a Moment's Notice!

Dec. 1, 2004
"Safety first" demands proper emergency equipment maintenance. Here are some key items to keep in mind.

An alarm goes off someone has been injured and the time for preparation is over. The appropriate responders automatically swing into action. This is where all of the training and preparation pays off. The first response personnel and first aid equipment are all there, in the right places. It's a well-oiled machine. Or is it?

Assuring that there are no surprises at a time of dire need is an ongoing challenge. Keeping current with new and revised standards, state-of-the-art response innovations and training is not only a full-time job, it's a big responsibility.

Consider emergency equipment maintenance. Like all of the other aspects of the response plan, gaffs in required emergency equipment maintenance can be a dangerous embarrassment. Think about it: An alarm goes off someone has been injured the team swings into action. An eyewash, only seconds away, is activated. Unbeknownst to the injured worker, whose vision is blurred by a severe caustic splash, the water coming out of the eyewash is badly rusted, or, no water is flowing at all! "Hang in there, John. We're going to try the eyewash over there..."

ANSI requires that emergency equipment be in close proximity to potential accident sites and that all such equipment receive weekly tests and annual inspections. But, proper maintenance is more than just placing a checkmark in the block that says you've pushed the flag and water came out! It's a combination of proper specification in the first place selecting low maintenance components and installation materials and then proper step-by-step maintenance and review procedures on a regular basis.

Let's begin by discussing some often overlooked specification and installation procedures that can minimize downstream maintenance requirements:


Selecting proper emergency showers, based on downstream maintenance requirements, is much easier than eyewashes or eye/face washes. That's because by their nature, showers are less susceptible to sedentary deterioration. They are designed to flow at 20 gpm, so the holes in the shower head are larger and less prone to plugging. And, obviously, the shower heads are designed with the holes facing downward, which minimizes dust and dirt build-up in most installations. We assume, for the purpose of this review, that the shower selection took into account the current ANSI requirement for designed-in shower flow pattern (20-inch wide spray at 60 inches above the ground). That said, most of the product selection impact deals with eyewash and eye/face wash issues:

  • Eyewash Flow Height Eyewash and eye/face wash selection should take into consideration the flow characteristics of the design, recognizing that an aggressive flow pattern when the equipment is new can become increasingly forceful if minerals or dirt build-up on the heads. If you've originally selected a product with soft flow heads, you will minimize the risk of increasing the pressure with age and dirt or mineral build-up.
  • Dust covers Positive dust covers are essential to maintaining eyewashes in virtually any industrial environment due to the presence of airborne contaminants. Selection of equipment that features covers that won't accidentally fall off or blow off will go a long way in easing maintenance woes (See photo 1). Some designs use more of a shroud to cover the head. Suffice to say that if you can see the head and its holes with the "dust cover" in place, it will probably get dirty and plugged over time. Also, consider where the dust covers will go when the eyewash is activated. If they fly off and float directly to the drain, you may want to reconsider that product choice.
  • Uncovered head/face rings Many applications use a 360-degree spray ring in addition to an eyewash, making them complete eye and face washes. These popular designs work very well. However, from a maintenance perspective, face wash rings should also have a designed-in cover as shown in photo 2 to minimize dust and dirt accumulation. This is an important point, because even if you attempt to regularly clean the face wash rings, that effort will invariably drive the build-up into the holes.
  • Drains that plug up Once again, an ounce of thought in product selection can prevent a pound of maintenance later on. Drains that have smaller holes and are designed so that they can trap dust and dirt accumulations will likely need more attention during periodic maintenance procedures.
  • Alarms Activation alarms, either audible or visual (lights), are particularly susceptible to damage. The fact that they are in full view makes them vulnerable to falling objects and "pass-by" damage. Alarm switches can fall out of adjustment and bulbs can burn out or break. Some extra thought about longer-term use and abuse during the specification stage can save significant maintenance headaches later. Consider out-of-the-way mounted products and those that feature damage-resistant materials and designs.

Recent advancements in the design and capabilities of wireless monitoring systems have made these products dramatically more effective in operation, while also providing a much less expensive installation than hard-wiring. These systems are also much easier to maintain than traditional hard-wired systems.

  • Enclosed Emergency Environments (E3s) E3s provide a custom-engineered solution tailored to a facility's specific needs. These packaged response systems provide easier installation and, because they are housed in an enclosed booth, they are much less vulnerable to damage and easier to keep clean. An example of an enclosed emergency environment is shown in photo 4. Specifying E3s in the beginning makes maintenance much easier.


