How to Use Eyewashes and Safety Showers

In today’s industries, many safety precautions and types of emergency equipment must be used to protect the health of employees. Although regulations and standards, personal protective equipment, and safety training are used, accidents still happen. Accidents involving hazardous chemicals can be especially severe. Employees who manufacture hazardous chemical products are at risk, of course. Hazardous chemicals can also affect people who work in food industries, or with cleaning solutions, and in manufacturing industries and service establishments.

Eyewashes and safety showers were developed in response to the increased use of hazardous chemicals. Eyewashes and safety showers are emergency systems used in both public and private industries to protect an employee from injury in case of contact with hazardous chemicals, chemical compounds, or fire. Emergency showers and eyewash stations provide on-the-spot decontamination. They allow workers to flush away hazardous chemicals that can cause injury. The four basic ways these safety systems are used include:

  1. Dilution - diluting the chemicals that are on the skin or in the eyes to a non-harmful level.
  2. Warming/cooling - warming or cooling the body or eyes because of a change in temperature due to chemical exposure.
  3. Irrigation - flushing the chemicals out of the eyes or off the skin.
  4. Extinguishment - putting out fires of clothing on the body

There are various eyewashes available on the market. They are divided into installed and portable units. Plumbed units must have a water supply. The flow should be provided to both eyes simultaneously. Plumbed and self-contained units must perform as follows:

  • Eyewash: 0.4 gpm for 15 minutes;
  • Eye/face wash: 3 gpm for 15 minutes.

The difference between the eye and eye/face wash is the size of the nozzle and spray pattern. The unit has to be installed between 33 inches and 45 inches above ground level and 6 inches away from the wall. There must be enough room to allow the eyelids to be held open with the hands while the eyes are in the flushing water stream.

Since the nozzles face upward to operate properly, dust and other contaminants could fall into the openings, clogging them or providing a breeding area. Therefore, the nozzles have to be protected in such a way as to not require a separate movement to remove them when the unit is activated.

Personal Eyewash equipment is supposed to provide immediate flushing without injuring the user. The products can be used to support plumbed or self-contained eyewashes, but may not supplant them. The key requirement is that instructions and the expiration date must be permanently marked on the containers. Inspection and maintenance must conform to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Handheld Drench hoses can be used to irrigate the user’s person’s eyes, face, or body and should provide a flow rate of at least 3 gpm for 15 minutes. They are designed to support emergency showers and eyewashes, but cannot be used instead. A drench hose must be identified by a highly visible sign, placed in a well-lighted area, and shall be free of obstructions that may interfere with operation. Drench hoses should also be activated weekly to check the operation and annually inspected to ensure that the valve opens within 1 second, and the 3 gpm flow rate is achieved.

The types of systems are detailed below:

Safety showers.

Safety showers, also known as deluge showers, are designed to flush the user's head and body. They should not be used to flush the user's eyes because the high rate or pressure of water flow could damage the eyes in some instances. Safety showers are provided to wash off hazardous chemicals that may be splashed on the skin. Large volumes of water should be used to wash away contaminants and it may be necessary to remove contaminated clothing. Safety showers can also be used effectively in extinguishing clothing fires or for flushing contaminants off clothing.

  Eyewashes and Safety Showers (deluge shower)

Eyewash stations.

Eyewash stations can come as faucet/wall/deck mounted or portable. They are located in laboratories and workshops to flush the eyes and face area if hazardous chemicals are splashed into them. In the event of hazardous chemicals splashing in the eyes, the stream of water from the spray should be directed into the eye for a period of 15-20 minutes before seeking medical attention.

  portable eyewash station

Drench hose.

It is a supplemental device consisting of a flexible hose connected to a flushing fluid supply and used to provide fluid to irrigate and flush face and body areas. Drench hoses are useful in cases where the user is in the prone position or if to reach areas of the face and body inaccessible to the fixed stream of a deluge shower or eyewash unit.

  drench hose eyewash

Safety station or Combination units.

This name refers to equipment that shares a common plumbing fixture. Any of the fixtures such as shower, eyewash, and eye/face wash or drench hose may be in this combination, but most commonly it refers to a shower and an eyewash station. A combination unit has the ability to flush any part of the body or all of the body. It is the most protective device and should be used wherever possible. This unit is also appropriate in work areas where detailed information about the hazards is lacking, or where complex, hazardous operations involve many chemicals with different properties. A combination unit is useful in situations where there are difficulties handling a worker who may not be able to follow directions because of intense pain or shock from an injury.

  Eyewashes and Safety Showers (combination unit)

Eyewash bottles.

Eyewash bottles or personal eyewash units supplement plumbed and self-contained stations, but in no way can replace them. They are regarded as secondary or supplemental eyewash stations. They are portable and allow immediate flushing of contaminants or small particles. The main purpose of eyewash bottles is to supply immediate flushing until the injured person can get to a primary eyewash station that provides a full 15-minute flow. These personal eyewash stations should be placed in proximity to a worker's area for immediate flushing.

  eyewash bottles

Emergency washing equipment is rarely used since emergencies by definition are rare events. It is needed on rare occasions and a worker’s eyesight can be saved. The employee with corrosive liquid splashed in the eye will often need help in finding the eyewash and in keeping their eyes open for 15 minutes. A short training for all at-risk workers should be done – where equipment is located and how to use it.

How to use a Deluge Shower and Drench Hoses

  • Open water supply fully.
  • Stand in the water stream.
  • Remove all contaminated clothing.
  • Typically, undergarments would not be contaminated.
  • Have a co-worker call for appropriate medical attention.
  • Rinse until the time specified on the MSDS has been reached (if necessary, have a co-worker look up the appropriate time).

How to use an Eyewash. Eyewash must irrigate and flush both eyes simultaneously and allow the user to hold the eyes open with both hands.

  • Open water supply fully.
  • Place eyes in the water stream.
  • Hold both eyelids open with your fingers.
  • Have a co-worker call for appropriate medical attention.
  • Rinse until the time specified on the MSDS has been reached (if necessary, have a co-worker look up the appropriate time).

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