An Overview of Emergency Showers and Eyewashes

An Overview of Emergency Showers and Eyewashes

PPE may be the first line of defense, but accidental exposures can still happen.

Personal protective equipment, such as gloves, safety goggles and face shields are the first line of defense against many types of exposures, but accidental exposures can still happen. If a person in your facility could be exposed to materials that cause injury to the eyes or skin, then appropriate facilities for the flushing of the eyes and/or body shall be provided for immediate decontamination.  

The 10 to 15 seconds after initial exposure to a hazard are the most critical, especially if the substance is caustic. Emergency showers and eye/face wash stations can provide quick access to decontamination of the exposed area. Emergency shower decontamination booths are designed for flushing the head and body, the pressure from the shower could damage eyes. Eyewash stations are designed specifically for the eyes and face. In many locations, a combination emergency shower and eye/face wash may be the best option.  

Best Practices 

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standard Z358.1 serves as a guide for the correct design, installation, use and maintenance of emergency eyewash and shower equipment. This standard recommends that the effected body part must be flushed immediately and thoroughly for at least 15 minutes using a large supply of clean water. In cases where water can’t neutralize them, flushing fluid under low pressure can be used to dilute the contaminates. If the irritation persists, the flushing procedure should be repeated, and medical attention should be given as soon as possible. Take the SDS sheet with you so the medical staff know the chemical that the user was exposed to.  

The severity of an eye injury is not always equal to the amount of pain. Some chemicals don’t cause severe symptoms but can still cause serious damage to the eye. Depending on the severity of the exposure, you may need to seek immediate medical assistance. The strength of the acid or bases and time of exposure are important factors in determining how severe the damage is. Contact with a strong acid or base for just a short time, or a weaker concentration for a longer time can both present a hazard. Contact with an acid is generally felt immediately, while contact with a base may have a delayed reaction but cause more severe injury.  

Clothes that are in contact with hazardous materials may need to be removed from the injured person, to stop further absorption into the skin and to stop the spread of the chemical to those who are there to help the exposed person. Contaminated clothes should be placed in a bag to prevent further exposure. A privacy curtain and extra overalls and foot covers should be stored next to the emergency equipment in cases such as this.  

Location 

Accessibility is key when trying to determine the location of the emergency equipment. The equipment needs to be located so it can be reached within 10 seconds walking time or within approximately 55 feet. Keep in mind that the person traveling may be injured or impaired and may have limited vision. Equipment should be installed at the same floor level as the hazard, no stairs or ramps should hamper access. Pathways should be clear and free of any obstructions. The location must be marked by highly visible signage, which displays an easily identifiable symbol, so as to eliminate any language barriers. The area should also be well lit. If there are shut off valves on the water supply going to the decontamination booth, arrangements should be in place to stop unwarranted supply shutoff.  

If more than one worker might be exposed to hazardous chemicals at the same time, it may require more than one emergency shower and eye/face wash be installed. A visual or audible alarm can be used to alert other workers when the emergency shower is activated. This allows other workers to be alerted to the needs of the injured party and assist them in getting into the emergency shower if their sight is impaired.  

Some environments may require special considerations. In areas where the only possible place to install emergency safety showers is in a hallway or a corridor, it is recommended that eye wash/face wash drench hose units be located by sinks. By using a combination of eye/face wash and emergency showers, the person exposed can receive both immediate and/or long-term drenching.  

Flushing Fluid 

In cases where plumbed water is not accessible, a self-contained personal wash station can be implemented. Personal wash stations cannot take the place of plumbed emergency eyewash stations; however, they can be used in combination with an ANSI compliant 15-minute supply station. Personal wash stations use a buffered saline solution which must be monitored and changed by the expiration date, otherwise the fluid can become contaminated and possibly cause serious damage to the eyes that it is flushing. When there is potential for dust or other types of debris, eye/face wash dust covers should be installed. When activated, the water pressure pushes the cap off and then drenches the user.  

The flushing fluid is defined as any potable water, buffered saline solution or medically acceptable solution. Drinking water or potable water is defined as “water of sufficiently high quality that it can be consumed or used with low risk of immediate or long term harm.”1  

Potable water may not be the best flushing solution as it may contain rust and scale from the inside of pipes, as well as chemicals such as chlorine. Water lines should be flushed periodically to remove contaminates. The temperature of the water must be tepid (i.e., moderately warm, or lukewarm, in the temperature range of 60 to 100 Fahrenheit), unless a chemical reaction could be accelerated by the warm water. The column of water dispensed by the shower should be 82 to 96 inches above the floor, and at 60 inches above the floor the diameter of the shower should measure at least 20 inches, and unobstructed.  

Consideration must be given to the disposal of the wastewater/flushing fluid. If a drain is not close, self-contained wash stations can leave a pool of waste water that can become a slip hazard. Also take into consideration electrical equipment in the area and determine if it will make contact with the flushing fluid or wastewater, which could cause other potentially hazardous situations. Many pre-plumbed units are designed to be connected directly to drain piping. After the emergency shower has been used, the waste water may contain contaminates that cannot go into a sanitary sewer. In these cases, the drain should be piped to an acid waste disposal system or a neutralizing tank.  

Inspection & Maintenance  

You should designate one person in the work area and make them responsible for regularly inspecting, maintaining and or activating the emergency equipment, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The same person should be responsible for a signed and dated inspection log of the equipment. Weekly flushing of the emergency shower for at least three minutes is recommended. All workers need to be instructed in the location and proper use of the equipment before an emergency occurs. As a part of the training, give new workers a hands-on run-through of how to use the equipment, and give other employees a yearly review of the procedure. Keep a set of written instructions posted next to the emergency shower and eye/face wash station.  

Keep copies of the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for all hazardous materials on the premises. All hazardous materials need to be positively identified. The SDS contains the chemical properties, environmental and physical health hazards, first aid, firefighting, safety precautions and protective measures for transporting, handling and storage of chemicals. When working with chemicals, dust, corrosives or any hazardous materials that may require the use of emergency equipment, remember that preparation plays a large role in worker safety. Being prepared is not a one-time consideration but an ongoing pursuit.   

Additional Resources: 

  1. OSH Answers Emergency Showers and Eyewash Stations 
  2. Guardian ANSI Z358.1-2004 Compliance Checklist 
  3. Wikipedia 
  4. 29 CFR 1910.151(c) ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 
  5. International Plumbing Code 29 CFR 1910.1000  
  6. OSHA, 29 CFR 1910.1200(g) and Appendix D 
     

  

  

  

  

  

  

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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