Flexibility is the Key

Portable emergency showers have always filled the gap in a wide number of response scenarios, but their role is even more vital today.

INDUSTRIAL safety and first response used to be at least straightforward, if not incredibly simple. One evaluated his or her risks and needs:

* Consider the hazardous materials present that could cause injury.
* Factor in the potential for both single and multiple simultaneous incidents as it relates to available water, peak demand pressure, power requirements for booster pumps, etc.
* Plan the location of emergency showers to cover all possibilities of single and multiple victims, within ANSI Z358.1 guidelines (unimpeded access within 10 seconds' walk time, etc.).
* Recognize other ANSI Standards and OSHA requirements, such as shower water tempering, which could drive even more complex shower systems.

To an extent, those same thoughts and planning processes are still valid. However, the threat of intentional incidents has required a broadening of our considerations within each of those general categories. The sobering reality of the 9/11 tragedy and other intentional acts, including violence by disgruntled employees, has increased the scope of incident possibilities.

Portable emergency drench showers have always been an important part of the overall response strategy. These lightweight assets can be erected quickly and have always been relied upon to fill the gap in a wide number of emergency and remote site response scenarios. But today, portable showers fill an even more vital role in allowing specifiers to cover the much broader potential of risks, number of casualties, locations, and ever-stiffening guidelines.

Let's consider possible specific uses and features needed to address them.

This is an area that has been dramatically affected by the threat of terrorist or intentional malicious activity. It's one thing to deal with the potential of a hazardous spill accident when the hazardous material is known beforehand and the possible area of contamination risk is identified. It is, however, quite another story to prepare for an intentional incident that may well involve hazardous materials not normally found on site or at a specific location.

Drench showers are most often the first line of defense in hazmat circumstances, and much development has been placed behind lightweight portable showers in the past few years.

Portable showers constructed of durable PVC plastic that can be erected by a single person in less than two minutes are now available. These products often fold into a small carrying case that keeps them clean and organized. They can be stored in a closet, construction trailer, or the trunk of a car.

It is important to recognize that the wide availability of portable showers capable of decontaminating victims anywhere there is a water source serves to ease the concern over today's much wider geographic scope of possible incident locations. When erected, these portable showers can serve as walk-through (86-inch height) decontamination facilities. Options offer the ability to connect these products to a variety of different hose configurations and completely contain all runoff wastewater.

Safety professionals also should understand that there currently is no ANSI standard governing first response showers. Obviously, that does not mitigate our desire to protect employees and others. A decontamination shower standard is in the works and may be completed in 2005.

Remote Work Sites
A variety of drench shower products are available to serve the first response needs at remote work sites. Durable, lightweight, portable products are available that feature all of the capabilities of their more robust, plumbed-in counterparts. It's important to realize that industrial (non-hazmat) work sites are still bound by the same ANSI Z358.1 requirements as established plant locations. This means that, among other things, an emergency shower must be capable of flowing 20 gpm and an eyewash (in a combination unit) must flow 0.4 gpm for a full 15-minute use cycle. This is an important consideration in planning remote operations.

Remote sites that do not have potable water available for emergency equipment use also are required to provide first response capabilities. For those locations, air-charged shower equipment is the best choice. Air-charged systems use air pressure to sustain delivery of emergency equipment water from a self-contained potable water tank. While these systems have distinct monitoring and maintenance requirements, they are reliable response assets in hostile terrain. And, importantly, air-charged systems easily can be sized to meet ANSI requirements for delivering flows of 20 gpm for drench showers. That is not the case with self-contained gravity-fed showers that have overhead tanks to supply the water. In order to get an outlet pressure of 30psi, you would need a water column at least 831 inches above the shower head, and that's not even considering your supply water!

Willful Loss of Plumbed Showers
Willful loss of plumbed-in assets occurs whenever plant maintenance and/or renovation activities cut off the supply of water to plumbed-in emergency equipment during continuing plant operations. In these operating circumstances, ANSI requirements are not placed on hold.

The typical response is to set up temporary facilities to address first response requirements during the disruption. Portable showers and combination showers/eyewashes are ideal temporary replacements. The products primarily intended for either hazmat or remote use are appropriate for these circumstances, although they must deliver the required outlet pressures for the full 15-minute use cycle at the prescribed sustained water temperatures. The point is that the requirements governing the availability of emergency response facilities are not minimized due to in-plant problems, changeovers, and renovation activities. This is a challenging but not insurmountable situation, given today's available product choices.

We should also mention that ANSI Z358.1's maintenance, testing, and employee training requirements are also not affected by whether an emergency shower is a permanent or temporary installation. So employees must be adequately trained on the location and use of those temporary emergency equipment installations that replace plumbed-in assets during construction or renovation.

Bad News and Good, Too
While the "bad news" for emergency preparedness is that the universe of possible scenarios, locations, and hazardous materials has infinitely increased in the past few years, the "good news" is that products are available to materially assist in addressing these more complex challenges.

With proper planning, including recognition of the increased specificity built into the latest update of ANSI Z358.1 and a clear knowledge of the combinations of products available to answer your precise needs, it can still be relatively simple!

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

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

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