Accident Victims Are More than Statistics

Minimizing the stress imposed during an emergency incident shouldn't be overlooked in your safety and response planning and training.

"WHEN you have bacon and eggs for breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed!" I don't remember where I first heard that saying, but it humorously portrays the difference between participating in an event and being an intimate part of the action. In that regard, it also applies to spill and splash accidents at industrial sites.

Plant management and safety personnel strive to minimize the occurrence of accidents, but when they do occur we want to provide the best immediate and continuing response possible. We have a professional stake in doing the right thing, but the victim has an overwhelmingly personal stake in the outcome. Sometimes our zeal to handle the more mechanical aspects of emergency response overshadows the victim's needs and psychological state-of-mind in the moments following an accident. The people around an accident victim are involved in helping with emergency response, but the victim is really involved!

Between the trauma itself, shock, and often a sense of embarrassment that the accident even happened, a victim's state of mind during emergency response procedures usually ranges from anxious to downright terrified. Minimizing the stress imposed on a victim during an emergency incident shouldn't be overlooked in safety and response planning and training.

Proper planning to address the personal needs of accident victims begins with recognition of those needs, which are mostly common sense. If you understand the effects of trauma--the possibility of pain, nervous agitation, and accompanying shock, along with possible embarrassment--proper planning becomes a function of answering those needs and alleviating concerns to the degree possible.

Selection of the proper equipment and reasonable placement will go a long way toward easing victim concerns. Establishing the proper procedures to provide immediate first aid assistance, while also reassuring and comforting the victim, is equally critical. And, as with all areas of safety and emergency response, training on the risks and dangers present, as well as the emergency response equipment available--including locations and use instructions--is an obvious necessity. Let's consider each area.

The need for quality emergency showers and eyewashes is obvious. Emergency equipment that doesn't work, hasn't been properly maintained, or doesn't provide the required capabilities will exacerbate the victim's anxiety. . . .with cause, perhaps.

High-quality emergency equipment in the proper numbers and locations is a good starting point. This is not a place to look to save money. Features such as high-visibility signage, easy-to-operate actuation, flow controls to assure smooth operation, and diffused spray and shower heads are good investments.

Note the aggressiveness of the flow versus the more diffused design. Imagine an injured employee stepping up to the eyewash with the aggressive flow and forcing his or her face down into it . . . it's not incredibly inviting or comforting. The products you choose can have an impact on the degree of anxiety experienced by accident victims.

Likewise, imagine an injured employee needing to disrobe under an emergency shower flow and stand there for the required 15-minute use cycle. While it has to be done and few would hesitate, consider the state of mind of that employee a few minutes into the cycle. Remember, the victim is probably embarrassed that the accident occurred anyway. Now, add the embarrassment of an exposed shower. A number of products on the market address the privacy needs of victims using the emergency equipment.

The ultimate visibility and privacy is afforded by enclosed products. These emergency shower and eyewash booths offer superior visibility to accident victims en route to first response equipment, as well as privacy during use. In larger sizes, they can provide space inside for safety personnel to assist the victim during use.

Beyond providing operable and tested emergency equipment with features that offer as much comfort and privacy as possible, it is imperative that your emergency response program encourage full-cycle use. ANSI Z358.1-2004 stipulates that emergency showers and eyewashes should be used for a full 15-minute drench or irrigation cycle in all instances. This is to assure that all hazardous materials have been adequately flushed from the body, mitigating potential further injury.

In many geographic areas, municipally supplied water can become cold enough to make a 15-minute use cycle a torture test, let alone a comforting experience. Likewise, there are geographic areas and hot ambient temperature industrial processes that can heat municipal water to dangerously warm levels, again possibly resulting in a shortened use cycle. It is imperative that emergency response assets reconcile these situations with either tempering or reverse tempering to ensure the water used is within a safe and comfortable range. Per the ANSI Z358.1 standard, the range should be between 60° F and up to below 100° F for both emergency showers and eyewashes.

Once your equipment is what and where it should be, your attention should next focus on (1) the procedures used to maintain emergency assets and (2) the procedures for using the equipment in the event of an accident.

ANSI requires that all emergency showers and eyewashes should be physically tested every week. This not only assures proper operation, but also flushes out debris in the system. Keep in mind that emergency equipment fed by municipal water is generally protected by residual levels of chlorine in the water in the supply lines and equipment. However, that residual chlorine will dissipate in fairly short order when standing dormant, leaving the water susceptible to growth of organic pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. Obviously, these are not things with which you want your employees flushing their eyes or other injured body tissue. Once-a-week actuation goes a long way toward ensuring the level of residual protection in the system.

It's important that your operating procedures also include the specific responsibilities of all of the people involved in emergency response, including otherwise uninvolved employees who could be potential victims. Written procedures ensure everyone knows his or her role and also provide valuable documentation in the event of a serious accident.

Once the equipment and safety/emergency procedures are in place, it's time to make sure response is second nature to everyone. Training on the locations of your emergency equipment and how to operate it rounds out your preparation and response plan.

You can't over-train personnel on using emergency equipment. "War gaming" is a popular way of assuring a second nature response to real emergencies. The old grammar school "fire drill" approach will give you a realistic look at what you can expect if and when the real thing occurs.

In the end, having the proper equipment with the proper accessories in the right locations and having people who are well trained and capable of operating with confidence and compassion in an emergency are the best ways to ensure you are prepared for any eventuality. Anything less doesn't do justice to your most valuable asset: your people.

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

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

Download Center

Featured Whitepapers

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - July August 2021

    July/August 2021


      Proper Use of Fall Protection PPE in a Confined Space
      Combining Innovations for the Perfect PPE
      Tag in Supervisors on Lockout/Tagout
      Communication Insights for Supervision
    View This Issue