person washing eyes under an eyewash station attached to a sink

Designing for Safety with Emergency Eyewashes and Shower Devices 

Consider these factors when selecting an emergency eyewash or shower device for your workplace. 

The intrinsic need for using emergency eyewashes and shower devices within industrial settings is real and can’t be underestimated. Industrial worksites are dynamic by nature and full of variables that can change daily. Potential worksite hazards involving harmful chemicals, dusty conditions and flammable materials present fluctuating serious risks for exposure and challenges to both employees and employers.  

Work-related statistics help illustrate various risks of hazardous exposure:  

  • American workers come into contact with tens of thousands of chemicals on the job daily, as estimated by OSHA
  • In 2020, exposure to harmful substances or environments resulted in 424,360 nonfatal injuries and illnesses involving days away from work, and 672 fatalities, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).
  • Each day, about 2,000 U.S. workers sustain a job-related eye injury that requires medical treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

Plumbed safety devices like eyewash stations and emergency showers help prevent permanent eye and skin damage from chemical burns or foreign substances generated by grinding, hammering, chipping, testing, pouring, storing, transporting and disposing operations.  

Know Your Hazards and Emergency Eyewash/Shower Options  

To begin the selection process of emergency eyewash and shower equipment, start by identifying potential hazards in the workplace setting. OSHA uses the term “hazardous chemical” to describe which substances require safety data sheets (SDSs) in your worksite. OSHA defines “hazardous chemical” as “any chemical that poses either a physical hazard (such as flammability) or a health hazard (such as causing damage to the skin or eyes).”  

SDSs for hazardous substances should be carefully reviewed to ensure the proper protection and safety plan is in place. Plumbed equipment should be selected based on the type and level of potential exposure to people and how many individuals could be affected. General guidelines for equipment selection include:  

  • Emergency eyewash stations  
  • Effective for spills, splashes, dust or debris likely to affect only the eyes  
  • Provide a controlled flow of water to both eyes simultaneously  
  • Deliver an uninterrupted, 15-minute supply of tepid water. Plumbed units can supply a greater volume of water available—between two and five gallons (7.5 and 19.0 liters) per minute (gpm)  
  • Emergency eye/face wash stations  
  • Used when the entire face is at risk from spills, splashes, dust and debris  
  • Irrigate the eyes and face simultaneously  
  • Provide a large distribution pattern of water (minimum 3.0 gpm/11.4 lpm) to Effectively rinse the entire face  
  • Drench showers  
  • Used when larger areas of the body are at risk  
  • Flush a larger portion of the body but are not appropriate for the eyes (a combination eyewash and drench shower may be used to simultaneously flush the eyes and rinse larger areas of the body)  
  • Non-plumbed, self-contained eyewash fixtures  
  • When there is no access to a plumbed water source, self-contained units can be used  
  • Water tanks deliver a minimum of 0.4 gpm for a minimum of 15 minutes  
  • Systems can be portable and gravity fed  

The Importance of Time in an Emergency  

For the best outcome, it is crucial to gain access to an emergency eyewash or shower within the first few seconds of eye or skin exposure. Time is clearly of the essence in stopping the exposure, alleviating discomfort and pain and preventing further or permanent facial and bodily damage. That is why an eyewash or drench shower must be located within 10 seconds of the hazard, per ANSI/ISEA Z358.1–2014 American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment, so the injured person can quickly and easily reach the plumbed fixture to immediately drench affected areas.  

To encourage a full and effective flush of the affected area, whether it’s with an eyewash or drench shower, it’s essential—and required—to have direct and on-demand access to tepid water. ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 stipulates that an injured worker remains beneath the drench shower and/or flush their eyes/face for a minimum of 15 minutes to increase the likelihood of a complete and successful treatment and minimize the possibility of inadvertently spreading hazardous material to other areas.  

New Models Improve Washdown Coverage  

Manufacturers are continuously looking for new ways to enhance eyewash station and shower technology, as well as systems for heating water commensurate with the ANSI/ISEA standard.  

The newest generation of emergency fixtures is designed to deliver a more uniform and complete spray pattern distribution. Older shower designs push the flow of water to the outer rim of the showerhead, creating a hollow space in the center of the pattern that can miss affected areas.  

Using the latest technology in fluid dynamics, new drench shower designs work in tandem with a pressure-regulated flow control and the spinning motion of water, which creates an optimal spray pattern to rinse off contaminants as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The contoured shape combined with the spinning water funnels the water into a concentrated, yet gentle deluge to ensure the most effective flush available.  

New eye/face wash designs using this new technology can ensure water is dispersed to all areas of the face including the forehead, temples and chin. These new types of eye/face washes provide 20 percent better washdown protection than other designs.  

For tight workspaces, a new eyewash model combines a sink faucet with an eyewash built-in for emergency eyewash use, offering a highly efficient and convenient space-saving solution. During regular faucet use, the eyewash is stored out of the way. In an emergency, the eyewash is immediately activated when it is swung out 90 degrees over the sink. When the eyewash is activated, the swing-activated design ensures that the faucet moves out of the way, positioning the eyewash directly over the sink and allowing clear access to the fixture.  

Ensuring Steady On-Demand Tepid Water Temperature  

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to provide reliable on-demand tepid water for flushing fluid, which helps encourage a full 15-minute flush of the injured area. Both thermostatic mixing valves and electric tankless water heaters can deliver tepid water reliably and efficiently.  

According to the current revision of ANSI/ISEA Z358.1, water supplied to eyewash and drench showers needs to be potable and tepid. Tepid water is defined as 60 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 16 to 38 degrees Celsius. This temperature will need to be consistent throughout the entire 15-minute drench.  

The cold supply may seem warm enough at first activation because the water in the supply line is at room temperature, but over the 15-minute drench, it will likely turn to a colder ground water temperature. Some may incorrectly expect that cold water will be sufficient for eyewash or drench shower fixtures, but the flushing fluid needs to be delivered at a comfortable lukewarm temperature that is not harmful to the user. If the water is too cold or hot, the user is much less likely to withstand the full 15-minute flush.  

Supplementary Equipment for Emergency Eyewashes and Showers  

To augment eyewash and shower safety, consider using an emergency signaling system, which helps to quickly alert and mobilize emergency response teams to affected personnel who are using emergency safety showers and eye and eye/face wash fixtures. Customizable alarm systems provide distinctive light and sound features that immediately alert safety personnel when an emergency occurs to improve response time.  

A final word: Emergency equipment manufacturers offer free job site evaluations to help with the placement of fixtures, ANSI compliance, product selection, equipment maintenance and testing and employee training. It’s a good idea to get an outside expert’s perspective to help you stay on top of inevitable worksite changes that may impact the proper usage and effectiveness of your emergency equipment.  

This article originally appeared in the March 1, 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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