Between the guidance provided by ANSI and the equipment manufacturers' instructions, installation of emergency equipment is generally a matter of following the numbers. There is, however, an area that bears consideration.

  • Use of black iron or old galvanized water supply pipes At times older buildings were specified using black iron pipes for non-critical water supply and/or waste water facilities. If that type of supply piping is used for emergency equipment, it will undoubtedly expose the emergency equipment to rust and scale deposits. The use of black iron pipes to supply water to eyewashes and emergency drench showers should be avoided. Supply piping to eyewashes and emergency showers should be high-quality galvanized, stainless steel, copper or plastic (within code).

Now, let's consider maintenance procedures themselves. This section should not be considered a maintenance checklist. The following materials are intended to be thought-starters for consideration in building your own checklist, tailored to your specific operation.


As mentioned earlier, with proper selection and installation, maintenance becomes much easier. The following are some maintenance thought-starters:

• Weekly and annual inspections, per ANSI ANSI requires a weekly test and an annual inspection of all emergency equipment. However, these reviews should be more than just ascertaining that water flows out of them when they are activated. In particular, you should look closely at the condition of the water that immediately flows out. If it's rusty and you've checked the system weekly, measures should be taken to correct the condition. Also, look for mineral build up at the heads. Some build up in hard water areas is anticipated, but any build up should not restrict or alter the flow from the heads (including showers). If the build up is restrictive or alters the flow, the head should be thoroughly cleaned or replaced immediately.

The annual inspection is also a good time to check on new product and technology advancements, as well as ANSI standard compliance. It is amazing how often changes in the standard, like the emergency shower's required 20-inch spray width at 5 feet above the floor, are not reflected in equipment present in the facilities we visit.

  • Check eyewash and eye/face wash spray heads In addition to looking for mineral and algae build-up, consider the construction of the eyewash or eye/face wash spray heads. It was popular several years ago to design heads that have a foam insert in them. The foam insert diffuses the water and softens the outlet flow. It can, however, be a breeding ground for bacteria. Once again, outdated equipment should be updated.
  • Eyewash Push Flags It is fairly common for push flags to loosen up over time. Pay particular attention to the tightness of the flag on its valve stem.
  • Isolation valves Isolation valves are often used to isolate pieces of equipment from the rest of the water supply system. This enables maintenance to be performed with minimum disruption to other plant functions. Isolation valves should be left in the open position, they should be located out of the way and have provisions for a positive lock-out to prevent accidental isolation.
  • Free of access obstructions As obvious as it may seem, people get used to "skirting" obstructions if they are there every day. During the periodic inspections, a candid review should also be done of the ease of access to emergency equipment.
  • Portable units Pay particular attention to portable emergency showers and eye or eye/face washes. Portable units are designed to move around, which exposes them to more dirt and contamination than stationary assets. They are therefore more susceptible to problems. Make absolutely certain that all portable emergency equipment is maintained per the manufacturer's specifications. The duration of effective life of anti-bacterial additive is an area that is often overlooked.
  • Self-contained (E3) and/or air-charged units Similar to portable units, enclosed emergency environments (E3) and air-charged systems for remote locations have some unique maintenance issues to consider. For instance, water fill levels and air cylinder charge levels in air-charged equipment should be monitored frequently.

Typically, enclosed emergency environments have a control to either warm or cool the input water temperatures, bringing them within an acceptable range for the full 15-minute drench shower or eye/face irrigation cycles. These temperature settings should also be checked during the periodic tests and inspections.

  • Heat-traced equipment Heat-traced products are designed for use in freezing environments. The normal weekly flushing and annual inspections must also include verifying that power is available so that the unit will continue flowing.

It may be human nature to take shortcuts, but shortcuts in emergency equipment maintenance can be embarrassing and downright dangerous. It's more than a matter of record-keeping it's keeping track of your needs, current inventory of emergency response assets, making certain that they work and that they are up to date with advancements in the art.

Casey Hayes is the engineering manager at Haws Corp., located in Sparks, Nev. He can be reached at (775) 353-8320 or [email protected]. Haws Corp. designs, manufactures and distributes drinking fountains and emergency equipment that are ranked first in quality by specifiers in both product categories.

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