Excessively hot or cold water temperatures in safety showers and eyewashes can exacerbate the very injuries the safety equipment is designed to reduce. (Haws Corporation photo)

Best Practices When Procuring, Placing and Maintaining Your Emergency Eye/Face Wash and Showers

It is critical to ensure that the equipment is functioning properly and highly visible in case of an emergency.

The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) produces the American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment, ANSI Z358.1, to establish uniform minimum performance and use requirements. The standard is a comprehensive outline that serves as a guideline for companies and safety professionals to provide safe working environments. By applying a few additional best practices, you can exceed the minimum response requirements and ensure that each site implements and manages appropriate emergency response systems, minimizing related employee injuries and preventing a crisis situation from going from bad to worse.

While the hope may be that you'll never have to use your emergency equipment, you should maintain the mindset that an emergency could happen at any moment. When a victim needs an eyewash or shower, you must have confidence that your eye or facewash is working properly to provide the care that is needed.

A safety industry survey1 asked professionals who make product recommendations and/or buying decisions what they considered the most important considerations when selecting an eyewash and/or eyewash/shower combination unit. Not surprisingly, the top two answers were ANSI compliance and victim comfort. Victim comfort is an important consideration that should be factored into creating a complete safety response environment for your employees. By putting yourself in a victim's shoes when making a purchasing decision, you are most likely to purchase equipment that not only meets the ANSI standard, but provides the most critical care during an emergency.

Beyond the purchase of emergency eyewash and/or eyewash/shower combination units, it is critical to ensure that the equipment is functioning properly and highly visible in case of an emergency. Based on a sample of independent third-party testing and review, it was found that while all sites believed they were in compliance, 75 percent of equipment tested was non-compliant for both minor and significant violations.2

Best Practices
Below are five best practices when purchasing, placing, and maintaining your emergency equipment.

1. Ensure proper product specification and placement: When it comes to emergency response equipment, there is no shortage of available products. With so many choices—oftentimes differentiated only by subtle differences—it’s important to critically assess specific risks to determine the most suitable product. For example, in a chemical plant where liquids form the general risk, an eye/face wash would be the most appropriate choice.

With recent product advancements such as flow controls and designs inspired by eye irrigation protocols used within the medical community, choosing the most suitable equipment also means selecting from the most current generation of products. Many of these have been designed to meet changes imposed in the Z358.1 standard revision (2009).

Now that you've selected the proper equipment, location should be the next critical consideration. Per ANSI, emergency equipment must be located on the same level and within an unobstructed, 10-second walk from a potential hazard (roughly 55 feet). The number of showers/eyewashes available and their individual locations must be evaluated when determining installation locations.

2. Ensure proper visibility: High visibility of safety equipment can be achieved with clear signage, proper lighting, and the use of the color known as "safety green." This color is used industrially to designate both the concept of safety and the physical locations of first aid and emergency response equipment, including drench showers and eyewashes.

ANSI Z535.1 takes this one step further by providing a standard for color schemes, sizing, meaning, and application for various workplace hazards. The standard is intended to provide uniformity across organizations and industries by helping employees identify the severity of a given hazard in the workplace. Often, an emergency station is not clearly marked, causing the victim to frantically locate an improper form of flushing such as a sink. Consistently using the familiar color for emergency signage can minimize unnecessary confusion in a crisis, especially if the injured party has contaminants in or around their eyes, reducing visibility.

3. Provide tepid water: Excessively hot or cold water temperatures in safety showers and eyewashes can exacerbate the very injuries the safety equipment is designed to reduce. In the 2009 revision of ANSI Z358.1, the standard outlines suitable water temperatures as tepid, defined as a range between 60º and 100º F (15.5º to 37.77º C). It also specifies a full 15-minute drench or irrigation cycle, a length of time that must be considered with the victim in mind. An uncomfortable victim will be less inclined to abide by the flush requirements, which could worsen an injury.

By selecting a suitable mixing valve and defining a tepid water range that is more comfortable to the user, you are not only encouraging the full flush period, but also increasing the likelihood that a victim will remove contaminated clothing, which further enhances the wash objective. Selecting a thermostatic mixing valve that offers protection against temperature spikes is an ideal solution to providing reliable temperature controls. A paraffin-base thermal actuation will keep outlet temperature within tight specifications to prevent scalding and hypothermia.

In addition, a funnel design in the mixing chamber generates turbulent flow to ensure consistent temperature blending across the entire flow range.

4. Perform continuous maintenance and testing: One of the implied responsibilities of specifying and installing emergency equipment is ensuring a maintenance process designed to keep safety showers, eyewashes, and associated system components functioning optimally. A common question relates to the appropriate length of time for unit testing. While a quick activation to test the unit might seem sufficient, it is more valuable to test each unit for the required 15-minute flush every time.

The intention behind routine testing is to guarantee that each piece of equipment has the proper flushing fluid supply and flow, to clear the line of any sediment buildup, and to minimize contamination related to inactive water. Testing should replicate a real-life scenario to ensure that each site can be confident in the emergency unit's ability to reliably perform. In addition, documentation of the routine testing—including location, dates, and performance—provides records to demonstrate your facility’s diligence in protecting and monitoring each unit.

These records can be managed in a variety of forms, including inspection tags on the units and safety equipment surveys. The proper coordination of testing alleviates any questions or concerns related to functionality and allows your safety team an instant reference for monitoring all safety equipment performance.

5. Create a robust safety culture: This may be the most important overarching aspect of what we do in the safety industry, yet it is not covered as thoroughly as it should be. The hope is that emergency eyewashes and showers will never have to be used, and it is this mindset that exposes facilities to risks and potential severe fines for non-compliance. It is often that these pieces of equipment are out of sight and out of mind, which could pose a fatal threat during a crisis. The key to overcoming this mentality is developing a strong safety culture and understanding the risks of noncompliance.

In 2016, OSHA increased its penalties by 80 percent, and that rate continues to increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index yearly percentage increase.3 Consider the OSHA penalty hike a boon for workplace safety. Studies have shown that workplace injuries are reduced in settings in which health and safety inspections have direct consequences for violations. And while it can seem like the impossible to build a system with the resources to inspect every single workplace for violations, increasing employer awareness about steep financial penalties for non-compliance may well do the trick.

By building a strong safety culture, management is aware of the risks of non-compliance from both a financial and HR perspective. Understanding the "why" behind choosing the right equipment, the right placement, the right environment, and the importance of proper maintenance could reduce costs and, in the end, could save a life.

1. 2014 Independent research survey, Haws Corporation
2. Based on results from Haws Site Survey Program
3. OSHA fines to increase significantly. (Nov. 5, 2015) Retrieved from http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/13258-osha-fines-to-increase-significantly

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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