The $124,000 fine slapped against Vale Canada Limited in February for its failure to provide ready access to emergency-eyewash equipment and resulting in a worker’s permanent eye injury in 2016 is a cautionary tale not only of the importance of providing rinsing facilities in workplaces containing hazardous materials. It also demonstrates emergency-rinsing facilities as one of the frequently overlooked personal protective equipment (PPE).
Chemical-exposure injury is a major problem in Canadian workplaces, accounting for an average of 2,500 lost-time claims per year and thousands of lost-time days. “There are almost 50 fatalities every year in Canada as a result of short- and long-term exposure to aggressive chemicals in the workplace,” says David Wootten, Prevor Canadian product manager with Levitt-Safety Ltd. in Oakville, Ontario.
According to Justin Dunn, sales product specialist and trainer with Haws Corporation in Sparks, Nevada, the most common misconceptions surrounding emergency eyewash or showers are they do not need regular maintenance and testing is not required. “While the hope is that this equipment will never have to be used, facilities should operate like an emergency could happen at any moment,” Dunn says.
He cited Haws’ survey program, which examined data from thousands of sites and inspections of emergency eyewash stations and showers. Results indicate that 88 per cent of units are not compliant with ANSI Z358.1 due to a lack of regular testing, incorrect equipment for the type of hazard present and improper installation of the equipment.
“Emergency equipment is often installed and forgotten, and training is rarely done to educate employees on how and when to use this equipment, due to personnel constraints or lack of education on the dangers of faulty equipment,” Dunn says.
Flow rates and temperatures are frequently the issue. “Emergency safety showers and eyewashes are often discounted as a piece of safety equipment that is not used daily,” suggests Jason Atkinson, safety specialist with Acklands Grainger Inc. in Burnaby, British Columbia.
With that perception comes compliance challenges. Atkinson points out that tepid water was introduced into the ANSI standard in 2008 to ensure a minimum 15-minute irrigation. “Trying to meet this bench mark with cold water is impossible. Today, an estimated 60 per cent of the market has not complied with this requirement,” Atkinson adds.
As well, the weekly activation of a plumbed shower and eyewash station along with an annual inspection to ensure that the safety appliance meets performance guidelines is not being met. “The end user has a one-in-four chance that the safety shower and eyewash will work safely if needed in an emergency,” he adds.
As immediate flushing after an incident is critical to minimize the extent of harm to an exposed victim, the accessibility and proper function of emergency eyewash stations and showers are critical. The ANSI Z358.1 standard, which helps to determine the design, installation and performance of emergency rinsing facilities, specifies 1.68 metres or 10 seconds as an acceptable distance from the hazard to ensure that the equipment is within a victim’s easy reach.
“We suggest that the more dangerous the hazard is, the closer the equipment should be,” Dunn advises.
The quantity of rinsing facilities required in a workplace is determined by the number of potential victims that may need first aid in the area surrounding the hazard. For most hazards, a single combination shower is sufficient. “But if the contamination could affect more than one person in the vicinity, then multiple pieces of equipment should be considered,” Dunn says.
For workplaces located in remote areas with limited or no water supply, many types of first-aid showers and eyewashes — most of which are self-contained emergency equipment — are available. This type of equipment is often portable, but can be permanent. A gravity-fed or air-charged tank that holds enough water for a 15-minute flush is optimal. According to Dunn, a bacteriostatic preservative is used in the water to ensure that the water is kept clean and usable for months on end.
For locations with freezing temperatures that are too cold for normal eyewash stations, Haws offers specialized freeze-resistant equipment to prevent malfunctions, “but the testing requirements remain the same,” Dunn says.
For example, the Haws 7501T is a compact, portable tempered eyewash unit suited for remote locations without access to a continuous potable water source. The 34-litre gravity-fed eyewash station uses a heated, insulated blanket to provide ANSI-compliant tempered potable water in operating temperatures ranging between -30°C and 38°C. The unit features an FDA approved high-density polyethylene tank that is activated by pulling the yellow activation arm down to the open position. Its light design and mounted bracket permit easy relocation, while a wide-fill opening with threaded cap makes it easy to inspect, clean and fill.
One aspect that is often overlooked when it comes to emergency eyewash stations and shower facilities is maintenance. The ANSI standard requires that an emergency eyewash station be inspected weekly to ensure its proper function, while testing cleans out the water line between the equipment and the water supply to prevent the growth of hazardous bacteria in the pipes.
For self-contained equipment, only a visual test is required as activation will diminish the amount of water in the tank necessary to sustain a mandated minimal 15-minute flush. Dunn says a self-contained eyewash station needs to be cleaned out regularly every 90 days to prevent bacteria growth in the tank.
Annual testing should be conducted to determine an eyewash unit’s overall performance. Designated workers should be trained on how to properly perform the weekly and annual testing and maintenance to ensure that both the shower and eyewash operate simultaneously and independently, eyewash sprays are installed at the proper height and the water is within the tepid range of 15.5°C to 37.7°C.
Alternatively, service providers like Haws Services can be hired to perform these tests. “By outsourcing a team to perform the necessary weekly and annual testing, it allows facility managers to focus on day-to-day operations with the confidence that their emergency equipment will work properly in case of an emergency,” Dunn adds.
Employees should also be trained on where emergency eyewashes and showers are located and how to use them. “Most often, we find that equipment isn’t performing because no one in the facility knows how it should perform,” Atkinson says.
In the event that eye exposure to corrosive materials has occurred, the proper response is to move the victim to the nearest safety shower or eyewash station immediately and start irrigating the face and/or body. A pair of Tyvek coveralls should be made available for use after irrigation since all contaminated clothing must be removed. If the victim’s sight has been compromised, the victim should call for help on the way to get help locating an eyewash station. Emergency showers and eyewash stations must be marked with highly visible signs in all areas.
“It’s 2019 and time to rethink our approach to how we manage corrosive chemical injuries,” Wootten says. “Engineering away these risks, proper training and wearing the right PPE are critical to preventing serious injuries or illness caused by dangerous chemicals.”
Jean Lian is editor of OHS Canada.