Workplace Solutions Eyewashes/showers

Know the facts when choosing emergency showers/eyewashes

What are key considerations in selecting emergency showers and eyewashes?

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Bradley Fixtures Corp.

Responding is Ryan Pfund, senior product manager, Bradley Fixtures Corp., Menomonee Falls, WI.

To begin the selection process of emergency shower and eyewash equipment, start by identifying potential hazards in a particular work setting. 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 include dusty conditions, hazardous chemicals and flammable materials.

For example:

Emergency eyewash stations:

  • Effective for spills, splashes, dust or debris likely to affect only the eyes.
  • Provide employees with a controlled flow of water to both eyes simultaneously.
  • Deliver an uninterrupted, 15-minute supply of tepid water. Plumbed units can supply a greater volume of water available – between 2.0 and 5.0 gallons (7.5 and 19.0 liters) per minute.

Emergency eye/face wash stations:

  • Used when the entire face is at risk from spills, splashes, dust and debris
  • Irrigate the eyes and face simultaneously
  • Provide a large distribution pattern of water (minimum 3.0 gpm/11.4 lpm) to effectively rinse the entire face

Drench showers:

  • Used when larger areas of the body are at risk
  • Flush 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)

In some instances, it may be necessary to ensure protection is available to workers with disabilities. Most manufacturers have designed barrier-free fixtures tailored to meet the reach and clearance requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These fixtures ensure all employees equal access and protection from harmful chemicals.

When the facility is heavy with debris, dirt, wood or metal shavings, consider adding complete bowl protection to the eyewash unit. A bowl cover protects the spray heads and keeps the entire bowl area clean, ensuring the safety fixture can be properly used without concern of exposure to germs and bacteria or other unwanted material splashing into the eyes. Some models provide a clear bowl cover to allow for an easy visual inspection of the eyewash on a regular basis.

Outdoor work settings, such as in construction, wastewater treatment plants and oil refineries, require careful consideration as well. These applications may need portable fixtures where plumbed water is not available. They may also need fixtures that can operate outdoors in the coldest temperatures. Manufacturers offer a variety of portable emergency equipment – gravity-fed and portable pressurized eyewash fixtures – which are flexible and durable options. Fully enclosed safety showers that withstand harsh chemicals and frigid weather conditions are another solid choice. These products are available in plumbed or self-contained versions and provide a complete safety solution including tepid water. The climate-controlled safety shower provides protection from the elements when needed.

Privacy concerns must also be considered. If an employee is splashed with a hazardous substance, he or she must quickly disrobe in order for a drench shower to completely flush all chemicals or contaminants from the skin. Particularly in mixed-gender environments, there may be hesitation about disrobing in order to flush all chemicals or contaminants from the skin.

Installing high-visibility yellow privacy curtains around drench showers or combination shower/eyewash units can address privacy issues. Indoor enclosed safety showers also offer privacy in a larger space and include a shower basin and drain to collect the water. The enclosure also provides added protection from dust, debris or accidental damage of the safety fixture.

While selection of proper emergency equipment is crucial, ultimately, workers must be knowledgeable about the location of the fixtures and how to properly use them. Some emergency equipment manufacturers offer free jobsite evaluations to help with product selection and training to optimize worker protection.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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