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Preparing for the Worst: Maintaining Critical Emergency Equipment

An emergency is a sudden unforeseen crisis (usually involving danger) that requires urgency.  The Mirriam-Webster Medical Dictionary goes on to say that it is a “distressing event or condition that can often be anticipated or prepared for but seldom exactly foreseen.”          This is why it is critical to plan

     An emergency is a sudden unforeseen crisis (usually involving danger) that requires urgency.  The Mirriam-Webster Medical Dictionary goes on to say that it is a “distressing event or condition that can often be anticipated or prepared for but seldom exactly foreseen.”   

      This is why it is critical to plan ahead and take the necessary steps to protect employees.  Ask yourself the following:  Are you confident that employees in your facility will know what do in an emergency?  Are the best emergency solutions in place to protect employees?  If emergency equipment has been installed, will it perform properly during a crisis?  If you did not answer “yes” to each of these questions, workers’ safety is probably at risk.

      While many plants have now installed the required emergency showers and eyewash fixtures, not everyone is adhering to a maintenance schedule or frequently training employees in how to use the equipment. In some plants, access to emergency fixtures is obstructed. 

Emergency Fixture Plan
      To help ensure that your emergency fixtures work should an emergency occur, follow these steps:   
     Evaluate Job Sites: Evaluate all job-site locations.  Some emergency equipment manufacturers offer free job-site evaluations and can be instrumental in assessing potential problems.  If a work site now uses chemicals or gases that could irritate or severely burn skin or eyes, for example, the recommendation might be to install a combination drench shower and eyewash unit.  A lone drench shower or single eyewash station might be insufficient if a contamination or chemical spill occurs.

      The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z358.1-2004 emergency equipment standard requires that fixtures be installed within 10-secs. reach of each hazard.  Based on average walking speed, that translates to about 55 ft.  At sites where strong acids or caustics are used, place the equipment immediately adjacent to where the exposure could occur. The equipment should be on the same level as the potential hazard.

     Eliminate Obstacles and Obstructions: Ideally, emergency equipment will be used infrequently.  Unfortunately, that can mean that the area surrounding the equipment becomes cluttered or gets used for storing equipment.  Not only do these obstructions prohibit workers from getting to the equipment quickly, in some situations, workers may not even be aware that the emergency equipment exists. 
      Be sure to remove any boxes or other objects that could block the emergency station, and check that fixtures are easily identified.  One idea to draw attention to the emergency fixtures is to apply brightly colored tape on the floor to mark off the area around the unit.  Another approach is to apply painted footsteps on the floor that leads to the unit.

      ANSI mandates that areas containing emergency fixtures be well-lighted, and specifies that each fixture has a highly visible sign for quick identification.  Selecting fixtures with a safety-yellow coating helps ensure that they will be easy to locate in an emergency.  Yellow is the most visible of all colors and is the first color the human eye notices. 

     Train Employees: A key element in plant site safety is ensuring that employees understand what to do if they experience or witness an emergency.  That’s why its vital to train all employees to deal with the all the possible risks and hazards at their job site. Clarify what someone should do if he or she is injured, and explain how they should assist injured workers in reaching and using the equipment.  Remind them that if workers are splashed with chemicals, they should remove any contaminated clothing and flush the affected body or eye areas for a full 15 mins. 

     Testing: In addition to training employees in how to respond to an emergency, the other key component to emergency readiness is regular testing to ensure that emergency equipment is in good working order.  Testing also ensures that plumbing systems can support all drench showers or eyewash units, and that they will function when needed.  

      If an employee will be responsible for routine testing, conduct a walk-through to ensure that that employee understands the testing procedures and has the necessary manuals and information to maintain a test program.  Emphasize the importance of keeping written documentation for all testing and inspections. This record would be important should an emergency occur and OSHA becomes involved.  
     Weekly Testing: ANSI requires plumbed units be activated once a week. 
     Weekly activation will help:
     • Verify that water is flowing to the unit
     • Flush out any sediment or rust buildup
     • Decrease the possibility of microbial contamination from sitting water
     • Keep the plumbing system lubricated and ready for use in an emergency
     • Provide an opportunity for a quick visual inspection of the equipment

      To conduct the weekly test, simply turn on the water and close the valves.  Visually inspect pipes and the floor around the unit for any leaks.  Next, reopen the valve; it should remain open without requiring the user to touch the unit to keep the flow going.  Finally, remember to log testing and inspections.

     Portable Unit Testing: Test portable self-contained equipment according to ANSI guidelines, along with the manufacturer’s instructions.  Portable units need not be activated weekly.  Instead, consult the manufacturer’s instructions and visually inspect them to determine if flushing fluid needs to be changed.  Be sure to check bottle eyewash stations and replace any bottles that are past the expiration date or that have been opened.  Because they are no longer sterile, they should not be used.

     Annual Testing and Maintenance: In addition to weekly testing, ANSI also requires that plumbed drench showers and eyewashes be given a more comprehensive testing every year.  In conducting the annual inspections, appoint a safety inspector or member of the facility staff who is not involved with the weekly testing. This lets a fresh set of eyes look for any potential problems that might have been overlooked.  Keep a few tools on hand for these annual inspections – an eyewash testing gauge, tape measure, thermometer, shower tester with bucket, and a watch with a second hand.  Some key functions to monitor:

     1. Watch the clock to make sure the proper flow rate and velocity are maintained.  For both drench showers and eyewashes, a minimum water pressure of 30 PSI should be supplied to the unit.  It must also satisfy the ANSI minimum flow standard, which is at least 20 GPM for drench showers, 0.4 GPM for eyewashes and 3.0 GPM for eye and face washes.  Water supply to the unit must be sufficient to support a full 15-min. flow of flushing fluid. 

     2. Be sure the unit activates in one second or less.  The valve should open and stay open until it is manually turned off.

     3. Check water temperature.  ANSI specifies that the system must deliver a 15-min. flow of “tepid” (between 60 degs. F and 100 degs F) water to all drench showers and eyewashes at the same time. 

     4. Verify fixture height.  Check the distance from where the user stands to the showerhead of a drench shower – it should be between 82-in. and 96-in.  For eyewash units, the top of eyewash spray head should be between 33-in. and 45-i. from the floor.

     5. Visually inspect all components.  Look for leaking or corrosion on pipes.  Be sure dust caps, identification signs, push handl