Eight Steps for Ensuring Your Emergency Shower Equipment is Ready for Action
Toxins are living in the showers and eyewashes; we have your guide against the hazards.
- By Ryan Pfund
- May 01, 2021
In an encouraging sign of moving beyond the pandemic, more worksites are reopening after extended closures and bringing back more full-time on-site workers. As more facilities get “back to business,” it’s important to note that during a prolonged period of inactivity, types and locations of hazards can change. Additionally, the temporary shutdown or reduced operation of a building and reductions in normal water use can create health and safety risks for returning occupants.
Whether your facility had been closed or at limited capacity–and even if it has remained open all along-it is a priority to make sure that emergency safety shower and eye wash equipment is running properly with water that is cleared of contaminants.
The following steps can assist facility safety managers in preparing their worksite’s emergency showers and eyewashes for safe usage:
Flush Water Systems
As a first step, it is vital to clear building water systems and devices. The CDC says mold, Legionella and lead and copper contamination from corroded plumbing are examples of hazards that may pose a health risk after prolonged periods of building inactivity, such as:
*For mold, a prolonged period may be days, weeks or months depending upon 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.
*For lead and copper, a prolonged period may be hours, days, weeks or months depending on plumbing and water-specific factors, the amount of time the water remains stagnant inside the pipes, whether there are protective scales or coatings present inside pipes that prevent metals from leaching into water and the materials used to build the plumbing system.
The purpose of flushing the facility’s water system is to replace all water inside building piping with fresh water. To do so, flush hot and cold water through all points of use, such as showers, eyewashes, sink faucets, etc. Note that flushing may need to occur in segments (e.g., floors, individual rooms) based on limitations due to facility size and water pressure.
Flush until the hot water reaches its maximum temperature. Where possible, hot water at the tap should reach at or above 120°F/49°C. Note that anti-scalding controls and devices may limit the maximum temperature at the point of use.
Inspect, Test and Flush
The ANSI/ISEA Z358.1–2014 American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment1 requires that emergency fixtures be tested on a weekly basis to ensure the lines are clear of sediment and debris. ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 also states that each facility should conduct an annual inspection to be sure they are compliant, as workstations may have changed and new hazards may be present.
During weekly inspections, 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 60-100° F or 16-38° C
Weekly activation ensures that nothing is blocking the flow of the flushing fluid and eliminates any chance of contamination from stagnant water. It’s important that all heads of the device are activated, including the eyewash or eye/face wash head as well as the shower head.
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.
Employ Testing and Flushing Tools
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, a transparent plastic compliance gauge can help test the eye or eye/face wash system according to ANSI Z358.1-2014 testing protocols.
Consider Portable Units
Lack of running water may be an issue for some worksites. In these cases, portable units can be used as a convenient and flexible mobile solution when running water isn’t available or as a backup at times when water isn’t running. Tankless water heaters on transportable carts can supply heated water to precise temperatures on demand wherever needed.
To clean portable tanks, use warm, soapy dishwater (do not use bleach) and rinse well before refilling with potable water and preservative.
Check Location Relative to Hazards
A number of changes over the past year, like workspaces being reconfigured to allow for at least six feet of social distancing between workers, may impact the required placement of emergency eyewashes and showers throughout worksites. The ANSI/ISEA Z358.1–2014 standard states that fixtures must be located within 10 seconds or 55 feet (17 meters) from a potential hazard. They must also be located on the same level as the hazard with an unobstructed path of travel.
Avoid Contamination of Equipment
For eye/face washes, one of the newer 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.
Assess Hygiene Protocol
With COVID-19 still being a health and safety risk, it is important that procedures and protocols are updated and followed for reducing the risk of virus transmission in the workplace. For example, these protective measures may include properly disinfecting all PPE using CDC Guidelines. It is also helpful to post reminders for wearing PPE, social distancing, washing/sanitizing hands frequently and avoiding rubbing or touching the eyes or mouth.
Workers should wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or if hand washing is not feasible, use hand sanitizer throughout the workday. Providing both handwashing supplies and hand sanitizer stations throughout work sites can help encourage good hand hygiene practices.
Cleaning and disinfecting work areas are also important. According to the CDC, pathogens can remain viable on surfaces for days. 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 disinfection2 along with contact time and targeted pathogens. Employee training for using these powerful disinfectants is of utmost importance.
While emergency shower training is always important, it is now even more crucial since some employees may have been out of the workplace and should be refreshed and updated on current safety procedures. Facility safety managers should prioritize training employees to review and reinforce safety protocol, proper emergency safety equipment usage and proper use of PPE and hygiene protocol.
Facility safety managers should keep in mind that some manufacturers offer safety shower and eyewash system site surveys to help ensure worksite safety preparedness and ANSI/ISEA compliance with special focus on COVID-19 shutdowns. Involving third party resources will provide peace of mind in efforts to optimize the facility’s safety program and safeguard employees from avoidable hazards and contamination.
This article originally appeared in the May 1, 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.