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By Ryan Pfund
From the July/August 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
They may not always be readily visible, but hazardous materials or chemicals lurk in many workplaces, presenting great risks to workers’ eyes and bodies. Each day about 2,000 U.S. workers have a job related eye injury that requires medical treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Eye injuries alone cost more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and worker compensation.
When safety glasses and protective clothing fail to protect, immediate flushing of the eyes and skin is imperative. It is crucial for facilities to have a solid emergency plan with the appropriate plumbed emergency fixtures—eye washes, eye/face washes, and drench showers—correctly installed and ready to be activated at a moment’s notice.
Emergency Response Job Site Assessment
The placement of plumbed emergency equipment begins with a complete job site evaluation to identify high-risk areas, potential hazards, and emergency needs. Ideally, these evaluations should be conducted yearly to ensure that site conditions and hazards have not changed, and that emergency equipment is in good condition. Some equipment providers offer free job site evaluations and can help assess potential problems.
To begin, facility managers (fms) need to determine the type of protection that is needed. Some facilities may have a risk from particulates due to grinding, sanding, or machining operations, in which plumbed or portable eyewash units are needed. If chemicals are used in the facility, a worker could be splashed with a corrosive chemical or be exposed to a chemical vapor, and therefore need access to a drench shower to rinse their entire body.
Fms can review the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the hazard to ensure proper product selection, or they can consult a safety or health advisor during the selection process. It is also essential to reference ANSI Z358.1 emergency equipment standard for equipment installation, testing, performance, maintenance, training, and use.
Types Of Equipment
After identifying potential hazards, the facility’s emergency eyewash and drench shower needs should be assessed. In general, fms can follow these guidelines.
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 to the user—between two and five gallons 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 three gallons per minute) to rinse the entire face effectively.
- Used when larger areas of the body are at risk
- These flush a larger portion of the body but are not appropriate for the eyes (a combination eyewash and drench shower may be used to flush the eyes and rinse larger areas of the body simultaneously).
ANSI requires that a 15 minute flow of tepid water be supplied to emergency equipment and suggests an incoming water temperature between 60°F and 100°F.
Thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) blend hot and cold water to a specific set point and deliver tempered water to emergency fixtures. There are also on-demand water heaters designed to provide water to emergency fixtures. If the tempering design involves the selection of a TMV, fms should choose a valve that is an emergency thermostatic mixing valve with a cold water bypass and not a standard valve.
When selecting a tankless heating system, it is important to look for a system that has been specifically designed for use in emergency eyewash and drench shower systems, as they contain additional safeguards to prevent scalding of an injured worker. It is preferable to use systems that have a low pressure drop (10 to 12 pounds per square inch). Systems with this capacity will curb potential post installation complications due to a sudden pressure drop, resulting in minimal pressure at the fixture. It is also preferable to look for a tankless water heater that uses an incoloy sheathed heating element to protect internal components and provide longer element life.
Emerging Shower Technologies
Recently, several improvements have been made to flow control, coverage, and efficacy of eye/face washes and drench showers. The newest eye/face wash fixtures deliver a more uniform and complete rinse pattern to reach the entire face.
Using fluid dynamics technology, the new shower designs work together with a pressure regulated flow control and the spinning motion of water, creating a spray pattern to rinse off the injured quickly and thoroughly. The contoured shape coupled with the spinning water funnels the drench into a concentrated, yet soft deluge, to ensure an effective flush.
Due to stagnant water left from required weekly testing, tampering, and other misuse by workers, eye/face washes can become contaminated with dirt and bacteria. Newer eyewash designs come equipped with either plastic or stainless steel dust covers that shield the entire bowl, and incorporate self draining to eliminate any stagnant water in the system.
As emergency shower product choices continue to evolve, fms and safety managers have better options for optimizing worker protection. Consulting with a third-party safety consultant and/or an emergency equipment product manufacturer can help establish a solid safety plan complete with appropriate plumbed emergency fixtures.