Are your eyewash/showers blocked by storage, used as coatracks, not tested, not flushed, rusted shut, or is the water turned off? (Bradley Corp. image)

A State of Constant Readiness

Fire! Scalding burns, blistering skin, blindness, hazardous materials exposure from a broken package, accidental skin exposure to compounding of chemo drugs. . . . Now that I have your attention, tell me that your emergency eyewash/safety shower is any less important piece of safety equipment on site than any other emergency equipment, such as a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, burn gel, AED, back board, or an SCBA?

Have you ever once included your safety shower in an emergency drill for employees? Would they know how to use, clean up after, and restore to service an eyewash/emergency shower or what to do with possibly contaminated water? Lots of water? (If it is not a drained unit, potentially up to 300 gallons of water in 15 minutes.) You do have a plan in place, right?

How about clever employees? I know of one angry housekeeper who would intentionally turn off the valves to the drench hoses for spite and a maintenance person who did not like to test the non-draining units--who never activated one shower. (That is why we have to verify.)

Consider your facility and the current state of your emergency eyewash/showers. Blocked by storage, used as coatracks, not tested, not flushed, rusted shut, or the water is turned off? Or, for stations with portable eyewash bottles: missing solution containers or out-of-date solution? When was the last time you checked?

Constant Readiness
When you establish your emergency eyewash/safety shower program, consider the following:

  • Do you really need one? Why? Refer back to your facility hazard analysis and review all of the processes in detail. Look for hot processes that can cause burns, chemical operations using caustics, or other destructive chemicals in use. Review your hazardous materials on site and related operations, such as forklift charging stations, too. Often, in-depth analysis of need may be best left to consultants or a group such as your facility safety committee. This is a time where you want "what if" questions asked. There are many unique hazards that require eyewash facilities, (pharmacy compounding of chemo items, for example), so dig deep! You are providing first-line protection for your employees, after all.
  • Review your injury history for information. Types of injuries and severity can provide sound information on where stations are needed.
  • Include related program needs, such as vision protection, first aid--these go together!
  • Include special needs situations, such as wheelchair access, stretcher access for emergency rooms, etc. For example, in emergency rooms, a simple combination eyewash/shower may impair stretcher access. Utilizing a safety shower, drench hose with a separate eyewash station may be a better option. Look at the need and how the site will be used . . . on foot, wheels, in a group of emergency workers, etc.
  • Develop a list. I recommend using a facility map and show the location of each station with a unique number. This makes finding it, maintenance operations, and testing logs much easier to maintain for everyone. If your facility has only one, this is likely not a problem. If you have several or several types of eyewash/shower units, it gets confusing, to say the least.
  • Develop a plan and revisit it on a regular basis. Work with maintenance, designers, operations, budget, training--all of the groups that need to have input into the project. Understand what is being ordered, why, how it will be installed, benefits/limitations, maintenance costs, and who will do the testing and training on the unit. Make sure everyone understands upfront the process requiring the emergency eyewash/shower and whether it needs to have a drain or not (and explain fully why this can be a problem to those testing it weekly). There is more to any emergency eyewash/shower than initial cost. . . you have upkeep, replacement, testing. Know what you need and manage what you put in place.
  • Update as hazards change. New chemicals are introduced on site with a changing process? Time to review your eyewash/safety shower plan. Put this on your regular plan review for update as your facility grows or operations change.
  • Train, train, train. You have to make sure the maintenance staff knows how to do the preventative maintenance on the units. Have you discussed this with them? You have to make sure staff knows how to do the yearly flush test and document it. You have to make sure area staff knows how to activate and use the eyewash station if needed in an emergency. You have to make sure maintenance/housekeeping know what to do with the contaminated water afterwards. Is there a sump? Do you know?
  • Drill it in! Make employees practice how to use the stations correctly. Blindfold them to help set the stage if needed. Show them photos of skin destruction, talk chemical burns or other injuries that could happen in their area. Show them how it works, how to test it, logs, when to call maintenance for repairs, how to not block it. Show them how to use it and how to clean up after it. And, hey, that drain? Not for coffee, especially if it goes to a sump. You'll be surprised how many employees do not know even the basics! They will thank you.
  • Firm assignments count. Weekly activation matters in an emergency. You want the water flow to be free of rust, dust, etc. and to ensure it has been tested as required weekly. A completed log sheet does not mean the safety eyewash station was tested. Have you ever watched your staff activate a unit? Checked for dust? (If the unit is not drained, how are they testing it?) How much water is being run during the weekly test? Four ounces? It needs to be sufficient to flush the lines and should be much more than a few gallons. Put your managers in charge and hold them accountable.

In any program, the details matter. Having a sound written program is a great start. Make sure you inspect often. Make sure you have appropriate PPE on hand in needed sizes and types for the work being done. Put in place the basic safety tenets of keeping clear and accessible aisles and paths to eyewash/showers and have them clearly marked. Make sure all employees are advised of the location(s) from day one and that this is part of the first aid and emergency system for their protection.

If you are unsure, resources abound, online and in print, general and industry-specific information for fixed and portable systems. Help is only a few clicks away and is extremely affordable compared to a disfiguring worker’s comp case and a lifetime of scars for an employee or death benefits for the family.

Keep Your Equipment in Excellent Shape
I admit it, of everything I and my staff have to do, emergency eyewash/showers are not exactly at the top of the list. It is not a difficult program at all, just hard to stay excited about until you understand what happens when something does not work right. Day to day, it seems like the screaming emergencies get most of the attention. However, I can also say that we know the importance of keeping the program in excellent condition can mean everything to our employees.

Every improvement you make is for your workplace safety and to improve your safety program. Chances are you will never need one of these silent guardian angels of the workplace. Safety professionals spend entire careers and never know of one accident using a safety shower or eyewash station. All our effort is preventative, hoping never to be needed. But, if just one employee ever needs and uses an emergency eyewash/shower and everything you as a safety professional has done works exactly as designed and he/she is not as injured because of your efforts, it is all worth it.

Posted by Linda J. Sherrard on Oct 01, 2014

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