Optimizing Emergency Safety Equipment after COVID-19 Lockdowns

Optimizing Emergency Safety Equipment after COVID-19 Lockdowns

Now that many facilities are reopening, it is imperative to ensure that emergency safety equipment is compliant, in safe working order and in correct placement relative to worksite hazards.

While workplaces depend on occupational hygiene and safety for their livelihood and success, the coronavirus outbreak has underscored those basic and critical needs in unprecedented fashion.
Workplaces should take steps to protect workers and communities from coronavirus, but it is crucial to be well-prepared for all the on-the-job hazards that may occur.

Now that many facilities are reopening after being closed for an extended period of time, it is imperative to ensure that emergency safety equipment is in safe and proper working order, flushed of microbial hazards and in correct placement relative to worksite hazards.

As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said: “The temporary shutdown or reduced operation of a building and reductions in normal water use can create hazards for returning occupants.” Mold and Legionella are two examples of microbial hazards that may pose a health risk after a period of building inactivity. For mold, a prolonged period may be days, weeks or months depending on building-specific factors, season and weather variables.

For Legionella, a prolonged period may be weeks or months depending on plumbing-specific factors, disinfectant residuals, water heater temperature set points, water usage patterns and preexisting Legionella colonization. Therefore, clearing building water systems and devices is vitally important.

Moreover, many workspaces have been or are currently being reconfigured to allow for at least six feet of social distancing between workers. These changes may shift the required placement of emergency eyewashes and showers throughout worksites. Keep in mind that ANSI/ISEA Z358.1–2014 American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment states that fixtures must be located within 10 seconds or 55 feet (17 meters) from a potential hazard. It must also be located on the same level as the hazard with an unobstructed path of travel.

Based on these new environmental variables—in addition to the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard for weekly testing—it is recommended that facilities conduct a thorough walk-through of the work site upon reopening.

Here are some proactive ways to restore and optimize emergency showers and eyewashes:

Inspect, Test and Flush Eye Washes and Showers

Emergency safety showers and eye wash equipment should be inspected, activated, tested and verified weekly to ensure immediate, reliable and proper usage. Weekly safety equipment tests are also required by the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard (with a more in-depth evaluation to be conducted annually).

Safety data sheets (SDS) are an excellent source for determining protection needs, as they contain the first aid information indicating if drenching facilities are required. Some equipment manufacturers also conduct site surveys to assist with ensuring compliance.

Every week facility managers should check that plumbed emergency equipment:

  • is placed in accordance with the ANSI/ISEA standard
  • works properly with no missing or broken parts
  • has lines flushed to clear debris and stagnant water
  • is protected against freezing
  • uses tepid fluid between 60 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 16 and 38 degrees Celsius

Weekly activation ensures that nothing is blocking the flow of the flushing fluid and eliminates any chance of contamination from stagnant water. It is important that all heads of the device are activated, including the eyewash or eye/face wash head, as well as the showerhead.

Take time to flush lines long enough to clear the line of sediment and debris. Self-contained units should also be visually inspected weekly. Inspection tags are often included with fixtures to document testing and to satisfy a safety audit.

There are some materials safety personnel can use to assist in weekly testing, such as a heavy-duty drench shower tester designed with a water-tight funnel to minimize getting wet during testing. The funnel directs water to a drain or bucket and prevents water splashing in the surrounding area. For testing eye wash fixtures, transparent plastic compliance gauges can help test the eye or eye/face wash system according to ANSI Z358.1-2014 testing protocols.

Avoid Contamination of Equipment

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.

Sometimes stagnant water is left over from false activations, tampering and other misuse by workers, leaving equipment vulnerable 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 from misuse and contamination.

Some eyewash systems use a sturdy plastic see-through hinged dust cover. 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.

Clean and Disinfect Workplace Surfaces

In the age of COVID-19, the importance of cleaning work areas cannot be overstated. According to the CDC, pathogens can remain viable on surfaces for days. Therefore, routine cleaning of workspaces and high-touch surfaces such as handles, levers, switches, doorknobs, faucets and equipment should be disinfected with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectants approved for the type of surfaces. EPA provides a list of registered products for disinfection along with contact time and targeted pathogens. Employee training for using these powerful disinfectants is of utmost importance.

Train Employees

While emergency shower training is always important, it is even more crucial since some employees may have been out of the workplace and could use a refresher. While training sessions may look different these days—with remote learning and social distancing—facilities should find opportunities to reinforce safety protocol and proper emergency safety equipment usage.

Safety training expert, Julie LaRose, MS, CSP, ARM, CHMM, explains that it is often difficult for individuals to think clearly and logically in a crisis. “If someone is exposed to a caustic material, for example, it is very easy for the primitive parts of the brain to take over,” LaRose said. LaRose offers these tips for successful use of plumbed safety fixtures:

  • Train employees to protect themselves first before helping others
  • Remove any barriers between the injured and the safety fixture
  • If clothing is in the way, use safety shears to remove it—do not pull a shirt over the face, which may spread the contaminant
  • Maneuver the person to the source of water and immediately deploy the fixture
  • Alert others for help by yelling or using an emergency signaling system to notify co-workers and first responders

Facility and safety managers are not alone in their quest to provide a safe and compliant worksite for employees. As mentioned previously, some manufacturers offer safety shower and eyewash system site surveys to ensure a facility’s safety showers and eyewash equipment are in proper locations, workable condition and compliant with ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 guidelines and/or designated corporate goals or best safety practices. Involving third party resources will help to optimize your safety program and safeguard employees from avoidable hazards and contamination.

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

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