One of the lasting lessons from the coronavirus pandemic is the crucial need to provide dependable health and safety protocols for employees and building occupants. As part of any workplace safety plan, facilities that deal with chemicals should include properly plumbed emergency eyewash and safety shower equipment as essential safeguards.
Plumbed emergency shower equipment is essential in all commercial settings that involve any types of chemical, flammable and particulate hazards. These environments include pharmaceutical manufacturing environments, industrial settings, laboratories, R&D applications and indoor/outdoor work settings, to name a few.
Specifically, with chemicals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates more than 13 million workers in the United States are potentially exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin. Some chemical exposure may result in immediate injuries, such as chemical burns. In fact, direct or indirect contact can damage the skin or pass through the skin, eyes and into the bloodstream.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is not a comprehensive list of hazardous chemicals. The EPCRA regulations in 40 CFR Part 370 cite OSHA’s broad definition of a hazardous chemical (with certain exceptions listed in EPCRA Section 311(e)), which includes any element, compound, or mixture of elements that is a physical hazard or a health hazard (29 CFR Section 1910.1200(c) and 40 CFR Section 370.2). OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR Section 1910.1200) requires chemical manufacturers and importers to obtain or develop an MSDS for each hazardous chemical they produce or import. It also requires employers to have an MSDS available for the use of each hazardous chemical (29 CFR Section 1910.1200(g)).
While personal protective equipment is an excellent first line of defense against chemical splashes, having immediate, clear and unobstructed access to emergency showers and eyewashes are also of paramount importance. Therefore, it’s important to keep up-to-date on placement, maintenance and the newest equipment trends and technologies and determine whether your equipment effectively optimizes the best protection for its employees and occupants.
Know Your Hazards and Emergency Shower/Eyewash Options
To begin the selection process of emergency shower and eyewash equipment, identify potential hazards in a particular work setting. Safety data sheets for hazardous substances should be carefully reviewed to ensure the proper protection and safety plan is in place to protect the workers. Eyewashes, eye/face washes, and drench showers should be selected based on the type and level of potential exposure to workers and how many individuals could be affected. Potential hazards may include hazardous chemicals or flammable materials. For example:
Emergency eyewash stations
- effective for spills, splashes dust or debris likely to affect only the eyes
- provides a controlled flow of water to both eyes simultaneously
- delivers an uninterrupted, 15-minute supply of tepid water. Plumbed units can supply a greater volume of water available — between 2–5 gal (7.5–19 L) per minute
Emergency eye/face wash stations
- used when the entire face is at risk from spills, splashes, dust and debris
- irrigates the eyes and face simultaneously
- provides a large distribution pattern of water (minimum 3 gpm/11.4 Lpm) to effectively rinse the entire face
- used when larger areas of the body are at risk
- flushes a larger portion of the body but is not appropriate for the eyes (a combination eyewash and drench shower may be used to simultaneously flush the eyes and rinse larger areas of the body)
Further, ANSI/ISEA Z358.1–2014 American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment requires tepid water be delivered to emergency fixtures, which encourages an injured party to complete the full 15-minute flush during an emergency (Figure 1). ANSI/ISEA suggests an incoming water temperature between 60° F and 100° F (15.6–37.8°C).
Evaluating Job Sites for Equipment Placement
Because work environments are dynamic and change over time, assessments should be conducted annually to ensure the proper type, quantity, and location of emergency fixtures. Some emergency equipment manufacturers offer free job site evaluations and can be instrumental in assessing potential problems.
During a walk-through, it is essential to reference the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1–2014 emergency equipment standard, which outlines the specific requirements for emergency eyewash and drench shower equipment installation, testing, performance, maintenance, training, and use. Safety data sheets (SDS) are another excellent source for determining protection needs, as they contain first aid information indicating if drenching facilities are required.
Too often, facility managers underestimate the maximum distance allowed between a critical work area and an eyewash/safety shower product. This issue is because the first seconds following eye and skin exposure are critical to minimizing injury.
ANSI provides the following guidelines for product placement:
- A drench shower, eyewash, or combination unit should be located within 10 seconds of a potential hazard or approximately 55 ft (16.8 m) with unobstructed access.
- The equipment must be on the same level as the user. If there are doors between the hazard and the fixture, they must swing in the direction of travel.
- The height of the eyewash flow pattern should be between 33 in. (84 cm) and 53 in. (135 cm) and measured from the floor to the water flow.
- If the worker’s ability to walk or move might be impacted by the chemical exposure, the fixture should be placed closer to the worker.
- If highly corrosive chemicals are used, the drench shower or eyewash should be placed immediately adjacent to the hazard.
- If a potential chemical spill in an area is likely to affect multiple workers, enough fixtures should be in place to prevent one worker from waiting 15 minutes while another is drenched.
