When someone on your jobsite is accidentally exposed to hazardous materials, the first 10 to 15 seconds are critical. That’s how much time you have to start treatment if you want to prevent further damage from occurring. But if the nearest "wash station" is the bathroom, you could be in trouble.
Safety showers help address this problem by providing on-the-spot decontamination for workers exposed to hazardous substances. But selecting them isn’t always straightforward. In this article, I'll give you the information you need to find the best safety shower for your workplace.
Safety Shower Uses
Safety showers are used to flush the user’s head and body in order to get rid of hazardous substances that could cause injury. (Note that showers are not appropriate for flushing eyes, as the strong water flow could cause damage.)
Safety showers should be present in any workplace where employees are at risk of:
- Exposure to hazardous chemicals
- Serious burns to a large area of the face or body
Workplaces that commonly require safety showers include:
- Petrochemical production, refining, and distribution
- Chemical processing plants
- Power generating facilities
- Pharmaceutical production
- General manufacturing facilities
- Agricultural operations
- Chemical testing laboratories
- Janitorial and sanitation
- Construction and remediation with high levels of dust
Understanding Safety Shower Regulations
Each year, OSHA continues to hand out fines for noncompliance with emergency showers and eyewashes. Understanding the requirements can help you choose the type of safety shower that best fits your workplace – and maintain it properly to avoid being on the receiving end of those fines.
Standards require that:
- Shower heads be capable of flowing 20 gallons of water per minute at 30 psi, with a 20-inch diameter spray pattern at 60 inches above the surface where the user stands
- Showers can provide this flow consistently for 15 minutes
- Activation valves can open within one second and remain that way until turned off
- Showers are constructed of corrosive-resistant materials
- Showers that are in extreme temperatures are designed to properly withstand them to dispense a minimum of 60°F (16°C) and a maximum of 100°F (38°C)
- Showers are accessible within 10 seconds of any hazardous area requiring them (i.e. located about 55 feet from them)
- Showers are located on the same level and there is a clear path to them with no doorways
What to Look for in a Safety Shower
Here are some things to look for when purchasing a safety shower for your workplace.
Since OSHA specifies that water flow must be at least 20 gallons per minute at 30 PSI for 15 minutes, you want to make sure your selected shower is capable of delivering.
For workplaces with piped plumbing this isn’t usually a problem, but those purchasing safety showers for more remote locations must pay careful attention to the shower's water flow and volume.
Ease of Operation
When a hazardous exposure occurs, time is of the essence. The last thing you want is for a few precious seconds to be wasted trying to work the safety shower.
Your emergency shower should be simple enough that even someone with impaired vision can operate it with ease. The valve must be able to move from "off" to "on" in one second or less, and it must remain on until the operator turns it off manually.
Size and Style
Where will the shower be located in your workplace? Answering this question will help you determine the size and type of shower that is best.
Simple ceiling- or wall-mounted drench showers are great choices when space is at a premium.
If you have a bit more space, a floor-mounted shower with a protective frame and floor grating offers users a bit more support. The surrounding frames also help designate a clear safety shower area.
Cubicle showers are the best choice when the shower needs to be enclosed. Many freestanding cubicle showers have optional eyewash stations that can be added on as well.
If you’re looking for a safety shower for a remote worksite, your requirements will certainly be different. You'll need to make sure that the self-contained unit has some type of storage for at least 300 gallons of fluid (meaning it can supply 20 gallons per minute for 15 minutes). You’ll also need to find a way to make sure the temperature of the water is tepid (a deluge of scalding or freezing water could do more harm to the shower user). Freeze-protected showers are necessary for cold climates, while self-draining showers are ideal for hotter climates where standing water temperatures can reach as high as 122°F.
Emergency showers and eyewashes are only the first step in administering first aid to the affected user. Contingency plans for quick attention after the user is thoroughly drenched with water will, in most cases, significantly mitigate the extent of the original injury.
Providing periodic training to potentially affected workers on the location and operation of an emergency shower and eyewash is essential. Not being able to find an ESEW during an emergency can potentially be fatal.
No matter what type of workplace you’re equipping, here are some key questions to ask yourself:
- What type of environment will the shower be in? Indoor or outdoors? In extreme temperatures?
- What does the SDS sheet say we need? Emergency shower? Eyewash? Both?
- Do we have plumbing capabilities with potable water?
- How much space do we have? Do we need an open shower, or one with walls?
- How many workers could be affected by the hazard?
- What is the nature of the hazard? Are workers at risk of becoming incapacitated due to exposure?
No matter what type of emergency shower you choose, it’s critical that workers receive comprehensive training and when and how to use it. If an emergency arises, there should be no questions or doubts about what to do.
A strong maintenance program will prolong the life of your shower and ensure reliability if and when it’s needed. Showers should be visually inspected and activated each week, and any issues should be brought to the immediate attention of a supervisor.
Of course, all workers hope that they won’t need to make use of an emergency shower. But accidents happen – and when they do, your workplace needs to be ready.