Health and Safety guidelines surrounding hazardous substances and decontamination can often be vague. Guidelines often recommend the provision of ‘hygiene facilities’ or ‘washing facilities’ to ensure potentially harmful substances are removed before a worker moves on to another task or finishes work for the day. However, an ordinary shower or sink is not always enough to achieve complete decontamination, especially in the event of an accidental spill or splash.
Where a substance can cause harm or severe irritation to skin or eyes, it’s imperative that a specifically designed safety shower or eye/face wash is provided to effectively wash off the contaminant in the event of an accident or to clean off PPE when finishing work with a hazardous substance.
It is recommended that you check the safety data sheets of chemicals and materials that your workers may encounter to assess the decontamination set-up required.
Both EN15154 and the internationally recognised American National Standard, ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 provide uniform minimum requirements for the performance, use, installation, testing, maintenance and training of emergency safety shower and eyewash equipment.
So, what does a safety shower or eye/face wash do that standard washing facilities cannot?
- Spray pattern
The spray pattern of a safety shower or eye/face wash is designed to provide full coverage of the eyes, face or body for quick removal of hazardous chemicals in the event of an accidental spillage
According to EU and International standards, safety showers shall “provide a spray pattern with a minimum diameter of 50.8cm (20 in) at 152.4cm (60 in) from the floor” (Section 4.4.1, 4.4.2) and “provide a flushing column of at least 208.3cm (82 in) and no more than 243.8cm (96 in) from the standing surface” (Section 4.1.3, 4.4.1, 4.5.4) These stipulations can only be met by specifically designed safety showers.
- Flow rate
, A consistent flow rate must be met, and for a specific amount of time, to effectively decontaminate a casualty.
Standards require that safety showers deliver a minimum of 76 litres (20 US gallons) per minute of potable water for up to 15 minutes and eye/face wash units deliver 11.4 litres (3 US gallons) per minute for up to 15 minutes.
- Operation and activation
Activation of a safety shower must be simple. The valve must go from ‘off’ to ‘on’ in 1 second or less and remain open without the use of the operator’s hands until intentionally closed.
- Water temperature
Water delivered by the emergency safety equipment should be tepid, between 16-38C (60-100F). At temperatures above 38C (100F) there is the added danger of scalding and increased absorption of harmful chemicals into the skin. Prolonged exposure to water below 16C (60F) increases the risk of thermal shock or hypothermia and prevents the casualty using the shower to decontaminate effectively for the full 15 minutes.
Certain chemicals must be washed off at a specific temperature, for example, ammonia decontamination requires a temperature between 25C-30C.
Safety showers can be fitted with alarms (visual, audible or both) to notify others when they are activated. This measure ensures that responders are alerted to aid a casualty and contain a spill if required.
- Combination units
When using an ordinary shower, it would be difficult to ensure that your eyes are safely clear of contaminant at the same time you are flushing it from your clothes and body. Combination safety shower and eye/face wash units enable simultaneous decontamination at the correct flow rate and spray pattern.
Whilst standard hygiene facilities have their place as part of workplace health and safety, in the case of hazardous substances they cannot replace the efficiency and effectiveness of precisely designed emergency safety showers and eye/face wash equipment.
It is important to meet the minimum requirements, which may be mandatory on some sites, of International and European standards, although it is worth noting that this is not a legal requirement.
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