Safety Shower and Eye Wash
University of Kansas
Environment, Health and Safety
Eye washes and safety showers are two examples of emergency systems used to protect employees from injury in case of contact with hazardous chemicals, chemical compounds or fire. Proper use of this equipment lessens your chances of permanent or severe injury.
Why use emergency safety equipment when exposed to harmful chemicals? Equipment such as safety showers and eye wash stations lessen or minimize accidental exposures. Although regulations and standards, personal protective equipment (PPE), and safety training are used, accidents still happen. Remember: PPE does not reduce or eliminate the hazard but reduces the risks of harmful exposure to hazardous substances.
Generally, it takes more than 15 minutes or longer to get medical treatment to accidents involving hazardous chemicals. These injuries can be especially severe, so time is critical to minimize the harmful effects of hazardous substances. How does safety equipment like showers and eye washes accomplish this? They minimize injuries by four methods.
Dilution—diluting the chemicals that are on the skin or in the eyes to a non-harmful level.
Warming/cooling—warming or cooling the body or eyes because of a change in temperature due to chemical exposure.
Irrigation—flushing the chemicals out of the eyes or off the skin.
Extinguishment—putting out fires of clothing on the body.
The KU Laboratory Safety Manual defines Safety Equipment as: "...specialty devices or equipment that are used to enhance the protection of personal safety. Some are used in a proactive manner and others in reactive manner because of an emergency." (3.7)
Safety equipment systems are provided for users in case of accidental chemical exposures while working in your lab. These types can include: Safety (or Emergency) Showers, eye wash or Personal eye wash stations, Eye/face wash, Hand-held drench hose, Combination unit, Plumbed unit, and Self-contained unit.
(KU Laboratory Safety Manual 3.7.2)
Safety Shower (left)-- a unit that enables a user to have water cascading over the entire body. This unit is used for general irrigation of the body and although it can be used to rinse the face, the unit is not meant for flushing of the eyes.
Combination unit (lower right)--combines a shower with an eye wash or eye/face wash, or with a drench hose, or with both into one assembly.
Hand-held drench hose (lower left)--a flexible hose connected to a water supply and used to irrigate and flush eyes, face, and body areas. This can be used by another person to flush eyes while the victim holds them open.
Safety showers and eye wash systems should be within easy reach and every employee should know how to use them, because safety equipment may not be totally protective in all in circumstances. As we have learned, time is of the essence when it comes to chemical exposures.
OSHA has set standards that address emergency equipment locations and accessibility. According to ANSI Z358.1-2004, eye wash and safety shower facilities must be within 100 feet or 10 seconds of an employee's reach. If the chemical is left in the eye or on the body for even seconds too long, permanent scarring may result. Therefore, the most important step in treatment is getting to the eye wash or shower as quickly as possible and getting the affected area washed thoroughly before the chemical can cause further damage.
Eye wash and safety shower facilities should be located free of ANY obstacles and readily accessible. They should NOT be separated from the hazard site by a wall or partition that would cause an employee to go through a doorway. If the shower or eye wash is located in a usual traffic pattern or conspicuous place, it will be easier to reach when needed. Make sure to locate the shower and eye wash and their controls where they will NOT be blocked or contaminated by other materials also. (KU LSM 188.8.131.52)
Supervisors must properly instruct and train employees in the use of eye wash and safety showers regardless of how experienced you might be around hazardous chemicals. Directions for use of safety equipment should be written, available and frequently reviewed. All emergency equipment training should be simplified so that there is only one emergency procedure that must be followed whenever eye washes and safety showers are needed.
As mentioned earlier, timing is critical to avoid long-term injuries from toxic or corrosive substances. All training should ensure that each person is familiar with controls and operating devices of each emergency equipment unit. Because the muscles of the eyes react quickly and strongly to chemicals, it is almost impossible to keep the eyes open for irrigation purposes. For this reason, the ANSI standard requires that valves be located so that they can be turned on easily and will remain operating until effort is made to turn them off.
Training should emphasize that an injured employee may need assistance in reaching the shower or eye wash and in getting medical attention. Therefore, fellow employees should know how to assist and contact medical help, whether they work directly with chemicals or not.
The following slides will give you some guidelines for proper use and maintenance of safety shower and eye wash systems.
Eye wash stations are provided in university laboratories for users in case of accidental chemical exposures while working in your lab. (KU LSM 184.108.40.206)
Eye wash stations should be located within 10 seconds of your work area. If you accidentally get something in your eyes, go directly to the eye wash and flush your eyes with water for 15 minutes. Be sure to hold your eyes open with your fingers and "look" directly into the water streams. DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES! Rubbing your eyes may scratch or embed particles into your eyes. Once you have flushed your eyes with water, seek medical attention immediately.
CAUTION: Some chemicals are water reactive and become toxic when mixed with water. Talk with your lab supervisor or safety manager about the chemicals you will be using. Make sure to become familiar with and thoroughly understand the Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all chemicals used in your job.
Eye wash (above)--is a unit that supplies fluid to irrigate and flush the eyes.
Eye/face wash (right)--is a device that is used to irrigate and flush both the face and the eyes.
Personal eye wash--is a supplementary eye wash that supports plumbed units, self-contained units, or both by delivering immediate flushing for less than 15 minutes. The major difference between self-contained or plumbed and personal eye wash equipment is that the self-contained or plumbed unit must have at least a 15-minute supply of water while the personal units have less than a 15-minute supply. (Plumbed units are permanently connected to a potable water source.) Personal eye wash units are used on the site for immediate flushing and while the victim is moved to another unit. Irrigation should continue once the victim reaches the other unit.
Self-contained unit (below)--A self-contained unit is an eye wash station that is not permanently installed and must be refilled or replaced after use. Typical self-contained units are gravity-fed and have a 15-minute supply.
As you have learned, locating and understanding the types of safety showers and eye washes and knowing how to use them while on the job is critical. Use of this equipment in conjunction with PPE, will reduce your risk of being injured by hazardous or toxic materials. Now that you have an understanding of different types and uses of laboratory safety equipment, you must complete a quiz (with a score of 90% or better) and print out a certificate of completion for this module to receive credit. Good luck!
You have completed the EHS Safety Shower and Eye Wash module. You should meet with your supervisor to go over information specific to your unit, your job, and the hazards to which you may be exposed.
If you have any questions or concerns please contact the KU-EHS Department.
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