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Emergency Showers & Eyewashes: Location Matters

By: Maureen Paraventi

No matter how carefully thought out the engineering controls and work practices in your facility are, if there are hazardous substances present, there is also the possibility of accidental exposure to them. The first few moments after a worker has come into contact with a harmful chemical are crucial. Failure to get fast and effective first aid can lead to life-altering health effects, like vision loss, tissue damage and permanent disability. An immediate and thorough drenching of the affected area using emergency showers, eyewashes or a combination of the two can help lessen the severity of injuries. Most managers of facilities where hazmat is present are aware of the need for this essential equipment, and have some on hand, but are those units located in the right places?

The first step in answering that question is to perform a risk assessment aimed at identifying work areas where chemical splashes involving toxic or corrosive chemicals could occur, or where workers could be exposed to dangerous airborne substances or liquids that are extremely cold. Gathering information from team members will increase the accuracy of your hazardous chemical inventory. This is also an opportunity to examine the condition of containers and reevaluate work practices, because those are often contributors to chemical incidents.

The density of the workforce in those areas is another factor to consider, because if employees are working in close proximity to another, a chemical splash could affect more than one person. If that is a possibility, a single eyewash and emergency shower – even if they are located nearby – may not be sufficient.

Ten Seconds

ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014: American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment specifies that emergency eye wash and shower stations must be within ten seconds of a chemical hazard. This is generally considered to be a distance of 55 feet. Keep in mind, though, that the person or persons traversing those 55 feet are likely to be in pain, disoriented and possibly having difficulty seeing where they are going. In order for them to be able to access emergency equipment quickly and easily:

  • It must be highly visible.
  • The path to get to it must be free of obstacles and easy to navigate (not up or down a flight of stairs, for instance). Because things get moved around in work zones, do regular inspections of the path from the work zone to the emergency equipment and of the equipment area itself, to make sure that there are no new impediments to movement in those places.
  • The area leading to the safety equipment must be well lit and marked with signage.

Another factor to take into account: don’t position the safety equipment too close to a chemical hazard, or it could become contaminated.

Tell the Team

Human nature being what it is, it’s easy to stop seeing elements in your everyday environment that you don’t normally use – like emergency equipment. When an emergency does occur and emotions are running high, there may be a delay in accessing knowledge that wasn’t needed until that moment, such as the location of showers and eyewashes. During safety meetings, it’s a good idea to remind workers how to get to – and use – vital equipment, so that these details are fresh in their minds. Establishing a buddy-buddy system in which employees guide injured and/or vision-impaired co-workers to drench facilities is another part of the groundwork that could be laid during these meetings.

Beyond Location

The type of drench stations needed in a facility depends upon the particular hazards found in an industry or environment. There are a variety of types and combinations. Emergency showers may be ceiling, floor or wall mounted or platform operated. Eyewash stations may be plumbed or portable. There may be instances where a reluctant employee is reluctant to remove his or her clothing in the workplace, not realizing that their garments could be contaminated with chemicals that will burn them. Enclosed emergency showers give people privacy and help avoid compounding physical trauma with emotional trauma.

Quickly and effectively flushing toxic chemicals out of the eyes and away from the body is only possible if emergency showers and eyewashes are sufficient in number throughout a facility and are located in the areas where they are likely to be needed. WMHS

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