A great misnomer of the safety industry is when emergency shower and eyewash equipment is referred to as “the safety shower.” People should consider it to be just what it is — emergency equipment.

The emergency shower is the last form of defense that workers have against serious injury or death when established safety procedures and protective equipment have failed to do their intended function or were improperly used or applied. To this end, proper selection, placement and maintenance of emergency eyewash and shower systems is imperative.


Selecting the product to meet the need is the first step towards successful use and maintenance of emergency equipment. ANSI standard Z358.1-2004 provides guidelines for selecting this equipment and when instituting a maintenance program in your facility. Consulting the MSDS of the substance identified as the hazardous material will also help identify the type of equipment that you can install.

The equipment selection process should begin by completing a hazard assessment to determine what water delivery appliances should be used. Some suggestions:

  • If the hazard is dust or particles that can cause discomfort to the eyes then basic eyewash stations are generally acceptable.

  • Aggressive materials like acids and caustics call for more extensive equipment such as deluge full-body showers with eye or face wash stations as combination units.

  • Any material aggressive to skin can also damage eye tissue; therefore in areas with these hazards present specify the face wash with a shower.

  • Ancillary devices like small bottles of eyewash flushing fluid should not be the primary use appliance, as they are too small and do not provide adequate flushing fluid over time for both eyes.

  • Drench hoses should not be used alone unless they are dual-nozzle units mounted in a free-standing position within the dimensional guideline from ANSI or the manufacturer, and are installed for hands-free operation.

  • Freeze protection of the equipment, if needed, is important. Consider and prepare for the effect that cold may have on equipment users. Full enclosures, heated if necessary, may be better than just protecting piping and valves from freezing.

  • Temperature control of the flushing fluid is also an important deliberation. While the adage “cold water is better than none” may hold true, using tepid water should be considered and done properly. The use of improper blending valves will only exacerbate the situation.


    Once the type of equipment is selected, the next issue should be the placement of the eyewash and shower. The ten-seconds-of-travel rule is generally accepted and listed in the appendix of the ANSI Z358.1 standard. This suggests that an adult person walking normally is at a 3.8 mph rate, and that the emergency equipment should be no more than 55 feet from the hazard. The equipment should be provided in easily accessible areas, free of clutter and highly visible to all workers. Avoid locating the device in the immediate spill area or the spray path of the hazard. Like a fire extinguisher, the emergency equipment should ideally be located towards an exit/entrance rather than an inaccessible area of the facility.

    In the placement process, take a good look around the selected area and consider the following:

  • Ensure that the safety of the worker using the equipment is not compromised by existing utilities or process equipment.

  • In an emergency situation, the worker may experience temporary vision impairment and disorientation, so bump hazards should be removed or guards installed around them.

  • Steam discharge piping should not be near the emergency equipment usage area.

  • No unprotected electrical appliances should be in the area.

  • Allow space for the affected worker, and an assisting coworker, to remove clothing and to use the emergency equipment to properly flush away the hazardous material from affected areas.

  • Leave room for emergency responders who may need access past the emergency shower.


    Maintenance issues for emergency equipment include:

  • Test plumbed equipment frequently to ensure that it works and that adequate flushing fluid is available. This can be especially important in facilities that are undergoing construction additions and renovations. It is not uncommon to find that water supplies have been lessened or even shut-off during these periods.

  • Conduct at least one full and detailed inspection of the equipment annually to make sure that fluid flow is adequate, that the equipment is dimensionally correct and that all components function properly.

  • A weekly activation of the equipment is highly recommended. This allows you to look for such deficiencies as loose actuators on the shower or eyewash, ease of operation of the valves, damaged or broken nozzles that may alter the fluid patterns or even pose possible injury threats to a potential user, excessive corrosion or rusting of piping and valves, and the location of proper signage. This is a good time to look for new threats that may impede use of the device, such as new temporary or permanent obstructions or even new electrical appliances that may have been poorly placed when installed.

  • Self-contained stations should be maintained differently. Activate the open-to-air gravity-fed eyewash units frequently, flushing small amounts of fluid and replacing it with fresh fluid until the scheduled servicing time. This is assuming that a preservative is used and that the manufacturer’s instructions on that additive are followed. The pressurized variety, including eyewash, drench hose and emergency showers, need to be visually checked and the fluids changed on a manufacturer’s recommended schedule.

  • Eyewashes with sealed solution cartridges should only be visually checked, but this should be extensive. All components should be verified for proper installation and operational readiness.

    Lastly, don’t forget training. Make sure that the potential users of shower and eyewash equipment know its location, how to use them and what to do for a coworker. Make them understand that holding the eyes open, directing water into the eyes and irrigating foreign materials from the eyes and off of the skin will be the issue — not just getting there. And back to where we started — this is emergency equipment and does not replace safety apparel and established procedures.