Emergency fixtures are available with alarm systems that turn on when activated, alerting medical personnel and the safety team.

Given the dynamic nature of most industrial facilities, safety managers might feel like they’re aiming at moving targets when they seek to address the many variables that can lead to workplace hazards. Without question, the first line of defense is personal protection equipment (PPE). However, PPE is only effective when an employee selects the correct type and size and uses it consistently.

Since industrial workers still run the risk of injury, any comprehensive safety plan must also include emergency eyewash or drench showers anywhere there is a potential hazard from corrosives, toxic chemicals or flying debris. In fact, OSHA requires suitable drenching facilities in any area where the eyes or body may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials.

How can you determine whether an emergency fixture is needed and where it should be located? A thorough safety tour that includes a detailed walk-through of each workstation can help safety managers address hazards that can be dangerous and costly for both the worker and the organization.

Guidelines for evaluating job sites
During a walk-through, it is essential to reference the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z358.1–2004 emergency equipment standard. This standard outlines the specific requirements for emergency eyewash and drench shower equipment installation, testing, performance, maintenance, training and use.

ANSI requires that fixtures be installed within 10 seconds reach of each hazard, which translates to about 55 feet. The equipment must be on the same level at which the user is working and on the same level as the potential hazard. If there are any doors between the hazard and the fixture, the doors must swing in the direction of the worker’s travel. At sites with strong acids or caustics, the equipment should be placed immediately adjacent to where the exposure could occur.

Jobsite evaluations should not be a one-time event. Annual inspections are required to ensure that the right equipment is readily available and working.

Identify hazards
When evaluating hazards, think in terms of the following three categories:

1. Dangerous liquids— Many kinds of liquids, even those that may seem innocuous, can cause serious injuries to the face or eyes. Think of the acronym STUD to remember the different situations in which liquids can pose a threat in your workplace:
  • Storing
  • Transferring
  • Using
  • Disposing
Bleach, acids, boiler chemicals, pesticides and solvents are liquids commonly handled and stored. All require emergency washing equipment as part of an emergency preparedness plan. In thinking about your facility, is there a 55 gallon drum of a chemical being stored in the warehouse? What about cleaners on a shelf in a janitorial closet or a solvent used to clean equipment? AM

2. Activities that end in ‘ing’— Many hazards on worksites are related to actions. When employees are performing physical activities, debris and matter move around. Look for the different action verbs that end in ‘ing’ to identify potential hazards, such as:
  • Welding
  • Painting/staining
  • Chipping
  • Blowing
  • Oiling
  • Sanding
3. Activities where PPE is in use— If PPE is being used, it means there is a hazard which may require an emergency fixture within easy access. Employees in hazardous situations are required to wear ANSI-approved eye protection and clothing, but a worker could remove protective gear to leave a job site while co-workers are still working or could take off goggles to inspect something — and an injury occurs. Emergency fixtures can help treat and minimize injury when PPE fails or when people fail to use it.

Assess emergency needs
After identifying potential hazards, determine if the existing emergency equipment meets the facility’s needs or, if none is present, determine what type and how many emergency fixtures are needed. Workstations may need to be relocated when applications change, which is why re-evaluations are important.

Choose equipment based on the level of worker exposure and the number of workers affected. For example, evaluate a specific chemical and the process of using it to determine whether an eyewash, eye/face wash, drench shower or combination drench shower/ eyewash is most appropriate. In general:
  • Eyewash is effective for spills or splashes likely to affect only the eyes.
  • Eye/face wash is designed to be used when the entire face is at risk.
  • Drench showers are used to quickly flush a larger portion of the body but are not appropriate for the eyes.
  • Combination eyewash and drench showers are designed to flush the eyes and rinse larger areas of the body.
Workers sanding surfaces who are not wearing eye protection can easily get contaminants lodged in their eyes. This situation calls for plumbed or portable eyewash units. Individuals splashed with a corrosive chemical or exposed to an airborne toxic gas need access to a drench shower to rinse their entire body. If both the eyes and body are at risk, make sure a combination drench shower and eyewash is available.

Injuries to the eye are the most common preventable cause of blindness. The first few seconds of an emergency are critical because after 10 seconds of contact, the chances for a full eye recovery are slim. Therefore, immediately flushing the eyes at an ANSI-compliant eyewash station is crucial.

Eliminate obstacles and obstructions
Ideally, emergency equipment will be used infrequently, but this infrequent use often leads to the area being used for storage, thus creating clutter that prohibits workers from quickly reaching the equipment. Be sure to remove any objects that block the emergency station and check that fixtures are easily identified. Draw attention to emergency fixtures by applying brightly colored tape on the floor to mark off the area or by painting footsteps on the floor leading to the unit.

ANSI mandates that areas containing emergency fixtures be well-lighted and specifies that each fixture must have a highly visible sign for quick identification. Selecting fixtures with a safety-yellow coating helps ensure visibility in an emergency.

Consulting with a third-party safety consultant and/or an emergency equipment product manufacturer can also help eliminate obstacles standing in the way of a solid safety plan. Some manufacturers conduct free job-site evaluations to assist with ANSI compliance issues. Meeting with experts and implementing a strategy for installing, maintaining, testing and training employees about equipment use can provide valuable peace of mind for all.