If highly corrosive chemicals are used, the drench shower or eyewash should be placed immediately adjacent to the hazard. (Bradley Corp. photo)

Gearing Up for the Race Against Time

Is your emergency equipment up to the task?

Industrial and work site safety is a moving target. Despite even the most solid planning and preparations, industrial facilities are dynamic by nature and full of variables that vacillate on a daily, even momentary, basis. Potential work site hazards involving harmful chemicals, dusty conditions, and flammable materials present fluctuating serious risks and challenges to both employees and employers.

While emergency eyewashes and showers can help to abate these hazards, the placement of these fixtures, product efficacy, equipment maintenance, and employee training must be evaluated—and rechecked—regularly.

The First Line of Defense: Emergency Equipment Placement
Providing proper locations of emergency eyewashes and showers in a facility is of utmost importance to workers. In general, this entails ensuring that each unit is located close to a hazard, easy to see, and in good working order when it's needed.

Because there can be many site-specific challenges and obstructions in busy industrial settings, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a safety or heath advisor in walking through the site and determining the correct type of fixtures and locations to make sure that all workers are protected.

Here are some best practices for emergency fixture placement, which take into consideration the ANSI Z358.1-2014 standard:

  • Emergency shower fixtures must be within 55 feet of a potential hazard and be within no more than 10 seconds to reach. In addition, access to the fixture must not be obstructed by debris or other hazards that could impede use of the fixture.
  • The equipment must be on the same level as the hazard. If there are doors between the hazard and the fixture, they must swing in the direction of travel.
  • If the worker's ability to walk or move might be impacted by the chemical exposure, the fixture should be placed closer to the worker.
  • Emergency showers must be installed and designed so that, once activated, they can be operated without the use of hands.
  • The height of eye and eye/face washes should be between 33 and 53 inches and should be measured from the floor to the water flow—not from the floor to the washbasin.
  • If highly corrosive chemicals are used, the drench shower or eyewash should be placed immediately adjacent to the hazard.
  • If a potential chemical spill in an area can affect multiple workers, enough fixtures should be in place to prevent one worker from having to wait 15 minutes while another is drenched.
  • All equipment must be identified with highly visible signage (bright yellow is easy to spot) that is well lit; it should be able to be activated in one second or less.
  • Employees must be educated on the location of the fixtures and how to properly use them. While emergency equipment product efficacy is important, employee awareness and training completes the safety loop.

Product Selection Criteria: The Newer, the Better
Product manufacturers are continuously looking for new ways to enhance eyewash station and shower technology, as well as systems for heating water commensurate with the ANSI Z358.1-2014 standard. When it comes to emergency shower effectiveness, the most recent technology advancements help raise the level of employee protection.

For example, strides have been made toward developing technologies that affect flow control, facial and bodily coverage, and overall washdown efficacy of eye/face washes and drench showers. Older shower designs push the flow of water to the outer rim of the showerhead, creating a hollow space in the center of the pattern that can miss affected areas. The new emergency shower designs incorporate fluid dynamics technology and work in tandem with a pressure-regulated flow control. This directs the flow of water to achieve a uniform, all-inclusive spray pattern that quickly washes contaminants from the user’s eyes, face, or body.

The contoured shape of new shower designs, coupled with the spinning water, channels the water into a concentrated, yet gentle stream to produce the most effective flush of contaminants available. Some newer showerheads are also more compact in appearance. By having less surface area in busy and cloistered industrial environments, equipment is easier to access.

Due to stagnant water left from required weekly testing, tampering, and other misuse by workers, eye/face washes can become contaminated with dirt and bacteria. Newer eyewash designs come equipped with either plastic or stainless steel dust covers that shield the entire bowl. In some products, the hinged dust cover is clear, allowing for quick and easy visual inspection. Opening the dustcover cover starts the flow of water immediately, giving the user immediate relief.

In addition, new-generation, swing-activated eye and eye/face wash units now incorporate ceramic disc technology. This improved technology is known for its durability features and holding up long term to continuous activations. With the ceramic valve, water is controlled between two rotating ceramic discs that fit closely together to create a watertight seal and provide a precise 20-degree swing activation and deactivation, which helps reduce splashing before and after use.

Also, in the realm of emergency showers, newly designed electric tankless water heaters deliver on-demand ANSI-required tepid water to eye and eye/face washes and emergency showers in a highly efficient manner. Newer models are specially designed to draw energy only when needed, reach the ANSI standards for tepid water temperatures in 20 to 30 seconds, hold outlet temperature to within ± 1° F, and have a low pressure drop (as low as 8 pounds per square inch). These features minimize potential post-installation complications that could be caused by a sudden decrease in pressure.

Proper Training and Maintenance Lead to Proper Equipment Usage
On the topic of supplying tepid water to emergency shower equipment, one of the main causes of emergency shower misuse is not providing ANSI-required tepid water and not performing weekly test activations to make sure the units are in proper working order.

Consider that ANSI Z358.1-2014 requires the use of tepid flushing fluid for all types of emergency equipment applications. Tepid water is defined in the standard as a flushing fluid that is at a temperature between 60° F and 100° F in order to encourage an injured party to complete the full 15-minute flush during an emergency.

Maintaining tepid water is often ignored because of time and expense. Some incorrectly assume that cold water is satisfactory for eye/face wash or drench shower fixtures, but the flushing fluid needs to be delivered at a comfortable, lukewarm temperature conducive to flushing and not be harmful to the user. If the water is too cold or too hot, the user may not withstand the full 15-minute flush.

As for inspections, all plumbed eyewash equipment and showers must be visually checked and activated weekly to verify correct operation. Self-contained units must be inspected weekly and maintained according to manufacturer’s instructions. On an annual basis, all showers must be inspected to ensure they meet current ANSI requirements.

Finally, all employees who have any chance at all of being exposed to a chemical splash or harmful materials must be trained in the location of the fixtures and how to properly use them.

Some emergency equipment manufacturers offer free job site evaluations to help with placement of fixtures, ANSI compliance issues, product selection, equipment maintenance and testing, and employee training. It's beneficial to consult with manufacturers and safety experts regularly to stay on top of inevitable work site changes that may impact the proper usage and effectiveness of your emergency equipment. Think of it as conditioning for one the most important races impacting the well-being of your employees.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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