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Workplace Solutions | Eyewashes/showers

Safety showers in extreme environments

How can I provide safety showers to my workers in an extreme environment?

October 28, 2013

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

Several plumbed emergency shower options are available for ensuring the appropriate safety shower is readily available in various work settings compromised by extreme environmental conditions.

In general, extreme environments are driven by either temperature or site hazards. Extreme air temperatures in the range of -25° F (-32° C) to 120° F (49° C), water temperatures between 32° F (0° C) and 100° F (38° C), and high winds and earthquakes all fall into the extreme environments category. Work areas containing hazards such as corrosive materials, explosive or ignitable gases, vapors, and dust in the atmosphere also make up extreme environments. A number of challenging work settings require these safety shower solutions, such as mining, oil refineries, petrochemical, biodiesel and ethanol facilities, to name a few.

Such extreme environments can lead to many concerns. Below-freezing temperatures can cause pipes to break or burst, and cause systemic damage rendering the safety equipment unusable, so safety showers must be constructed to withstand these elements. It is imperative for affected users to drench with safety showers that provide ANSI-required tepid water in the range of 60° F (16° C) to 100° F (38° C) for a full 15-minute flush. Without tepid water, workers in extremely cold environments may be less inclined to drench for the full 15 minutes. In addition, prolonged exposure to cold air and water can lead to hypothermia and make the worker even more reluctant to remove any affected article of clothing.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, hot water can enhance chemical reactions with the skin or even scald someone. Two solutions for such extreme environments are heat-trace units and enclosed safety showers. Heat-trace units will protect against damage due to frozen pipes and parts; however, they do not provide tepid water or offer a comfortable environment in which to drench.

The freeze and scald valves offer additional protection should power go out, and can be built to Class 1 Division 1 and Class 1 Division 2 standards. Heat-trace units also feature alarms to send a message to others in the area that someone needs assistance and can be tied into building systems for remote monitoring.

The best level of protection is enclosed safety showers. These freestanding units provide the total package with a safe environment and comfortable temperature in which to drench. Enclosed safety showers employ 100-percent vacuum-formed fiberglass-surround construction that is highly resistant to chemicals and corrosion. The exterior features a UV-inhibitor gel-coat for extra protection from sunlight, ultraviolet ray degradation, exposure to chemicals and salt-laden air environmental conditions. The units are insulated to keep the internal temperature warm down to -25° F (-32° C), and built to withstand high winds or seismic 4 earthquakes.

Enclosed safety showers feature the ability to provide tepid water through a thermostatic mixing valve, a self-contained tank or a tankless water heater. They also can be built to Class 1 Division 1 and Class 1 Division 2 standards, and feature alarms to send a message to others in the area that someone needs assistance and can be tied into building systems for remote monitoring.

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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