Choosing and Maintaining Emergency Eyewashes/Showers

Jan. 1, 2010
In many industrial workplaces, the threat of eye, face and skin contamination is an ongoing concern, despite the many innovations designed to keep workers safe.

Chemical exposure can take place even when the best processes and equipment are put into place to avoid such incidents. The ANSI Z358.1 standard is one of numerous standards from the American National Standards Institute created to prevent and treat the many threats to workers.

Because the threat of chemical exposure is present, many companies should be aware that OSHA mandates that “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” (OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.151, paragraph c).

The discussion of what to do should a chemical exposure occur has been refined many times over the years by ANSI Z358.1. Many companies in our industry, as well as the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), have offered personal and professional time and resources to keep the standard up to date and have made a difference in the workplace by minimizing the dangers workers face.


ANSI Z358.1 provides clear and precise guidelines on the performance, testing, installation and maintenance of emergency shower and eyewash equipment. It is not, in any way, a governance of the workplace. ANSI Z358.1 simply is a guideline that is used by organizations and referenced by OSHA and other governing bodies (both foreign and domestic).

Potential chemical exposure can take place in many environments. The range is staggering. Cleaning products in the home, combustible materials, corrosives and other substances can be a great danger to humans. Companies in the petrochemical industry would be the greatest area of concern in most people's minds. However, consider others that have the same dangers. Automotive repair facilities that work on fuel delivery systems and batteries have a tremendous potential for exposure. Dry cleaners and other laundry-type related industries use chemicals that can be dangerous to the skin and eyes. A janitor's closet can be used to mix chemicals that can cause great injury. Food service and food processing environments can contain many threats as well.

In any environment where the threat of chemical exposure is present, it is important to choose the proper safety equipment to use, with the first order of business being protection and the second treatment of exposure. First it is important to wear chemical splash goggles, gloves or other personal protective equipment anywhere there is a threat of chemical splash. Secondly, it is important that the environment be properly surveyed to determine the type of shower, eyewash or a combination of the two should be installed.


When determining the proper equipment, it is important to consider four things carefully:

  1. What type of chemical is present in the work area and how is it being used?

  2. How many potential workers might need to use the emergency equipment?

  3. What hazards might prevent a user from getting to the emergency equipment?

  4. Is potable water (both hot and cold) available to plumb to the shower, eyewash or combination unit?

The types of chemicals present will determine the need for a shower, eyewash or the combination of the two. Additionally, a thorough workplace analysis that examines the tasks that are performed and their interaction to the potential threat strongly is advisable. Your emergency shower and eyewash manufacturer can be a tremendous asset when making the assessment. A site visit or survey can be performed to measure all of the variables present to determine the right types of equipment to use.

Likewise, the potential number of employees in the work area will determine the number of units needed. ANSI Z358.1 states that a shower, eyewash or combination unit should “be in an accessible location [and take] no more than 10 seconds to reach.” However, it does not address that the number of workers present who simultaneously might be affected, requiring additional units to be installed. This is an important factor to consider when surveying the site.

It has been well documented in the past that the path to help cannot be impeded by yet another hazard. So, it is always important to ensure that in that 10-second journey, there should be no obstacles. The Federal Office of Compliance published a Fast Facts article in 2007 that illustrated shower and eyewash units and fire safety equipment with trash cans and other obstacles that impeded the use of the equipment. Training and maintenance should include the consideration of these common occurrences.

Whether a work area has potable water or not can dictate the types of equipment that must be used. If the ambient temperature in the workplace is abnormally warm or cold, it can play a great role in the types of equipment that will be needed.

In Section 3 of ANSI Z358.1-2009, the term “tepid” is defined as “a flushing temperature conducive to promoting a minimum 15 minute irrigation period. A suitable range is 16-38 C (60-100 F). Below and especially above that “tepid” range can enhance chemical reaction in the skin and cause greater injury, according to the standard's Appendix Section B6. This is an area where your emergency shower and eyewash professional can be of tremendous support. All of the factors will be analyzed and a customized solution may be needed to ensure that workers are completely protected from the elements.


After all equipment is properly placed, it is important to adhere to proper maintenance standards. The type of equipment that is in place will determine the type of maintenance that must be performed.

For portable eyewashes, it is important that the water be inspected each month. For gravity-fed eyewashes, a monthly test of the flow through the eyewash heads is necessary to ensure that the delivery performance meets with the manufacturer's stated usage. Additionally, it is essential that the water be changed completely or treated, as water inherently becomes non-potable over time. A thorough cleaning and flush may be necessary to eliminate microbes that have formed. For self-contained units, which have cartridges or bags, it will be necessary to inspect the date labels and to check for leakage. Always consult the user guide that came with the unit. Many can be found on the manufacturer's Web site.

For plumbed units, there may be numerous things to check. Determining water flow pressures through shower and eyewash heads is the most common maintenance task. ANSI Z358-1-2009 very clearly states, “Caution should be exercised with flow pressures over 0.552kPa (80 psi).” Appendix B, once again, states that velocities in excess of 80 psi could “injure the user and render the equipment inoperable.”

Ensuring that the eyewash and showers heads are clean is important as well. So many times, one only needs to inspect a shower — or especially, an eyewash — to see that there are broken parts or some type of corrosion that has taken place.

With any of the various types of units, it is important to ensure that the water is tepid. A warehouse that has no temperature control, an outside unit in a hot or cold environment or any other environment that is not conducive to providing a tepid delivery requires attention to the blending valves, scald valves or other components that work to ensure temperature performance.

Consulting your emergency shower and eyewash professional or manufacturer will ensure that your equipment meets or exceeds the recommended operational efficiencies of the emergency shower and eyewash equipment you need to maintain. Protecting workers is a job for which we all should strive for success.

Michael Bolden is the director of marketing for Encon Safety Products Inc. based in Houston. Bolden has worked for Encon for the last 10 years in product development, sales and marketing. Previous experience includes similar sales and marketing work for Exxon Co. USA and Danaher Corp.

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