Emergency showers and eyebaths: are they fit for purpose?

Paul Boughton

While we are still enjoying milder conditions, now is a very good time to conduct an annual service, inspection and compliance assessment for every on-site safety shower, eyewash station and also just as importantly the supply pipe. Janet Dickinson reports

Ensuring that your emergency showers and eyebaths are fit for purpose and ready to withstand the winter freeze is essential in order to avoid further problems that may occur when the temperature drops.

When  it comes to the safety of personnel, just installing a piece of safety  equipment is not enough. Testing for uninterrupted operation and  functionality of both internal and external safety showers is vital. Not doing so can put workers lives in  danger.

These critical pieces of health and safety equipment very often slip through the regular maintenance duties on site. During periods of cold weather this  can leave the equipment non operable and liable to long term damage. A planned 'winterisation' programme that includes annual servicing will  prevent downtime and costly repair bills and will also provide peace of mind that the showers and eyebaths will operate perfectly when needed.  

Such a plan should include a full report that records the operation of showers in accordance with the relevant standards ANSI Z358.1-2009 and BS EN 151543 covering key points, for example shower flow rates, water temperatures and location.  

There is a requirement to  ensure that safety eyewashes and showers supply clean, potable water and  are in proper working order. So you need to ensure that the water flow is continuous; evaluate that the unit can maintain flow for 15  minutes, and is not injurious to the user's eye or face. Valve actuators must activate water flow in one second or less and controlled flow of flushing fluid must be provided to both eyes simultaneously.  

With the changing climate, exposed  pipe work that would have normally survived the UK winter is no longer  adequate and will not meet the recommended standards. This will meaneither re-siting the shower unit or freeze protecting the pipework.

In house inspection programmes should necessitate updating yourrisk assessments. This should include assessing not only  against the control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH) but also  against climatic conditions, the surrounding environment and the workforce including lone workers and the mix of male/female operatives for example. If processes and site layouts change operationally you need to carefully  reconsider the type of decontamination solution that meetthe needs of the workers and environment in which they work.

To make sure  casualties can use the shower for the recommended 15 minutes minimum (to  ensure chemicals are thoroughly washed off) the water must be of a tepid  temperature as cold water directly from the mains will cause casualties to  stop using the shower too soon due to thermal shock.   

And talking about your operatives, hopefully they have  never had to use the safety shower but can they remember where the emergency facilities are located?  For example, if working near hazardous substances, it  can be time critical that they are aware that a facility is available in the direct vicinity rather than having to get to a main building which could be driving distance away. This also reduces any further spread of the contamination.     

Emergency eyewash and shower units facilities must be installed in work areas where there is high potential for accidents involving corrosive,  irritant or toxic substance absorption through skin and eyes. The location should be no more than a maximum of 10 seconds travel time for an injured person to access as every second  counts. Therefore, there should be nothing to obstruct the pathways leading up to an emergency shower or items stored on top of an eyewash sink. Ensure that the pathway is well lit and all directional signage is still in place and clearly visible.

Operatives also need to be fully briefed on the potential danger of the hazards within which they are working, they also need to be trained on how  to operate the  shower and also key items that should be checked routinely that might  prevent correct operation. Wastewater treatment workers, for  example, are in close contact with sewage, storm water and treatment chemicals. The hazards are therefore high. Workers need to know and understand exposure limits and what to do when it comes to decontaminating clothing and the body.

So, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure your emergency facilities are fit for purpose but most importantly you must make clear who is responsible for carrying out inspection, weekly testing, recording and maintenance. If there is anything wrong with the facility there must be a tagging process put in place whereby workers themselves can check that an emergency shower has been properly tested and report anything they believe to be unsafe. 

Janet Dickinson is operations manager, Showers & Eyebaths Services, St Helens, Merseyside, UK. www.safety-showers.com