Shower them with safety

Shower them with safety

Emergency safety showers and eyebaths provide immediate relief to a person splashed by hazardous chemicals, fine dust or metal shavings. In some cases, it can be the difference between life and death.

Any company that has chemical or hydrocarbon products on site must have eyewash stations installed on site, says Kevin Murphy, MD of environmental, health and safety provider Spill Doctor.

Citing the relevant regulations, he points out: “In the Occupational Safety and Health Act, under the General Safety Regulations 1031 of 30 May, 1986, and Section 3 (which pertains to first aid, emergency equipment and procedures), clauses 8 and 9 clearly state the requirement for eyewash stations and showers:

“(8) Where an employee is exposed or can be exposed to a potential hazard of injury to the eye through contact with a biological or chemical substance, the employer concerned shall make sure that there is an eyewash fountain or any similar facilities, in the immediate vicinity of the workplace of such employee and that the employee is trained in the use thereof.

“(9) Where an employee at a workplace is exposed or can be exposed to a potential hazard of injury to or absorption through the skin, as a result of sudden contact with a large amount of toxic, corrosive, high risk or similar hazardous substance, the employer concerned shall make sure that there is a fast-reacting deluge-shower with clean water or a similar facility in the immediate vicinity of the workplace of such employee and that the employee is trained in the use thereof.”

The first 10 seconds following exposure, according to Hughes, an international supplier of safety showers, is the critical period to minimise serious injury in cases of chemical splashes. “The longer the chemical substance remains on the skin, the more damaging it is.”

It is therefore important that safety showers are located within a 10-second reach (or approximately 15 m away) of a person from where an incident can occur. “Ten seconds is about the same amount of time it takes to tie your shoelaces or to fold a T-shirt,” the company points out.

“Under no circumstances should an injured person have to navigate multiple stairs. In case of impaired vision, the path to the emergency equipment must be simple and unobstructed. Place stations in a prominent position with clear markings and lighting.”

The company adds that emergency safety shower stations must be accessible and easy to operate, even with impaired vision. “Safety showers and eyewash valves should be designed so the flushing flow remains on without the use of the operator’s hands. The control valve must go from ‘off’ to ‘on’ in one second or less.”

Emergency showers must also deliver sufficient flow. Hughes notes that this should be 76 litres per minute for 15 minutes. This provides enough time to remove contaminated clothing and rinse thoroughly. If the flow rate is too low, hazardous chemicals may not be completely washed off the skin and could lead to ongoing chemical burns.

“Eye/face wash equipment must deliver at least 11,4 l per minute for 15 minutes to ensure a complete decontamination.”

The temperature of eyebaths and emergency showers is also important: Hughes notes that the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requires a safety shower and emergency eye/face wash equipment to deliver tepid water in the range of 16°C to 38˚C.

“Adhering to these parameters can be the difference between life and death. The human body strives to maintain a steady internal temperature within a normal range of 32°C to 38˚C. When the body encounters water temperature significantly above or below its core temperature, it instinctively reacts.

“Whether the water is scalding or freezing, the natural human reaction is to withdraw from the temperature extreme to protect the body. But, ANSI recommends at least 15 minutes of shower time to completely rinse away most hazardous chemicals. The only way to ensure this length of time is to control the water temperature in the tepid range.”

But this temperature range does provide some problems, such as the growth of bacteria in emergency tank showers. Unfortunately, bacteria thrive in temperatures between 20°C and 45°C.

In some environments a consistent supply of potable water cannot be guaranteed, or a tepid temperature can be difficult to maintain due to extreme ambient temperatures. In these instances, emergency tank showers provide a viable solution. However, because emergency tank showers can go unused for extended periods of time, the water held in the tanks may become stagnant. This makes it susceptible to bacterial growth and if not properly treated and maintained can become a source of infection.

Hughes does provide some practical steps to limiting the growth of bacteria. “ANSI requires that safety showers and eyewash stations are tested at least once a week. This weekly activation process displaces stagnant water in the pipework and flushes out corrosion or sediment, reducing the risk of bacteria growth. The duration of the flushing depends on the volume of water within the unit, but it is recommended to follow a real-life emergency scenario to ensure that the equipment is able to run for the required time.

“The UK Health and Safety Executive developed a guide to help with controlling the risks of exposure to Legionella bacteria. It recommends developing a risk assessment profile for all man-made water systems, including safety showers and eye/face wash equipment. A routine inspection cycle should include sterilising strainers, shower heads and nozzles.”

Murphy adds that employees should be an employer’s number one priority. Spill Doctor also offers a range of eyewash stations and combination showers that can be wall-mounted or placed at various points on pedestals.

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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