Robert Moore considers what constitutes Best Practice in both the use and monitoring of safety showers in hazardous working environments.
Manufacturing facilities can be dangerous places. Even with the most stringent Health and Safety procedures in place, accidents can – and occasionally do – happen, and the consequences can be serious.
The level of risk clearly increases depending on the environment. Risk may arise from the machinery and moving parts. It may stem from the manufacturing process, working with intense heat or high power, or it may come from materials used within the manufacturing process (with perhaps the greatest risk coming from hazardous chemicals).
The risk posed by liquid chemicals is not so much one of ingestion but rather from spillages and/or the liquid being accidentally splashed onto clothes or skin. The most dangerous scenario, of course, is when a chemical finds its way into someone’s eyes.
Manufacturers – and indeed their counterparts in laboratories and pharmaceutical facilities – have long since identified this risk and have taken steps to limit potential harm to their employees. Wash stations are de rigeur, as are safety showers in the event that the body needs to be fully immersed.
Standards governing safety shower design and performance
Remarkably, despite the essential nature of such equipment, ensuring a business is ‘compliant’ from a Health and Safety perspective is somewhat confusing since there are only a few recognised standards specifically governing the design and performance of safety showers.
What standards are there? Unfortunately, there appears to be no complete EU or UK standard that covers all types of shower for all types of installation. The existing EN15154 standard has four completed parts that cover plumbed-in showers in laboratories and plumbed-in eye showers in both laboratories and industrial/logistics sites as well as tank showers (non-plumbed) for all sites. However, there’s no finalised standard covering plumbed-in showers for industrial (non-lab) sites.
The lack of clear EU standards doesn’t mean that an employer can install any form of shower and ‘get away with it’. They must abide by clear legal requirements to provide appropriate First Aid equipment, but the lack of an agreed standard does make the definition of ‘appropriate’ difficult to determine. Perhaps employers could look further afield for advice, and more specifically turn to our friends in the US?
America’s ANSI Z358.1-2004/2009 is a more or less holistic standard covering most types of shower and eye bath. Its scope is for all types of working environments. The thoroughness of this standard means it has become the essential reference point for those employers seeking Best Practice.
Similarly, the German DIN 12899-3:2009 standard covers plumbed and tank body showers for industrial and logistics sites, thus plugging the substantial gap in the current European norm. Indeed, it’s believed that the German standard will be followed when Part Five of the EU legislation is finally completed.
What does Best Practice look like?
Employers have a responsibility to ensure that a shower will work when it’s needed. Best Practice would include an audit of when a shower was last used. It would also include some form of alert mechanism to show when the shower had been activated – especially at a time when an individual may be working alone.
Technology is there to assist. A Limitless™ wireless switch, for example, can be easily installed on existing safety shower units and integrated with local or central alarms, building management systems and CCTV, not only to improve critical first alert response times in the event of an accident, but also to provide an audit trail of when each safety shower/eye wash station has been used. In addition, this supports employers in documenting their Health and Safety obligations.
Being wireless, it enables any washing facility – regardless of where it may be located on site – to be centrally located and tracked such that, if an emergency should occur, help is always close at hand. The switch can be manually operated or set to automatically trigger an alarm the moment a valve is opened. It can be quickly and easily fitted retrospectively to any shower installation without the need for trenching for cable or conduit, or included at the point of manufacture.
The solutions are available in two wireless protocols. First, there’s a Limitless™ point-to-point protocol where switches transmit directly with a receiver. In this case, the protocol allows for lost connectivity and low battery diagnostics.
Second, a ‘OneWireless’ multi-application, multi-standard wireless network that can be tailored to offer the network coverage needed for large industrial applications. Field devices mesh, allowing for multiple RF transmission pathways.
Prevention is better than cure
Having a shower installed does not in itself ensure that an employer has met their Health and Safety obligations, and neither does it ensure the safety of the employee.
Prevention, so the saying has it, is better than cure. The provision of such equipment can undoubtedly prevent serious injury and even save lives. By adopting Best Practice, and referencing those standards that are available, an employer will know that they’ve done all they can to mitigate the risk.
Robert Moore is Product Director (EMEA) for Electromechanical Switches and Test and Measurement Products at Honeywell Sensing and Control