Eyewash and Shower Equipment Goes Far to Protect Workers

And the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard continues to be recognized on both a national and a global basis by engineers, building operators, and regulatory entities.

It is hard to argue against the importance of the need for eyewashes and showers in the workplace, given the reported injuries to and incident statistics of workers who require medical treatment of some kind. Take eye injuries, for example—there are 800,000 reported eye injuries in the American workforce each year, many of which are caused by exposure to chemical hazards. Factoring in direct costs of the injuries covered by worker’s compensation, disability benefits, and indirect costs ranging from lost work time and productivity to potential litigation expenses to reduced employee morale after an incident, the costs of an eye injury can reach more that $30,000.

More importantly, any injury that results in permanent or temporary vision loss by the employee is one injury too many. Ideally, elimination of the hazard would reduce the number of incidents, but that is not always possible even with the most wellthought- out work environment with the best-trained employees; accidents do happen. And when they do, having properly working eyewash and shower equipment for immediate use is crucial to mitigating damage to skin and eye tissue caused by chemicals or other damaging contaminants.

Even though emergency eyewash and shower equipment has been in use for more than 80 years, not until 1981 was a voluntary standard covering this type of equipment established in the United States. For nearly 35 years, the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard has been the authoritative document for equipment manufacturers because it specifies minimum performance criteria for flow rates, temperature, and drenching patterns—all characteristics that are important for a user to receive adequate rinsing of a contaminant in an emergency situation. Equally important are the requirements and maintenance directives for the installer to ensure the equipment is available in proper working condition, should the need for the use of the equipment arise.

Recognition in U.S. and International Jurisdictions
For these reasons, the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard continues to be recognized on both a national and a global basis by engineers, building operators, and regulatory entities responsible for workplace safety. In this country, several states have incorporated the standard directly into their own occupational safety and health codes, making compliance with the standard mandatory in those jurisdictions. While OSHA does not specify the document in its Code of Federal Regulations, the agency does accept the standard as a means of complying with its medical and first aid services rule [29 CFR Part 1910.151(c)] that requires employers to provide adequate flushing facilities in work areas where corrosive materials are present. The accessibility to suitable emergency shower and eyewash equipment is also a provision in several of OSHA’s substancespecific regulations. Much information through OSHA’s standard letters of interpretation supports the agency’s recognition of the standard, making employer familiarity and compliance with the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard even more important to providing a safer workplace.

Acceptance of the standard reaches far beyond the United States. There is no Canadian national standard that addresses the design or placement of emergency flushing equipment; given the absence of such a document, the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 document is generally used as a guide, and in some Canadian provinces (Manitoba, for example), it is referenced by incorporation into the jurisdiction’s relevant legislation. Likewise, the recently published Australian national standard on eyewash and shower equipment is based, in large part, on the criteria set forth in the U.S. standard. Even through the development of the European standards, the ANSI/ISEA standard is consulted in an effort to harmonize the criteria where possible.

And the use of the standard extends beyond occupational safety and health codes. Building and plumbing engineers and architects are familiar with the installation criteria of the ANSI/ISEA standard because both the International Plumbing Code and the Uniform Plumbing Code make specific reference to it. Even the Saudi Arabian building code has adopted the U.S. standard.

But regardless of what country, code, or regulation makes reference to the eyewash and shower standard, a worker’s need to have adequate and properly working equipment is the same. Therefore, it is necessary for all risk managers, equipment installers, and employees to understand the details of the standard in order to make informed decisions about providing and using emergency fixtures.

Workplace Assessment
When planning for the selection and installation of proper equipment, it is important to assess the work area and potential harmful exposures. A detailed assessment will ensure the appropriate equipment is chosen for a given work environment where certain risk exposures are assumed. For example, an eyewash may be adequate for a dental office where expected exposure is limited to a minor splash. Yet such equipment may not be suitable for a research facility where large quantities of caustic materials are present. Equipment manufacturers can be a valuable resource to assist in evaluating the precise needs of a work area.

Equipment Types
The ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard provides detailed information on the proper installation of the emergency fixture, be it a shower or eye/face wash, and whether it is plumbed into a water supply or is a self-contained unit.

Certain elements of equipment performance and installation are universal for all product types. These include:

Temperature of flushing fluid. While the type of flushing may vary depending on the device (potable water for plumbed units, solution of potable water and preservative, or a sealed fluid cartridge), the temperature of the delivered fluid must be tepid. Providing tepid flushing fluid is critical to ensuring the victim continues flushing for the required 15- minutes, the time needed to adequately remove the hazardous contaminate from the skin or cool eye tissue that has been exposed to burning chemicals.

Reachable within 10 seconds or less. ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 requires that emergency drenching equipment must be located within 10 seconds from the hazard. Depending on the layout of the work environment, obstacles to the path of travel, the number of workers, equipment in the area, and severity of the material, 10 seconds can equate to distances of 10 to 100 feet for an injured worker to reach the facility. If potential injurious chemicals are used and stored in numerous areas of the workplace, several flushing stations may be required to meet this requirement.

Location and accessibility. Equipment must be installed in areas that are well lit and with visible signage quickly identifying the location of the emergency unit. The presence of other potential hazards that may be adjacent to the path of travel that might cause further injury, such as protruding wall fixtures in an area, or the creation of a slip hazard once the equipment is activated, also should be considered. Requiring the potential user to pass through a door may impede immediate access to the equipment and, for this reason, a door is considered to be an obstruction. Where a risk assessment has determined that the hazard is not corrosive, one intervening door is permissible, provided it opens in the same direction of travel as the person attempting to reach the emergency equipment and the door is equipped with a closing mechanism that cannot be locked.

Maintenance and training. Plumbed equipment must be operated on a weekly basis. This frequency reduces the chance of sediment buildup and the growth of microbial hazards in stagnant water in the supply line. Manufacturer’s instructions are to be followed when maintaining self-contained units. Finally, all potential users must be trained on the use of equipment and should be retrained periodically, particular when there has been a change in the equipment provided or in the facility’s layout. Also, workers should be made aware that the presence of emergency equipment does not replace the need to utilize primary personal protective devices, such as eye and face protection, gloves, and protective apparel.

This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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