Emergency Eyewash and Shower Safety
What Are Emergency Eyewashes and Showers?
Emergency units use potable (drinking) quality water and may be preserved with buffered saline or other solution to remove harmful contaminants from the eyes, face, skin, or clothing. Depending on the extent of the exposure, a variety of types may be used. Knowing the right name and function will help with proper selection.
- Eyewash: designed to flush the eyes.
- Eye/face wash: designed to flush both eye and face at the same time.
- Safety shower: designed to flush the entire body and clothing.
- Handheld drench hose: designed to flush the face or other body parts. Not to be used alone unless there are dual heads with the capability for hands-free operation.
- Personal wash units (solution/squeeze bottles): provide immediate flushing before accessing the ANSI-approved emergency fixture and do not meet the requirements of plumbed and self-contained emergency units.
Is An Emergency Eyewash or Shower Necessary? A hazard assessment should be conducted to determine potential employee exposures. Consider:
- Are there potentially hazardous chemicals in the work area?
- How many workers will be in the area with the hazardous substance?
- Are there isolated workers?
Areas that may require emergency equipment include1:
- Battery charging
- Spraying operations (spray booths, etc.)
- High dust areas
- Dipping areas
- Hazardous substance dispensing areas
Which Type Should Be Used?
For dust or particle exposures, a general eyewash station or a portable personal wash unit should be sufficient for use until the employee reaches a permanent station. Employees working around acids or caustics should be provided full body showers outfitted with a combination eye/face wash station.
Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Requirements
OSHA does not enforce the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard, although a best practice, because it has not adopted it. OSHA may still issue a citation to a location under the 29 CFR 1910.151, Medical Services and First Aid requirement as well as under the General Duty Clause.
OSHA 29 CFR 1910.151 and the construction standard 29 CFR 1926.50 state, “Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use.”
The General Duty Clause [5(a)(1)] states that employers have a responsibility to provide to each employee, “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
There are also specific chemical standards that have emergency shower and eyewash requirements.
ANSI Z 358.1 (2004)
The 2004 update for the ANSI standard is the first revision to the standard since 1998. Although most of the standard remains unchanged, the few changes make compliance and understanding easier.
- Eyewashes: flushing flow of 0.4 gallons per minute (gpm) at 30 pounds per square inch (psi) or 1.5 liters.
- Eye and face washes: 3.0 gpm @30psi or 11.4 liters.
- Plumbed units: flushing flow of 20 gpm at 30psi.
Emergency Shower or Eyewash Testing
The 1998 version of the test procedures goes into great detail about how the test should be conducted. The 2004 update simply states that during the 15-minute test period, the flow must remain at a constant 0.4 gpm the entire time.
Where and how should the units be installed?
The first 10-15 seconds are critical in an exposure emergency and any delay may cause serious injury. To make sure employees have ample time to reach the emergency shower or eyewash, ANSI requires units to be accessible within 10 seconds or less, which is about 55 feet.
If there is a battery area or a battery charging operation involved, OSHA states: “Facilities for quick drenching of the eyes and body shall be provided within 25 feet (7.62 m) of battery handling areas.”
With regard to installation, if the unit is plumbed or a self-contained unit, the distance between where the exposed employee stands and the drench showerhead should be between 82 and 96 inches.
In some cases, the work area may be separated from the emergency shower or eyewash by a door. This is acceptable as long as the door opens toward the emergency unit. In addition to placement and location concerns, the work area should be maintained in an orderly fashion to ensure unobstructed pathways are available to an exposed employee.
There should also be highly visible, well-lit signs posted in the area to direct exposed employees or those assisting them to the emergency eyewash or shower. An alarm may be installed on the emergency shower or eyewash to alert others of the emergency. This would be especially important for areas where employees work alone.
What About Drains?
While there is no current regulation requiring the installation of drains, it is a best practice. The manufacturer’s installation instructions may provide direction regarding the size and type of drain necessary to accommodate the emergency system installed. Once the unit is activated, wastewater can cause an additional slip or chemical contamination hazard. The emergency unit should be connected to piping or floor drains that lead to a neutralizing tank. Simply piping it out the door is not sufficient.
Units can either meet the minimum requirements or function and perform at the highest level of quality possible to effectively protect employees. The best way to ensure the highest level of quality is to perform regular inspections on the emergency showers and eyewashes. ANSI requires inspections to be documented and conducted annually. The inspection should be very detailed and include fluid flow test, unit functionality, and a physical inspection of the unit’s construction. The manufacturer’s recommendations should also be considered during the inspection.
Preventive maintenance inspections should be performed about every six months. During this process, check for leaks, clogged openings, lines, broken or missing dust covers on the eyewash units, and proper fluid volumes. The units should also be activated on a weekly or at least monthly basis to:
- Ensure proper operation,
- Clear sedimentation that may clog the supply line, and
- Reduce any microbial hazards by flushing stagnate water.
How can you ensure that inspections are being completed? Attach an inspection tag to the emergency unit and have the person inspecting it sign or initial and date the tag.
The temperature should also be checked during the inspection process. The water should be 60-100 degrees Fahrenheit or “tepid.” Higher temperatures may increase the intensity of a chemical burn on the skin and in the eyes. Lower temperatures open the door for hypothermia concerns. To protect the emergency unit from freezing in cold temperatures, freeze protection or insulation should be used. The facility safety and health professional or medical advisors should be consulted for water temperature concerns and related issues.
Employees working in the area of a potential exposure should be trained on how to use the emergency eyewash or shower units. The training should include:
- The proper way to use the unit,
- Where they are located,
- Information about contact lens use in chemical environments,
- Contact lens removal in an emergency, and
- A hands-on drill.
An emergency response plan should also be developed and communicated to all employees.
Emergency eyewashes and emergency eye and face washes may look similar but quality and performance may be different. Be sure to ask if the units comply with the ANSI and OSHA/VOSH standards before purchasing to ensure safe operation during an emergency. Protect employees by providing the appropriate and best quality system in the best location for the exposure.
1Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). OSH Answers: Emergency Showers and Eyewash Stations. Retrieved August 15, 2005 from, http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/saefty_haz/emer_showers.html.
11/1/02-Additional clarification of using ANSI Z358.1 as guidance to comply with 1910.151(c). OSHA Standard Interpretations. Retrieved August 15, 2005, from http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=24288.
Elfe, Crystal (October 21, 2004). “ANSI Standard for Emergency Equipment Updated-What you need to know about the 2004 revisions to ANSI Z358.1” Occupational Eyewash and Emergency Showers. Safety Info. Retrieved August 15, 2005, from http://www.safetyinfo.com/aa-guest-info/topic-eye-showers.htm.
Guardian Equipment Emergency EyeWash and Shower Equipment. Retrieved August 15, 2005 from, http://www.gesafety.com.
Hazards. Retrieved November 21, 2005, from http://www.occupationalhazards.com.
Johnson, Jim (August 2005). “Emergency Showers and Eyewashes-Keys to selecting, placing and maintaining your equipment” Industrial Safety and Hygiene News (ISHN).
Oregon OSHA. Fact Sheet: Eyewash and Safety Showers. Retrieved from, http://www.cbs.state.or.us/external/osha/pdf/pubs/fs02.pdf.
Revised ANSI/ISEA Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment (January 2004). Safetyequipment.org. Retrieved August 15, 2005 from, http://www.safetyequipment.org.
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