Are you Properly Selecting and Maintaining your Emergency Equipment Selection?

Here are a few guidelines for staying in compliance with eyewashes, eye/face wash combos and drench showers.

There’s no doubt that when it comes to ANSI Z358.1 requirements, it can be overwhelming to stay on top of weekly and annual testing. However, the importance of properly working equipment cannot be overlooked. Thousands of industrial and commercial accidents occur each year, involving pipes bursting and chemicals like corrosives (acids and bases), oxidizers and solvents. In many environments, the first line of defense is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gloves and goggles.

The second line is emergency response equipment that you can rely on. ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 guidelines call for ready access to emergency equipment, including eyewashes, eye/face wash combos or drench showers. These important pieces of equipment are tasked with diluting and/or removing hazardous materials from contact with victims’ bodies. However, because of the virtually unlimited combination of hazardous materials, applications that use them and other complicating factors like facility size and layout, selection of equipment type and specific features is left up to the specifier. This rather nebulous circumstance often leaves facility teams wondering which is the “right” choice for their application.

Many people feel there is little difference between the various types of eyewashes, eye/face washes and drench showers. However, proper selection is a function of knowing your risks, the characteristics of the materials you work with and logical consideration of the variety of available products and design configurations for usage and testing.

As with any commercial products, emergency equipment design balances the desire for specific features and capabilities weighed against costs. Features like pressure compensating flow controls, diffused and/or otherwise cushioned flushing fluid outlets and heavy-duty componentry may be more expensive, but well worth it in each application.

The ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2004 standard provides a guide to aid manufacturers, specifiers and the general public relative to emergency eyewash and shower equipment. It also advises those concerned with compliance to obtain local medical input regarding risks and countermeasures. This review is not meant to be an interpretation of the standard, nor is it intended to replace the advice of a competent medical professional. Instead, the following information is aimed at developing a logical thought process that comprehends your specific circumstances and considers the various alternative product features and designs.

Know Your Risks

You should start with a clear understanding of your risks. Consider the materials your employees handle, the degree of hazard those materials represent and the likelihood of spill or splash accidents involving employees or others:

  • How harmful are the materials and how likely is an accident?
  • Is personal protective equipment provided, such as aprons, gloves and goggles?
  • Is emergency equipment available within ten seconds or 55 feet of potential accident sites, with unobstructed access and are they located on the same level as the potential accident site?
  • Do your employees have a strong understanding of safeguards, first aid and countermeasures?
  • Are showers, eyewashes and eye/face washes properly maintained and regularly tested?
  • If you are working with a new installation or a renovation, do you have adequate emergency equipment locations? Remember to consider the possibility of multiple injuries from a single accident. Is emergency equipment properly located? Properly signed and visible? Are they readily accessible to injured workers?
  • Do you need drench showers, eyewashes, eye/face washes or combination units?

This last one can be a reasonably challenging question. Consider the hazardous materials in use. If large portions of the body could possibly be exposed to hazardous materials, a shower is indicated. In smaller scale incidents, a single drop of caustic material, for example, might splash on a countertop and bounce up into an employee’s eye. This would probably require an eyewash. Likewise, many airborne contaminants might irritate the eyes only, again with an eyewash being the answer. It is always a good idea to also reference your safety data sheet to fully understand what types of materials and their consequences of exposure.

Consider Your Options

Drench Showers. Drench showers, either as standalone product or combined with either eyewashes or eye/face washes, should provide a sustained flow benchmark of 20 GPM with a diffused spray pattern that maintains a 20-inch width at a height of 60 inches above the ground. Per ANSI/ISEA Z358.1, older style showers with columnar flow patterns should be replaced and non-compliant alternative products should be avoided.

Eyewashes and Eye/Face Washes. There are a wide variety of eyewash and eye/face wash products available, depending on specific needs and budgets. The following will contrast popular features and benefits.

Proper flow characteristics are 0.4 GPM for an eyewash or 3 GPM for an eye/face wash. Per ANSI/ISEA Z358.1—2014, the eyewash flow pattern must cover the area between the interior and exterior lines of an eyewash gauge at some point less than 8 inches above the outlet of the eyewash. If the eyewash flow is too low, it may be less than effective at rinsing out the contaminants in the victim’s eyes. If the flow is too high, it could be considered injurious potentially causing further harm to the victim. This is an important consideration when considering the quality of the equipment you are installing and an important test to ensure compliance.

Also, pay close attention to the design of the spray nozzles. In particular, eye/face washes which must use significantly more water due to the larger spray pattern treating the area around the eyes and mouth as well. This should drive the use of a diffused design to cushion the flow as much as possible, ensuring a comfortable but effective experience for the victim.

  • Flow Height, Spray Pressure and Angle of Approach. There are many different eyewash and eye/face wash products on the market with various designs, operating features and price points. Consider your alternatives carefully. Look for features like effective dust covers, designed so that they don’t obstruct the drain when in use. Two often overlooked features are a pressure control valve and flow compensating device. Consider the level of victim comfort during use and the likelihood of their using the equipment for a full 15-minute cycle.

Combination Showers and Eyewashes. If one has specified equipment with the best flow patterns and coverage, another very important feature of combination shower/eyewashes and shower/eye-face washes are flow controls. Flow controls maintain a stable supply of flushing fluid during simultaneous use of the shower and eye or eye/face wash.

When we design and specify emergency equipment installations, we sincerely hope they are never needed. However, the reality is that they probably will be used, no matter how safety-conscious a company may be. So, we logically seek out the best products, place them in the most appropriate places and diligently train employees to ensure the maximum safety net is provided. As we’ve shown, there are differences in products that make some better for specific applications than others. And, as always, budget plays an important part in the selection. In the end, specifying becomes a balancing act—balancing features and capabilities against cost. The best way to deal with a balancing act is to know all the facts!

This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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