Safeguarding Employees with Dependable Eye/Face Washes and Safety Showers
The need for sufficient and properly working emergency eyewash and shower devices in workplaces is real and pervasive.
- By Ryan Pfund
- May 01, 2020
Many work sites and facilities have emergency showers and eye/face wash fixtures. However, while the fixtures may be installed at a work site, that doesn’t always mean a facility and its workers are automatically protected with this equipment. Sometimes the equipment is outdated, not in working order, not located near all hazards, unclean, unable to dispense tepid water and/or not in compliance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI/ISEA) Z358.1–2014 standards.
The need for sufficient and properly working emergency eyewash and shower devices in workplaces is real and pervasive. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work (2014):
- 13,840 workers were afflicted by chemical exposures in 2014
- 46,000 workers experienced exposure to harmful substances or environments
- 23,000-plus workers suffered injuries to eyes
Therefore, it’s important to keep up-to-date on placement, maintenance, the newest trends and technologies and evaluate whether your equipment is effectively optimizing the best protection for your employees. Additionally, remember that all equipment must deliver an uninterrupted, 15-minute supply of tepid water, per ANSI/ISEA requirements.
Evaluating and Re-evaluating Job Sites for Equipment Placement
Job site evaluations should not be a one-time event—as with training, testing and maintenance of emergency fixtures. Since work environments are dynamic and change over time, assessments should be conducted annually to ensure the proper type, quantity and location of emergency fixtures. Some emergency equipment manufacturers offer free job site evaluations and can be instrumental in assessing potential problems.
During a walk-through, it is essential to reference the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1–2014 emergency equipment standard, which outlines the specific requirements for emergency eyewash and drench shower equipment installation, testing, performance, maintenance, training and use. Safety data sheets (SDS) are another excellent source for determining protection needs, as they contain the first aid information indicating if drenching facilities are required.
Too often, facilities managers underestimate the maximum distance allowed between a critical work area and eyewash/safety shower product. This is an issue since the first seconds following eye and skin exposure are critical to minimizing injury. ANSI provides the following guidelines for product placement:
- A drench shower, eyewash or combination unit should be located within 10 seconds of a potential hazard or approximately 55 feet with unobstructed access.
- The equipment must be on the same level the user is working on. If there are doors between the hazard and the fixture, they must swing in the direction of travel.
- The height of the eyewash flow pattern should be between 33 and 53 inches and measured from the floor to the water flow.
- 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.
- 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 is likely to affect multiple workers, a sufficient number of fixtures should be in place to prevent one worker from having to wait 15 minutes while another is drenched.
It’s also important for safety fixtures to be clearly identifiable and easy to reach:
- The area around the fixture should be well-lit.
- Each fixture should be identified with a highly visible sign.
- A drench shower or eyewash in a bright color like yellow is easiest to spot in a busy industrial environment.
- Eyewash spray heads should be a minimum of 6 inches from walls or obstructions to allow the user clear access for eye flushing.
- The area for flushing under the drench shower should be unobstructed. The only exception is the eyewash on a combination drench shower and eyewash fixture. In this case, the eyewash is placed in line with the drench shower to allow for simultaneous use.
Supplying Tepid Water
Another common error with eye/face washes and drench showers is failing to provide tepid water. ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 requires that tepid water be delivered to emergency fixtures, which encourages an injured party to complete the full 15-minute flush during an emergency. ANSI/ISEA suggests an incoming water temperature between 60- and 100-degrees Fahrenheit.
Oftentimes maintaining tepid water is overlooked—mostly due to cost—and some take for granted that cold water will be sufficient. However, if the water is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, prolonged exposure could cause hypothermia. Most often, cold water will cause the user to leave the drench or rinse before the 15-minute guideline, risking bodily damage. If the fluid delivered to the affected user is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s possible that the hot water could exacerbate a chemical interaction with the eyes and skin. Whenever possible, consult a physician to determine the recommended temperature based on specific types hazardous chemicals or material.
Ensuring the Best Washdown Coverage
When harmful contaminants reach the delicate eye area, and extend to the outer portions of the face, or contact the body, every second counts. Therefore, evaluating the amount of total face and body coverage provided by the eye/face wash and/or shower is key. The newest generation of emergency fixtures is designed to deliver a more uniform and complete spray pattern distribution. 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.
Using the latest technology in fluid dynamics, the new shower designs work in tandem with a pressure regulated flow control and the spinning motion of water, which creates an optimal spray pattern to rinse off the injured as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The contoured shape combined with the spinning water funnels the water into a concentrated, yet gentle, deluge to ensure the most effective flush available. Some newer showerheads are also more compact in appearance, in an effort to reduce its surface area—and likelihood of impact—in busy and cloistered industrial environments.
Fixtures that flush the eye and face have gone through a similar transformation. The flow that passes through eye and eye/face washes was once controlled by flow controls that expand and contract with the ebb and flow of the water pressure. Modern eye and eye/face washes utilize a much more accurate method to maintain the flow of water over varied pressures. These flow controls utilize an o-ring that is pushed into position and squeezes off the flow based on the pressure supplied to the fixture, allowing for minimal variance across a wide range of pressure.
Due to advances in fluid dynamics technology, newer eye/face washes cover 85 percent of the user’s face, which is 20 percent more than other designs.
Supporting Cleanliness and Hygiene
Coming off a tough flu season complicated by the new coronavirus, it’s important to be vigilant about washing hands as well as keeping an eye/face wash system clean and bacteria-free. Unfortunately, due to stagnant water left from false activations, tampering and other misuse by workers, sometimes eye/face washes succumb to contamination. While facility managers can avoid these issues by installing an eyewash alarm system, newer eyewash designs come equipped with either plastic or stainless-steel dust covers that shield the entire bowl.
Some eyewash systems use a sturdy, plastic dust cover that is see-through and hinged. The see-through plastic allows for quick and easy visual inspection, and the hinging mechanism provides a more secure hold. The covers open as the fixture is activated and may be installed on barrier-free fixtures.
On the topic of ensuring clean and safe water, one of the newer eye/face wash models comes equipped with a self-draining design that eliminates any settled water in the system. This model also incorporates separate supply and waste pipes to prevent cross-contamination from the clean inlet and wastewater.
Clearly, eye/face wash and drench shower manufacturers offer a wide selection of products to protect workers and, in recent years, have advanced the category substantially with new products and concepts. Still, some organizations may opt to maintain or upgrade their existing equipment, as opposed to investing in new products. In this case, it’s a good idea to ask your manufacturer to provide support and expertise in selecting the appropriate parts to retrofit, upgrade or repair their existing systems. Those that successfully provide support will have knowledgeable customer service and technical service personnel, online parts breakdowns of product, and clear and detailed instructions.
When selecting a safety fixture manufacturer to investigate new products and technologies, be sure that the manufacturer has a strong distribution network to provide the support and parts. The more easily one can identify and access replacement parts, the higher the probability the fixtures will be maintained and ready for use during an emergency.
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.