Protect lab workers from chemical burns

EMERGENCY SAFETY showers and eyewash stations are the first line of defense against chemical splashes and burns, or when dust or small harmful particles get into the eyes. When working with hazardous or toxic laboratory chemicals, any delay in treatment can have serious consequences.

A lab incident at UC Berkeley in 2009 resulted in severe chemical burns to a student. A few drops of the corrosive chemical oleylamine fell on a researcher’s uncovered forearm. When he realized what had happened, he went to the bathroom and washed his arm with soap and water for about a minute. Unfortunately, oleylamine is corrosive and difficult to wash off the skin. The Safety Data Sheet (SDS) recommends immediate flushing with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Over the next 24 hours, delayed burns appeared on the student’s arm, eventually requiring hospital treatment.

Another lab incident at the same university proved that even the smallest amounts of chemicals can cause significant damage if something goes wrong. A graduate researcher synthesized 1 gram of crystals of diazonium perchlorate, a chemical compound known for its explosive and unstable properties. He was using a metal spatula to transfer the perchlorate salts into a porcelain funnel when the chemical exploded. It sent tiny shards of porcelain everywhere, shattering the researcher’s glasses and scratching his cornea. A fellow researcher helped the injured person use the eyewash station before going to the hospital for treatment.

Requirements for safety showers and eyewash stations

Industries are adopting EN15154 and ANSI/ISEA Z358.1-2014 standards for the design, performance, use and maintenance of emergency showers and eyewash stations. They list specific requirements for water temperature, flow rate and other features for emergency safety showers and other safety equipment. The overall objective is to ensure effective flushing of chemicals from an injured person’s skin.

  • An emergency safety shower must provide a minimum water flow of 76 liters per minute, for at least 15 minutes. The minimum water flow for eyewash stations is 1.5 liters per minute for 15 minutes. If it is a combined eye wash and face wash, it must supply 12 liters per minute. This ensures that there is sufficient water to dilute and wash away the chemical, but the water velocity is not so high that it damages skin or eyes.
  • Protect eyewash nozzles from dust or other contaminants with covers. Under no circumstances should dirty water enter a user’s eyes during operation.
  • EN15154 standards state that the water temperature of the emergency safety shower must be between 15 and 37°C. If the water is too cold, a person may leave the shower early and may even experience shock or hypothermia. If it is too hot, the heat can scald the person or open the pores of the skin and cause more serious chemical burns. It could also prevent them from keeping their eyes open the entire time it takes to rinse.

Once activated, an emergency safety shower must continue to flow without operator intervention. This gives time to remove contaminated clothing. It also allows the injured person to concentrate on rinsing the affected area, without having to worry about running the water.

  • Eyewash stations should have enough space for a person to hold their eyelids open with their hands while rinsing their eyes.

DOWNLOAD: EN15154/ANSI Summary for Emergency Safety Showers and Eyewash Stations

Best Practices for Emergency Safety Showers and Eyewashes in Laboratories

Since most laboratory environments contain an abundance of different types of chemicals, safe handling practices should always be at the forefront of everyone’s concerns. It is important to ensure that the MSDS for each chemical is easily accessible and that all laboratory personnel understand the associated risks and hazards. Review standard operating procedures before performing lab tasks.

When certain chemicals come into contact with the body or clothing, emergency safety showers can mean the difference between life and death. Here are some helpful tips for labs regarding emergency safety showers and eyewash stations:

  1. Always wear approved safety glasses during laboratory activities. Most standard eyeglasses are not designed to withstand chemical splashes or shrapnel. Check with your eyewear supplier to ensure that corrective lenses issued meet the current ANSI Z87.1 requirement.
  2. Make sure someone is nearby when performing tasks involving hazardous or flammable materials. If you have visual impairment or chemical burns in an emergency, you may need help.
  3. There are several styles of emergency showers suitable for laboratories. Use leaded emergency safety showers when possible. Powder coated tubing holds up well to corrosive and flammable chemicals. Different models are available when space is limited.
  4. Place the lab shower in a location where someone would be comfortable enough to remove contaminated clothing. For added privacy, modesty curtains are available. These also prevent water and contaminants from splashing into the area around the shower. Helpful Tip: Ask all lab staff to keep loose spare clothing in the lab near the safety shower in case their gowns and clothing become contaminated and need to be removed.
  5. The standards require weekly testing of hooked-up emergency showers and eyewash stations. Make sure the path to the shower is clear of obstacles. Check that the signage is adequate. Activate the station according to its instructions and rinse to remove any sediment. Ensure that all electronic equipment in the general vicinity of the shower/eyewash is protected. Confirm that drainage is available to collect water when activated. Always check temperature and flow. Keep track of any problems, malfunctions or broken parts and request maintenance if necessary.
    Note: For labs that have special drainage requirements to avoid groundwater contamination, always follow standard operating procedures for emergency safety shower and eyewash equipment for activation.
  6. Create and foster a culture of sharing and learning about safety. Encourage lab workers to regularly discuss and dissect incident reports and case studies from industry journals or other labs. When internal incidents occur, be transparent and open during the security investigation. Specify a few minutes in each meeting and gathering to share results among all lab workers. If necessary, provide additional training to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Remember that emergency safety showers are only one part of lab safety. Always follow simple laboratory best practices, such as using proper PPE when working with chemicals or when working with explosive chemicals inside a fume hood or behind a blast screen. These steps will go a long way in maintaining a safe lab environment.

Emergency safety equipment for laboratories

Hughes supply a range of interior safety showers and eyewash stations designed for laboratories that meet ANSI requirements as well as the European standard EN 15154 part 1 for recessed body showers. Freestanding eyewash and facewash options include wall or pedestal mounts and several sink styles, depending on the application. The lab showers feature easy-to-clean powder-coated stainless steel plumbing. Main, ceiling, wall and floor mounting options are all available.

Contact Hughes Safety Showers for emergency safety shower equipment

Hughes Safety Showers specializes in protecting people from workplace hazards such as chemical splashes or burns. Our laboratory showers and emergency safety equipment meet the highest quality standards and comply with EN15154 and ANSI requirements for safety showers. Learn more about its laboratory safety showers or contact our technical experts for advice on your application.

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