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Best Practices for Using Emergency Eyewashes and Showers

If your worksite involves any hazards involving harmful chemicals, dusty conditions and/or flammable materials, eyewash stations and safety showers are critical safeguards to have readily available. When installed and used correctly, these plumbed fixtures can provide immediate emergency decontamination resulting from direct exposure to these injurious materials.

Even though emergency fixtures may be installed at a work site, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a facility and its workers are automatically protected. It’s possible that the equipment is poorly maintained, not in good working order, not located near all hazards, unable to dispense tepid water and/or not in compliance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI/ISEA) Z358.1–2014 standards.

That’s where compliance and best practices come into play.

Because emergency eye wash and shower equipment are used by people in serious exposure situations, it is imperative these fixtures are inspected, tested and verified weekly to ensure immediate, reliable and proper usage. Weekly safety equipment tests are required by the ANSI/ISEA (with a more in-depth evaluation to be conducted annually.) Violations for inappropriate or inadequate equipment may result in costly penalties and even life-altering injuries.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of everyone in facility and operations management to ensure compliance and confirm that your equipment is effectively optimizing the best protection for employees.

The following are some best practices to help make sure your facility’s safety program delivers the best outcome in the event of an emergency exposure:

Pinpoint Equipment Placement

Start with a site evaluation to identify at-risk areas, potential hazards and emergency needs, and evaluate factors like product location, water supply, water temperature, accessibility and equipment selection.

Job site evaluations help should not be a one-time event – as with training, testing and maintenance of emergency fixtures. Since work environments are dynamic and change over time, assessments should be conducted annually to ensure the proper type, quantity, installation and location of emergency fixtures. Certain product manufacturers offer complimentary safety shower and eyewash system site surveys to check equipment operation and placement, and compliance with the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1–2014. Further, be sure to conduct site surveys in the event of expanding, relocating or modifying onsite work processes.

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, since they contain the first aid information stating if drenching facilities are required.

Conduct Weekly Equipment Inspections

Since material hazards present fluctuating risks and challenges for employees, eyewash and drench showers must be rechecked every week. During weekly inspections, check that plumbed emergency equipment:

Works properly with no missing or broken parts
Has lines flushed to clear debris and stagnant water

The following highlights guidelines on how to ensure compliance with ANSI weekly minimum performance requirements:

Per ANSI/ISEA Z358.1, emergency drench showers, eye and eye/face washes must be inspected and activated one time per week. This 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 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.

Keeping a dated checklist for inspections helps follow-through and accountability. Training workers on the location and operation of fixtures also helps reinforce proper usage.

Simplify Testing With the Right Equipment

In addition to providing site surveys, manufacturers provide easy to use tools 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 features clear instructions on how to test the eye or eye/face wash system according to ANSI Z358.1-2014 testing protocols.

Sometimes false activations and bowl tampering can impede emergency fixtures’ reliability and performance. Facility managers can avoid false activation issues by installing an eyewash signaling system with a dual set of contacts. The first set of contacts activates the visual and audible indicators, while the second may be wired into a central monitoring system to alert a supervisor or maintenance team member that the fixture has been activated. In an actual emergency, the signaling systems draw attention to the precise location of need, alert management to contact first responders, and provide remote monitoring of safety equipment.

Moreover, to protect emergency eye/face wash bowls and keep the units cleaner, look for models that incorporate durable dust covers made of sturdy plastic or stainless steel that shield the entire bowl. Dust covers protect the bowl from unwanted debris, shavings or tampering. The covers open as the fixture is activated, and may be installed on barrier-free fixtures.

Ensure Adequate Water Capacity

Every potential hazard at a worksite must be supported by a plumbed or portable device that has access to an adequate water supply at an appropriate pressure and temperature. It’s important that the amount of water supplied to the unit can support a full 15-minute flow of flushing fluid. Therefore, a minimum water pressure of 30 pounds per square inch (PSI) should be supplied to plumbed emergency drench showers and eyewashes. Typical facilities supply their fixtures with at least 45 PSI inlet supply pressure. Use extra caution with any pressure that exceeds 90 PSI.

The water supply must also satisfy the ANSI minimum flow rate, which is at least 20 gallons per minute (GPM) for drench showers, 0.4 GPM for eyewashes and 3.0 GPM for eye/face washes. Because different products have varying flow rates, it’s important to confirm flow rates with the equipment manufacturer.

Test Water Temperature

Lukewarm (tepid) water is required for the full 15-minute flush, for a drench shower, eye wash or eye/face wash. The ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard states that the use of tepid water encourages affected users to continue to flush for the entire 15 minutes. Tepid is defined as 60° – 100° F (15.6-37.8° C).

If using flushing fluid outside of the tepid range, bodily injuries may be exacerbated. Fluid that is too cold or too hot is extremely uncomfortable and deters flushing for the full 15 minutes. In addition, prolonged exposure to near freezing water has been proven to affect the body’s ability to maintain body temperature, increasing the risk of hypothermia. If the fluid delivered to the affected user is over 100° F, it’s possible that the hot water could exacerbate a chemical interaction with the eyes and skin. Whenever possible, consult a physician to determine the recommended temperature based on specific types hazardous chemicals or material.

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