Compliance is the starting point
05 August 2015
When it comes to safety showers and eye baths compliance is the starting point, says Ivan Zytynski, marketing director, The Safety Shower People.
Emergency safety showers and eye baths are essential wherever there is a risk of dangerous chemical spillage and although simple bits of equipment, they absolutely must work as specified when required every time. This need for consistent and reliable performance means that, despite their simplicity, considerable thought needs to be given to their design.
As with all products there is considerable variation in the quality of safety showers currently available on the market - so what features make a good shower and why they are worth paying extra for? An absolute minimum requirement for any purchasing decision is that showers meet the various ANSI and EN standards, so what features go above and beyond the American and EU design standards?
First - a word of warning. Even if all the advice in this article is taken on board and all showers are upgraded with the very best safety features, this will not, on its own, ’cover’ an employer’s obligations. The safety shower is only one part of an overall safety system. Training and planning are by far the most important elements for improving overall safety. Having the best, most reliable first aid equipment will help, but all the advice in this article counts for nothing if the overall safety plan is poor.
A dangerous mind set
The problem with safety showers is that because they are (hopefully) rarely - if ever - used, they tend to sit in the corner gathering dust and only function when they are being tested. Companies buy them because their health and safety consultant tells them they must. The shower needs to conform to the relevant standards and the health and safety manual will specify how many showers are needed and where. But as long as ‘compliance’ is achieved then everything is thought to be okay.
This sets up a potentially dangerous mind set. The various standards, specifically ANSIZ358 and EN15154, are met by many showers on the market. There has been a recent trend towards making showers cheaper by using less expensive materials and cutting down on quality. Whilst these showers will still meet the required flow rates, shower patterns outlined in the standards and also tick the necessary boxes to achieve 'compliance', the cheaper and inferior products could still expose companies to a litigation risk.
Why compliance is not always enough
Simply having the required number of showers is not always enough. If things go wrong with the operation of the shower when needed the company may be liable for injury compensation claims. A fully compliant shower that meets all the relevant standards is completely useless if it fails to operate as specified. The responsibility to ensure the shower does operate correctly lands squarely on the shoulders of the employer.
What makes a good safety shower?
Assuming that all showers meet the relevant ANSI and EN specs what about the components and materials of a shower that are not encoded within these standards? These may cost a little extra but could, potentially, protect employees from the risks of chemical spills, in addition to saving huge amounts of money for a company in litigation expense. It is all too easy to focus purely on the potential financial / litigation costs. What we are really dealing with is product features that may prevent agonising pain, suffering or even a fatality. Therefore, there is a very strong moral imperative to consider these product features when purchasing safety showers.
Materials of construction
The recent trend toward the use of plastics is not a particularly welcome one from a safety perspective. Whilst they are cheaper and lighter and will save on costs, they simply don’t compare to traditional stainless steel showers. Stainless is also often replaced with galvanised steel as a cost saving exercise, but the resulting product, whilst meeting the standards, is inferior. Corrosion, wear and damage in cheaper showers should be noticed by the six monthly inspections but what if they are not?
What if the critical damage occurs in between inspections? The simple fact is that stainless steel showers are tougher, have a longer working life and are less prone to corrosion than showers made from cheaper materials. This makes them inherently safer pieces of equipment. Furthermore, they will last longer and so the replacement cycle is considerably longer. This is particularly true in tougher environments or outdoors where plastics may be exposed to extremes of temperature.
For tank showers in particular the material of constriction for the holding tank is very important. Water in these tanks may be stored there for several months before being replaced and it may well be kept at a warm temperature and potentially a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Consequently a hygienic design is of paramount importance and stainless steel is again the material of choice as it is inherently far more hygienic than cheaper plastics.
Points to consider
- Is the shower body (or frame in the case of tank showers) made of galvanised steel or genuine stainless?
- How sturdy is the frame? Tank showers may be carrying 2 tonnes of water when full. The frames supporting them need to be strong and well made. Also, will the frame be strong enough to cope with additional stresses such as a snow load in cold conditions?
- On tank showers is the tank itself made from cheaper plastic or is it stainless? Cheaper tanks can easily conceal wear damage until it is too late.
Frost protection systems
There are many frost protected showers on the market and the need for this is stipulated in both the EU and American standards. Not all frost protection systems are made equal though and whilst many showers may comply, some may comply more than others.
Points to consider
- Is the trace tape sufficient? Many cheaper showers will have short trace tape runs that will only heat a small amount of the pipe being protected.
- Is the insulation of a good quality? Cheap polystyrene insulation is commonly used in showers. This has a significantly lower insulation rating than the more expensive polyurethane used in quality showers. This means that more strain will be placed on any heating elements or trace tape and so these components will tend to wear more easily and be less energy efficient.
- Is the insulation casing strong? Cheaper plastic casings are more prone to damage which can leave the insulation material exposed to the elements. This can lead to a degradation in the insulation material, or mould growth. This is even more of a problem if cheaper polystyrene insulation is used as this is far more permeable to water than superior polyurethane insulators.
Many tank showers require heating elements to ensure a tepid water supply. This is relatively simple to design, as a simple thermostatically controlled element will keep the water in the tank at the correct temperature. However, not all heating systems are made equal. Many showers will tick the ‘heated supply’ box by having an element but will use cheap elements and possibly cheap insulation. This combination of a sub-quality element being made to work harder because of poor quality insulation significantly increases the likelihood of failure.
Points to consider
- Are the elements of a sufficient length? Cheap heaters will have short heating elements. These need to get hotter and work harder to heat the water and are likely to fail more rapidly.
- Is the insulation of a good quality? Polystyrene will typical transfer 33% more heat than polyurethane insulation. This means any heating system will need to work 33% harder, increasing wear and running costs.
- If deploying into ATEX zones - is the whole shower certified or just the electrical components?
The material of construction may have a bearing on overall suitability in EX zones and an ignition hazard assessment should be undertaken. The heavy use of non-electrically conducting plastics may represent a sparking risk as they could build up static. Again, stainless steel showers are far more suitable in such situations.
Showers bore size
In hard water areas, particularly with heated showers, calcification deposits can easily cause blockages. Well-designed showers will have larger holes in the shower heads to avoid such blocking.
As with all things you tend to get what you pay for. There are many safety showers on the market which will meet ANSI and EN standards. They will all tick the relevant box on the health and safety check list and so in that respect are equal, but some compliant showers are more equal than others! With robust, well made stainless steel showers you may pay a little more than for a plastic option but the unit will last longer, will be less prone to operational problems and because of this will reduce the overall litigation risk to the business.
If that is not sufficient motivation to spend the extra money then there is the small matter that a stronger, more durable and robust shower might just be responsible for eliminating risks to employees, or even saving a life. For safety showers and eye baths that absolutely must work as specified when needed it would seem that the cheaper option is not always the best.