OHS Canada Magazine

Partners in Eye Protection

November 26, 2018
By Jeff Cottrill

Safety glasses can protect a worker’s eyes, but protective eyewear is not foolproof. When blinding dust or chemicals get into a worker’s eye, eyewash stations and emergency showers are needed to decontaminate a worker’s eyes or body immediately.

“We hope we never have to use it,” says Scott Gander, a Vancouver-based manufacturer’s agent for several companies that make eyewash and shower products. “If we need them, and if they are there, we are glad we have them.”Eyewash stations flush out eye irritants, while eyewash fluid is also available in portable bottles. But if a worker has been splashed with a hazardous substance that may harm the skin as well as the eyes, an emergency shower may be necessary.

Eyewash stations and emergency showers are, by and large, simple to operate. With eyewash, a worker positions the face directly in the path of the flushing fluid while holding the eyelids open with the hands, and a handle or switch typically activates the wash. “The user should roll their eyes around while they are positioned directly in the eyewash streams to effectively rinse the entire eye,” explains Ryan Pfund, senior product manager for emergency fixtures with Bradley Corporation in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

He adds that the worker should run eyes through the wash for at least 15 minutes to “increase the likelihood of a complete and successful treatment and minimize the possibility of inadvertently spreading hazardous material to other areas.”

Emergency or “drench” showers are similar to regular showers: the user pulls a handle while standing under the shower head for at least 15 minutes. Pfund says emergency showers are more suitable for body contaminants. He recommends a combination system that includes an eyewash station and a shower, which can be used to flush the eyes and rinse larger areas of the body simultaneously.

Proximity to the hazard is important when planning the location of a station or shower. Easy access to the eyewash or shower is also vital. That means the eyewash or shower should be located on the same level as the hazard with no steps, stairs or obstructions.

Choosing the right product is a combination of knowing a workplace’s specific risks, the characteristics of the materials that workers handle and the variety of products and design configurations available, according to Samantha Hoch, marketing communications strategist with Haws Corporation in Sparks, Nevada. A company should also consider whether the hazards stay in one location or are mobile and whether the facility has access to a continuous source of potable water.

Haws offers a variety of products, including combination units, portable eyewash stations and options with tempered fluid. Honeywell has pioneered 100 per cent sterile fluid cartridges and stations and gravity-fed eyewash products, while Bradley has a range of eyewash and shower products, including an enclosed safety shower that resembles a phone booth.


Gander says many eyewash and shower companies audit the work environment before an employer starts making purchasing decisions. Even without the formal audit, it is still important to do some form of hazard assessment.

“You want to be about 55 feet, or ten seconds, away from where the hazard is going to happen,” Gander says. “That might not always happen while there is no plumbing there. There are portable stations that are available to help you get to that next step.” When employers fail to consider the locations of hazards, it usually has more to do with ignorance than willful negligence, he adds.

While Pfund cautions against compromising worker safety to save money, it is worth noting the effect that material construction has on a product’s price. “Stainless will cost more than galvanized pipe, or plastic, but for some applications, it is necessary,” he says. “Bowl covers will cost a bit more, but are worth it to protect the bowl from unwanted debris or shavings.”

A company that purchases a system with wireless switches can reduce maintenance costs and stay in compliance with safety regulations, Hoch suggests. A wireless eyewash station or shower is easy to install and maintain. It can also initiate an immediate response from emergency personnel and sound an alarm without any wiring or electrical connectors, as well as keep detailed records of when stations are used, tested and maintained.


One of the implied responsibilities of installing emergency equipment is ensuring that a maintenance process is designed to keep safety showers, eyewash and associated system components functioning optimally and consistently. Hoch cites the standard provided by the American National Standards Institute, ANSI Z358.12014, as the proper guide.

Gander recommends checking emergency showers at least once a month and turning on the shower to make sure that it is functioning properly and not built up with sludge. If the shower has not been activated for several months when a worker needs to use it, what goes into the worker’s eyes may be even more harmful than the substance that is already contaminating them, he cautions.

While Canada does not have its own equivalent to the ANSI standard for eyewash and showers, Health Canada regulates emergency eyewash fluid, which is classified as a medical device or a natural health product. Although drug standards are distinct from workplace-safety legislation, it is important to ensure that the eyewash fluid itself is of top quality.

Manufacturers are improving the technology of eye-flushing mechanisms. They have also experimented more with fluid dynamics, or the science of fluids in motion and how to control their velocity, density and pressure.

“Fluid-dynamics technology is one of the most transformative technologies being used today in eyewashes and showers,” Pfund says. “The newest emergency-shower models apply fluid-dynamics technology that works together with a pressure-regulated flow control. The result is an integral and uniform flow of water,” which allows an all-inclusive spray pattern that washes contaminants quickly from the affected area of a user’s body, he adds.

Another area that has been improving the performance and lifespan of these products is ceramic-disc technology, Pfund notes “Water is controlled between two rotating ceramic discs that fit closely together to create a watertight seal and provide a precise 20-degree swing activation and deactivation, which helps reduce splashing before and after use. Ceramic-disc technology enables swing-activated technology to be highly durable and endure a lifetime of activations.”

Installing eyewash and emergency showers give workers the assurance that an accident would likely cause less damage than it otherwise might have.

Jeff Cottrill was the former assistant editor of OHS Canada.