There’s an old saying that the ‘tail should never wag the dog’ and sometimes, in the increasingly litigious world of workplace health and safety, we need to take a step back and consider if the drive for compliance to standards is driving emergency safety showers and eye/facewash manufacturers to develop their products to meet standards rather than the needs of a casualty in an emergency situation.

Leading manufacturers in the USA and throughout the world continue to evolve products and methods for decontamination that meet standards set by the industry’s governing bodies, an important qualification for manufacturers to be even considered as a viable supplier to operators and specifiers working in hazardous environments.

But standards are by their nature, ‘standard’ and for those of us that work every day in an industry striving to offer better protection in workplaces where accidents are anything but ‘standard’, this drive to exclusively and solely meet compliance such as ANSI Z358.1 can restrict the innovative thinking and ground-breaking engineering designs that led the early development of decontamination equipment.

Many industrial sectors such as oil, gas, chemical, petrochemical, waste management, food processing, steel, mining, pharmaceutical, construction and many more are now considered hazardous workplaces, yet the hazards workers are exposed to and the contaminant materials involved vary hugely.

So is it right to assume that one set of standards will meet every need and one type of drench shower or eyewash equipment will meet those needs just because it flows water at the right rate, the right temperature and is within easy reach of a potential hazard?

It is estimated that the USA treats around 100,000 cases of eye injuries every year. In the UK, the world-renowned Royal Manchester Eye Hospital treats around 40,000 cases in the North West region alone. So despite all our efforts accidents continue to happen and the need for effective rapid decontamination is essential.

In a study of the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital statistics it was estimated over 90% of cases seen were from dust and particle contamination to the eye rather than aggressive chemical liquids. This may well be a result of better health and safety education and mandatory practices for wearing safety goggles or glasses where risks are high. But it also highlights that industries considered less hazardous, such as general construction, where contamination from dust and plasterwork contribute to such a high number of cases.

Speak to the eye surgeons and consultants and they will say the best decontamination practice in this case is water, water and lots of it along with quick response times. Also, keeping the eye flushed for as long as possible prior to full medical support being available.

This has given rise to more portable drench showers and eye/facewash equipment being developed and utilized in an increasingly wide number of industries. Hughes Safety Showers, based in Houston, TX and Sarnia, ON in North America have seen a huge increase in sales of portable units such as the STD-40K and the ANSI Compliant 2000L Bowser. While the introduction of EyeAid, a hand held saline canister specifically designed to hold the eye open for effective flushing, has gained popularity as a quick and handy emergency tool that can even be worn by workers on a belt clip. Use of the EyeAid canister has proven especially effective at treating casualties continuously even during transit from the site of the accident to available medical support.

Manufacturers talk a lot about water flow, flow pressure, flow direction and even flow type with the ‘laminar flow vs aerated’ water benefits argument constantly debated between makers and users of eye face wash products.

Aerators introduce air into the water stream to produce a larger and whiter stream, soft to the touch and non-splashing. Aerated water is delivered at safe flow rates and it is claimed that bubbles created via the air mix also act as a scrubbing agent to improve decontamination performance. The softer action of aerated water does not diminish the decontamination effect and can make it easier and more comfortable for casualties to stay in position for longer without enduring the full force of water flow. The softer aerated water is claimed to be most effective in flushing contaminates away from the face and nose as it does not force contaminants deeper into soft mucous membranes.

Laminar flow eye/facewash systems, as favored by Haws and others, offer an alternative to aerated water delivering water in parallel layers at low velocity, with little disruption between layers. This creates the impression of faster flowing water but without turbulence so can be suited to some eye/facewash applications.

Water direction for eye face wash systems is another topic of some debate. The direction of the water pushes contaminates away from where the eye meets nasal cavities via the Lacrimal Duct at the inner corner of the eye socket. But others in the industry are less sure of these benefits. The Lacrimal Duct does provide access to the sinus and nasal cavities, but when the eye is opened, as it must be during effective decontamination, the duct remains closed, naturally stopping unwanted contaminants access.

The clinicians really have the last say here; not the manufacturers, not the policy makers or the compliance advisors. The best way to decontaminate is with tempered water, water, more water and rapid access to it.

The ANSI Z358.1 2014 standards are due another review and upgrade in 2019 and now the committee that contributes to the policies, which includes manufacturers, safety advisers and industry users, continue to push performance of products and their effectiveness in all kinds of hazardous workplaces.

Until then let us remember the 1000’s of US workers who every day face potential hazards and ensure that our choice of Emergency Safety Showers and Eye/FaceWash equipment considers the needs of the worker and the conditions of the workplace above and beyond the demands of the policy makers.