.

Eye and eye/face washes work by pushing a handle or lifting a bowl cover. The face should then be positioned directly in the flushing fluid, while the user holds their eyelids open with their hands. The user should roll their eyes around while they are positioned directly in the eyewash streams to effectively rinse the entire eye for 15 minutes.

To encourage a full and effective flush of the affected area, whether it’s with an eyewash or drench shower, it’s essential to have direct and on-demand access to tepid water — per ANSI requirements. ANSI Z358.1-2014 stipulates that an injured worker remains beneath the drench shower and/or flush their eyes/face for a minimum of 15 minutes to increase the likelihood of a complete and successful treatment, and minimize the possibility of inadvertently spreading hazardous material to other areas.

Optimal Emergency Response Features

Here are examples of system features that can ensure quick and effective response during emergency situations:

Ergonomic activation. It’s important that equipment is designed with accessible and easy-to-activate mechanisms that minimize physical strain and maximize ease of use during emergency situations. This involves ensuring the mechanism can be easily seen, reached and operated by individuals in distress. This is particularly beneficial if the user’s hands are contaminated or injured, or if the user is wearing protective gear or experiencing disorientation due to the emergency.

Clear and intuitive design features reduce the need for extensive training on usage, reduce margin for error when using the equipment and increase confidence of personnel when they use the fixture. Features such as angled nozzles and supportive handholds enhance usability, especially for individuals of varying heights and physical abilities.

Examples of such activations include large, easy-to-grab pull handles, push handles, foot controls or swing activation. Equipment with fittings that are bright yellow in color are highly visible, helping to draw users’ attention to them when an emergency strikes.

Enhanced washdown coverage. When harmful contaminants reach the delicate eye area, and extend to the outer portions of the face, or contact the body, every second counts. Therefore, evaluating the amount of total face and body coverage provided by the eye/face wash and/or shower is key. For drench showers, in particular, steady water flow under varying water supply conditions from 30–90 psi should be assured by integral flow control in the sprayhead assembly.

Newer models of emergency fixtures are designed to deliver a more uniform and complete spray pattern distribution. Older shower designs push the flow of water to the outer rim of the showerhead, creating a hollow space in the center of the pattern that can miss affected areas.

Using the latest technology in fluid dynamics, new drench shower designs work in tandem with a pressure regulated flow control and the spinning motion of water, which creates an optimal spray pattern to rinse off contaminants as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The contoured shape combined with the spinning water funnels the water into a concentrated, yet gentle, deluge to ensure the most effective flush available.

Modern eye and eye/face wash models utilize a much more accurate method to maintain the flow of water over varied pressures. With the right flow control, a gentle, non-injurious flow of water can be delivered based on the pressure supplied to the fixture, allowing for minimal variance across a wide range of pressure.

Due to advances in fluid dynamics technology, newer eye/face washes provide 20 percent better washdown and protection than other designs. 

Ensuring tepid water for comfortable and complete flushing. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to provide reliable, on-demand, tepid water for flushing fluid. ANSI/ISEA suggests an incoming water temperature between 60° F and 100°F (15.6-37.8° C). This temperature range feels most comfortable to users and helps encourage the full 15-minute flush of the injured area.

Both thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) and electric tankless water heaters can deliver tepid water on-demand reliably and efficiently. For TMVs, look for models that precisely control output temperature and provide protection from variations in input temperature and pressure. These models should deliver accurate temperature control to within ± 3°. Alternatively, electric tankless water heaters are also efficient and precise in supplying tepid water, and draw energy only when needed, saving energy and utility costs.

Combination eyewash and shower systems. Conveniently combined eyewash and emergency shower units streamline response efforts by providing both functionalities in a single unit. This integrated design reduces confusion during emergencies and ensures that users have access to the appropriate decontamination solution quickly. These two-in-one designs can save space and typically fit easily into a variety of restrictive work environments.

Portable gravity-fed eye washes. When work environments are dynamic in nature or have no water supply or power available, portable eyewash stations can provide an adaptable emergency water source solution. With a compact design that allows user accessibility in tight spaces, a gravity-fed eyewash meets the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard with a constant 15-minute flush using as little as seven gallons of water. These models can be used with a waste cart to make it easy to relocate and transport the unit to hazard areas. Models with clear tanks allow easy fill-level checks. 

Integrated alarms and indicators. Eyewashes and emergency showers equipped with integrated alarms and visual indicators alert nearby personnel – and emergency responders – when the equipment is activated. Not only do these models help improve emergency response time, they help to dissuade unwanted tampering of these devices when not in use.

While user-friendly features play a vital role in eyewashes and emergency showers, personnel training and product testing are also important to ensure swift and effective response during emergencies. Emergency equipment manufacturers offer free job site evaluations to help with product selection, equipment maintenance and testing, employee training placement of fixtures and ANSI compliance.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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