Prime Drivers for Emergency Showers & Eyewashes
In the plumbing world, emergency showers & eyewashes hold a unique position among the fittings and fixtures that you use daily. While many plumbing products are purchased for personal pleasure, a great shower, a functional toilet, or a sharp-looking faucet, emergency showers & eyewashes are used by employers to save eyes and lives. Furthermore, they are required by law! Failure by an end user to use these emergency products in certain situations can result not only in warnings and fines, but also in eye damage and chemical burns.

The primary driver for employers to provide showers & eyewashes is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. OSHA’s overall mission is to "assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance."

Among the many areas of safety that OSHA covers, there is a section that specifically references the need for emergency shower & eyewash products: OSHA 29 CFR 1910.151 (c). In this section, OSHA requires the following of employers: "Where the eyes or body of any person may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body shall be provided within the work area for immediate emergency use."

This brief paragraph, which is buried inside the OSHA First Aid section, is the primary driver for employers to provide emergency showers and eyewashes in their facilities. It is not industry specific and covers all employees working with injurious corrosive materials. This includes employees as diverse as those working in food service with oven cleaners or disinfectants, to mechanics maintaining automotive batteries, to industrial workers using sulfuric and nitric acid.

While showers and eyewashes are not specifically referenced in the OSHA law, the intent is clear, and OSHA inspectors are constantly on the lookout to make sure that where hazardous materials are being used, there are proper drenching (drench showers) or flushing devices (eyewashes) available for employees to use. This is evidenced by the fact that in the past several years, inadequate "Eye and Body Flushing Facilities" has landed on the OSHA "Most Frequently Cited Serious Violations in General Industry" list.

If OSHA's focus on this area is not incentive enough to comply with this important safety requirement, then perhaps a few statistics will encourage compliance. OSHA has indicated that on average, more than 1,000 eye injuries occur in American workplaces every day and the financial burden of these injuries is costly—more than $300,000 per injury in lost production time, medical expenses, and workers' compensation. While not all are due to chemical burns, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that roughly 10-15 percent are.

While OSHA provides the legal requirement for showers & eyewashes, the ISEA/ANSI Z358.1 Standard provides performance, safety, placement, and testing details for this equipment. The first thing to note is the name of the standard and inclusion of "ISEA," which refers to the International Safety Equipment Association. ISEA is an organization of manufacturers that are responsible for developing and maintaining this and other safety standards, hence the dual ISEA/ANSI name.

ISEA/ANSI Z358.1 is not a law, but rather a consensus standard, which means that it is developed by a group of interested parties. Once written or revised, it needs to be reviewed and approved by a consensus vote of interested industry parties. When I describe the standard in the industry, I refer to it as "Best practices by industry for industry."

While not a law, the ISEA/ANSI Z358.1 standard has significant credibility because it is often referenced and used by OSHA inspectors to ensure compliance to shower and eyewash requirements. Additionally the Z358.1 standard is recognized as the leading global standard for shower and eyewash implementation. If an end user chooses not to follow its recommendations, then they would be on their own in ensuring the safety of their employees.

A unique feature of the ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 Standard is that it has two components, one that provides guidelines to the manufacturer on the construction, operation, and certification of showers and eyewashes, and the other that provides guidance to end users on the proper installation and testing of equipment. These end user requirements include items such as distance from a hazard to the eyewash/shower, water temperature, and frequency of testing.