It’s also important for safety fixtures to be clearly identifiable and easy to reach (Figure 2):
- The area around the fixture should be well-lit.
- Each fixture should be identified with a highly visible sign.
- A drench shower or eyewash in a bright color like yellow is easiest to spot in a busy industrial environment.
- Eyewash spray heads should be a minimum of 6 in. (5 cm) from walls or obstructions to allow the user clear access for eye flushing.
- The area for flushing under the drench shower should be unobstructed. The only exception is the eyewash on a combination drench shower and eyewash fixture. In this case, the eyewash is placed in line with the drench shower to allow for simultaneous use.
Ensuring Efficient Washdown Coverage
When harmful contaminants reach the delicate eye area and extend to the outer portions of the face or contact the body, every second counts. Therefore, evaluating the total face and body coverage provided by the eye/face wash and shower is key. The newest generation of emergency fixtures is designed to deliver a more uniform and complete spray pattern distribution. Older shower designs push the flow of water to the outer rim of the showerhead, creating a hollow space in the center of the pattern that can miss affected areas.
Using the latest technology in fluid dynamics, new eyewash designs work in tandem with pressure-regulated flow control and the spinning motion of water, which creates an optimal spray pattern to rinse off contaminants as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The contoured shape combined with the spinning water funnels the water into a concentrated, yet gentle, deluge to ensure the most effective flush available.
Modern eye and eye/face wash models utilize a much more accurate method to maintain the flow of water over varied pressures. With the right flow control, a gentle, non-injurious flow can be delivered based on the pressure supplied to the fixture, allowing for minimal variance across a wide range of pressure.
Due to advances in fluid dynamics technology, these types of eye/face washes provide 20% better protection than other designs.
Swing-Activated Eyewash Models
For facilities such as chemical plants, laboratory environments, and tight workspaces, a new generation eyewash model combines a sink faucet with an eyewash built-in for emergency eyewash use, offering a highly efficient and convenient space-saving solution (Figure 3.)
During regular faucet use, the eyewash is stored out of the way. However, in an emergency, the eyewash is immediately activated when it is swung out 90° over the sink. When the eyewash is activated, the swing-activated design ensures that the faucet moves out of the way, positioning the eyewash directly over the sink and allowing clear access to the fixture. With the eyewash in the optimal position over the sink, water is contained in the sink without dripping or spraying on countertops and floors, which can create mess and risk of slipping and falling.
Newer models are mounted lower to the deck rather than on the top of the faucet, providing more convenient and comfortable use of the emergency fixture compared with other models on the market and reinforcing the stability and durability of the fixture during use.
What to Know About TMVs
Newer models of thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) deliver safe water temperatures to commercial faucet applications and emergency safety eyewash fixtures. One new TMV model’s “dual use” design for supplying heated water, features two valves in one, saving installation time and conserving space under sinks.
During regular faucet use, the TMV delivers tempered water for uses such as handwashing; in an emergency, it delivers ANSI/ISEA-required tepid water. Again, this single-source design is especially useful for cloistered work applications and laboratory settings.
Another new model is a digital mixing valve, which delivers precise temperature control, programmable features, and convenient remote monitoring. Engineered with technology to supply and maintain water temperatures within ±3ºF, even during low and zero demand periods, the digital valve maximizes safety and efficiency for domestic hot water systems. In addition, the valve’s intuitive controller allows proactive temperature control by setting the temperature for normal operation and scheduling periodic thermal disinfection cycles.
Eyewash Designs for Increased Hygiene
It is vital to keep eye/face wash systems clean and bacteria-free. However, sometimes stagnant water can accumulate due to improper maintenance and testing, false activations, tampering, and other misuses by workers — leaving equipment and water vulnerable to contamination. Stagnant or untreated water is more likely to contain organisms (e.g., Acanthamoeba, Pseudomonas, Legionella) that cause infection. When a worker uses an improperly maintained eyewash station, organisms in the water may come into contact with the eyes or skin, or may be inhaled, risking infection.
Contamination issues can be mitigated by improving equipment testing and maintenance, installing an eyewash alarm system, and selecting equipment with safeguards against water contamination.
A newer eye/face wash model utilizes 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.
Another feature to look for is hinged, see-through plastic or stainless-steel bowl covers that shield the entire bowl from misuse and contamination (Figure 4). The see-through plastic allows quick and easy visual inspection, and the hinging mechanism provides a more secure hold. The fixture is activated as the cover is opened and may be installed on barrier-free fixtures.
A final note on emergency eyewashes and safety showers: while selecting proper emergency eyewash equipment is crucial, ultimately, workers must be trained and knowledgeable about the location of the fixtures and how to use them properly. Some emergency equipment manufacturers offer free job site evaluations to help with product selection, ANSI/ISEA compliance and training to enhance protection for all.