Instant Awareness

Notifying the proper personnel and summoning internal staff or paramedics must be concurrent with activation of the shower and/or eyewash.

IN any large-scale industrial environment, the coordination between providing immediate assistance to injury victims and concurrent dispatch of follow-on assistance is extremely critical. The immediate, on-scene issue is to provide emergency response to the victim. In an industrial spill or splash accident, that means having emergency showers and/or eyewashes within 10 seconds--with unobstructed access--of any potential accident site. ANSI Z358.1-2004 is very clear in that regard.

Obviously, the standard also means larger operations will require larger numbers of eyewash and/or drench shower stations to cover their larger geographies. But what about follow-on assistance when the drench shower or eyewash irrigation cycles are completed? What's next? And what about providing qualified assistance to help the victim through the shower or irrigation process and make certain that the full, 15-minute use protocol is followed?

Getting notification out to the proper personnel and summoning internal staff or paramedics must be concurrent with activation of the shower and/or eyewash. Furthermore, emergency response to the scene must be immediate and properly prepared.

The safety staff's responsibility for administering both immediate and follow-on aid requires instantaneous notification of any accident event, regardless of its location. In facilities of significant size, this communication imperative is most often addressed through the use of centralized monitoring stations, where telltale devices signal activation of drench showers or eyewashes. The safety staff is then charged with knowing the location of all emergency equipment, assuring its functionality and accessibility at all times, being familiar with emergency equipment operation, and understanding the risks associated with each facet of the operation and the procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency in any given area. Quite a challenge!

Equipment Improvements
Emergency equipment manufacturers have made many advances over the years that make the challenge more manageable. Today's safety equipment, specifically plumbed-in emergency showers and eyewashes, is a far cry from its predecessors. While earlier efforts might have been little more than a bolting together of pipes, valves, and shower/eyewash heads, today's state-of-the-art products are engineered packages that operate to exacting standards for pressure, height of flow, and diffusion patterns.

There's a science to design and engineering of emergency equipment. And there is also a science to specifying that equipment into an engineered solution that comprehends the equipment's use and the quality, pressure, and temperature of the water supplied to that equipment. For instance, the concurrent use of several showers can have a dramatic impact on the available water pressure, to the point where the flow at the showers can fall below ANSI standards. Or the inlet water might be sufficiently cold or hot enough that the injured worker cannot possibly stand under the shower for the required 15-minute duration.

So the emergency equipment itself can materially assist in assuring that it does what it's supposed to do, while also making the victim as comfortable as possible. A comfortable victim is far less likely to cut the 15-minute use cycle short.

Alarm Switch Types
Activating an alarm, signaling that an emergency equipment asset is in operation, is critical to ensuring the proper on-site and follow-on assistance is available regardless of where in the plant the accident has occurred. From the very early days of emergency equipment design, there have been audible and visual alarms attached to these products, with remote monitoring having been more recently added. Alarm switches used generally fall into three categories:

  • Drop Switch: The drop switch is just that. When the injured individual approaches the emergency shower or eyewash, he/she simply removes a weight from its holder and drops it, signaling that the equipment is about to be activated. Although drop switches are about the oldest technology currently in use, they still function well. However, because of the fact that they require a separate physical effort to remove and drop the activation weight and then turn on the shower or eyewash, they are generally thought to be a less effective approach.
  • Flow Switch: Flow switches are among the most commonly used configurations. A specifically designed paddle is placed inside the piping near the shower/eyewash activation switch. The paddle is attached to an external switch by a rotating shaft. When water begins to flow because of activation of the shower/eyewash, the paddle senses the movement, rotating the shaft and throwing the switch.
  • Proximity Switch: The proximity switch is another widely used configuration. It is mounted on the outside of the equipment, in an area near the activation mechanism. By secondary attachment to the activation switch, it is thrown concurrently with the activation of the equipment.

The proper switch configuration from application to application often differs, based on specific needs and circumstances. In early or smaller-scale applications, switches served the important role of local notification of shower/eyewash activation through visual and audible alarms. The advent of centralized monitoring tasked activation switches even further. In addition to local alarms, switches have also been used to notify centralized monitoring resources, via hardwired telltale devices. However, as plant configurations grow in size and complexity, hardwiring of centralized alarms can be stretched to the limit in some applications.

Moving to Wireless Monitoring
The next step in the evolutionary process seems to be headed toward wireless monitoring. Potentially using any switch design, wireless technologies have coupled an RF transmitter to the activation switch to immediately notify centralized monitoring, where the corresponding RF receiver resides. The beauty of the technology is that a single receiver can monitor a large number of transmitters.

Unlike most hardwired assets, wireless applications monitor their own total system integrity. Wireless monitoring also mitigates the risk of damage to hardwired assets typically experienced in industrial environments. Finally, wireless technologies save the cost of hardwired installation (up to $50 per foot) and are, obviously, much easier to relocate.

Choosing Wisely
As specialized products and processes continue to proliferate in the industrial universe, safety professionals will continue to require innovative new emergency response technologies to guard their workforces. Alternative emergency response products already abound, and choosing among them can be a real challenge.

The key is to select the combination that is best for your application, which will be dramatically different from other users' needs.

Don't be reluctant to ask for an engineered solution, a "one-off," tailored use of a standard product that more closely meets your specific needs. The challenges you face today sometimes cannot be addressed out of a standard products catalog.

This article appeared in the February 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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