Wherever dangerous materials are used it is vital to provide eyewash stations and drench showers. While most people think about the presence of caustic chemicals as the primary reason for wash stations, there are many other hazardous situations where they are needed. These include work areas filled with dust, particulates, and asbestos, battery charging areas, spraying or dipping operations, and locations where hazardous substances are dispensed, including gasoline and fuel.
The most critical feature in determining the number of onsite showers and eyewash stations needed is proximity. When a worker comes into contact with hazardous materials, especially corrosive substances, every second counts. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recommends that any worker should be able to reach the nearest eyewash or shower station within 10 seconds of contact with the hazardous material, regardless of their physical and mental state at the time. This is often assessed as a maximum distance of 55 feet. However, when highly corrosive chemicals are being used, the stations should be immediately adjacent to the work space (minimize your potential for chemical incidents with Top Tips for Preventing Chemical Spills in the Workplace).
It is important to never place full faith in first line defenses such as goggles and face masks. Although these are compulsory protective attire, accidents can take many forms. For example, goggles may get knocked away, and showers may be necessary to extinguish fires on clothing or to wash contaminants from clothing.
When assessing a work environment, stations should be positioned as close to the hazard as possible, with no obstructions or barriers. Ideally, these should also be close to emergency exits or doors where emergency responders will have easy access. Each station must be identified by a visible sign that can be understood regardless of employees’ language ability.
The number of workers at risk must also enter the equation. If there are many workers in a high-risk area, then more than one shower or eyewash station must be installed.
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Turn to the Experts
One of the best ways of determining the number and location of drench showers and eyewash stations is to hire a qualified job hazard assessor or to utilize a free safety audit by a product manufacturer. This individual will best be able to identify ideal locations, plumbing and temperature control requirements, and can explain why portable, self contained eyewash units are not a satisfactory replacement (which has to do with limited liquid storage and potential for bacterial infection).
Why Do We Need Both?
While we’ve mentioned eyewash stations and drench showers, there are actually three types of stations to consider. In addition to drench showers and eyewash stations, some environments may require eye/face wash stations that provide a wider spray area and are designed to remove damaging substances from a person’s entire face.
Drench showers are not appropriate to be used for emergency eyewash. This is due to the water pressure, which could cause further damage to the eyes. Eyewash stations should allow a strong flow of potable water, preserved water or preserved buffered saline solution for at least 20 minutes. In some work environments where strong alkalis like sodium, potassium or calcium hydroxide are being used, the flow should be available for 60 minutes.
The eyewash station must allow the user to be able to open their eyelids with their hands or have them held open by another person. Nozzle covers should be in place to protect the nozzles from dirt, however these covers should not require a separate motion by the user to remove them. There are also combination units available that provide both eyewash and shower facilities.
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Drills and Teamwork
It is vital to keep in mind that not all employees will be able to manage the eyewash or shower by themselves. A person who is blinded by chemicals may have difficulty locating the eyewash station, even after having practiced in a drill. In addition, pain, shock, and panic may render the individual incapable of operating the devices properly. This means other team members must be able to assist, which means the stations themselves should accommodate more than one person in the vicinity.
Drills are essential. The panic felt by an injured worker will quickly spread to others. Every second counts, and each worker must rely on the team to be able to administer proper flushing as quickly as possible. Drills should involve actual water and a full exposure to the water stream, not simply looking at the taps.
When budgeting and planning for eyewash and shower stations, it is crucial that the stations are tested regularly to ensure they work correctly. This does not simply mean delivering water, but delivering it at the right temperature, which ANSI describes as “tepid,” between 60 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because hot water may scald, and cold water may prove too uncomfortable for an injured person to stay in the flushing stream. ANSI recommends the use of thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) or tankless water heaters to ensure proper temperature from the first second it is needed through a full 20 or more minutes of delivery.
Like most emergency devices, it can be easy to underestimate the need for sufficient shower and eyewash stations by focusing too closely on the small number of individuals who have most frequent exposure to dangerous substances, and by assuming that only one individual at a time will need access. Once in place, these stations can easily blend into the background and become forgotten.
It is necessary to remember that danger never takes a break. Devices such as eyewash stations and showers may save lives, and may save people from debilitating injury. They must always reside, alongside all other safety measures, at the top of any organization’s priority list.