There was an Accident at Work, But I'm OK'

It helps to look at these incidents from the victim's perspective.

NO one plans to be involved in an industrial accident, but it happens. In Al's case, it was simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the right time. While returning to his work area from the tool crib, a drum of caustic material slipped off a forklift. The drum hit the side of an inventory rack and split open. Al was splashed across his left side, soaking his clothing from head to toe. A significant amount of the hazardous material struck his exposed face and hands.

In the sometimes matter-of-fact world of OSHA and ANSI requirements, this would be a cut-and-dried situation. There should be a combination eye/face wash and drench shower within 10 seconds of the location of the accident, on the same level, without obstacles in the pathway, etc. Most operations of significant size have a solid handle on the specifics of the regulatory requirements for dealing with Al's incident.  But what about the most important part of all? What about Al? What about his state of mind and psychological condition, from the instant the splash contacted him forward? ANSI doesn't mandate compassion and care about the comfort and well-being of the victim from the first moment on. They're the unwritten responsibility of Al's employer and its associated managers.

The first step in attending to the personal needs of accident victims is recognizing those needs. Most of the immediate needs are common sense. Accident victims have suffered a trauma, which brings the possibility of pain, nervous agitation, and accompanying shock, along with possible embarrassment over the accident's having occurred at all. Thus, proper planning becomes a function of answering those needs and alleviating the concerns as much as possible.

Selection of the proper equipment, reasonable placement, and training will go a long way toward mitigating victim concerns. Having the proper procedures in place 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.

Now, let's consider some specific needs.

  • Easily accessed, operational equipment is a given. The requirement for quality emergency showers and eyewashes is fundamental to a quality response. Emergency equipment that doesn't operate properly, hasn't been adequately maintained, or does not provide the required capabilities will exacerbate the victim's anxiety. High-quality emergency equipment in the proper numbers and locations should be assumed. This is not a place to skimp! Features such as high-visibility signage, easy-to-operate actuation, flow controls to ensure smooth operation, and diffused spray eyewash and shower heads are good investments. Remember, the products that you choose can have an impact on the degree of anxiety experienced by accident victims.
  • Figure 1. Plumbed-in drench shower with privacy curtain. Photo courtesy of Haws Corp.
  • Ensure privacy during use. Imagine an injured employee who needs 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. Consider that the victim is probably embarrassed the accident even occurred; if you add in the embarrassment of an exposed 15-minute shower, you get some sense of the person's state of mind. There are a number of products on the market that address the privacy needs of victims using emergency equipment. Figure 1 shows a plumbed-in drench shower with a privacy curtain attached--a low-cost option that provides a modicum of privacy, making shower use far less stressful.
    Many specifiers are moving toward the ultimate in visibility and privacy by specifying emergency shower and eyewash booths (shown in Figure 2). These offer superior visibility to accident victims, as well as privacy during use, and they provide the added benefit of a turnkey response system that is tailored to each user's specific needs. In larger sizes, they also can provide space inside for safety personnel to assist the victim during use.
Figure 2. Emergency shower and eyewash booth. Photo courtesy of Haws Corp.

Water Temperature and Testing

  • Encourage full-cycle use. In addition to providing operable emergency equipment, with victim-oriented features that offer as much comfort and privacy as possible, it is imperative that your emergency response program encourage full-cycle use. The ANSI Z358.1-2004 standard stipulates that emergency showers and eyewashes should be used for a full 15-minute drench or irrigation cycle in all instances. Adhering to the required timeframe ensures that all hazardous materials have been adequately flushed from the body, mitigating any 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 degrees F and below 100 degrees F for both emergency showers and eyewashes.
  • A disciplined maintenance program means no embarrassing surprises. Consider your emergency response maintenance and use procedures: ANSI requires that all emergency showers and eyewashes should be physically tested every week and thoroughly inspected every year. This not only assures proper operation, but also flushes out debris in the system.

Training and Documentation
It is also important that your operating procedures 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.

  • Train and drill the team. Once the equipment and safety/emergency procedures are in place, it's time to make sure response is second nature for everyone. One would hope that Al knew exactly where to go for emergency aid and what to do once he got there, and that, likewise, the other people involved in assisting with the response also swung into action automatically. Training employees and management regarding the locations of your emergency equipment and how to operate the various response assets completes your overall preparation and response plan.

As the title of this article implies, providing a supportive environment that encourages understanding of the risks and the procedures to follow in the event of an accident will, we hope, minimize pain and suffering of employees and their families. There is more at stake than a deviation from a regulation. Every incident involves a very anxious human being.

This article appeared in the December 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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