With the worldwide search for oil and other natural resources ever widening, multi nationals are turning their attention to increasingly inhospitable locations. This can see operatives working out in hazardous environments that are more and more isolated, often leaving lone workers to get on with the job in extremely bleak and harsh conditions.
Wherever there is a hazard, such as chemicals, toxic substances, solvents or dust, there is a risk of an accident. The first few minutes immediately after an accident can be vital for reducing the level of injury. Any contaminants in the eyes or on the skin require swift and immediate removal.
When it comes to employee protection, health and safety requirements surrounding quick, effective decontamination solutions are getting tougher with companies having to meet strict specifications. Such requirements need operators and managers to look at the quality of their emergency showers and eyebaths, their operational needs, length of service and maintenance provision. By not doing so, means they now run the risk of ending up in court facing corporate manslaughter charges.
Craig Yates, managing director of Showers & Eyebaths Services said: “If you have a working environment where there is a possibility of getting covered with a substantial amount of contaminant, then you will need an emergency shower facility that can cope with the conditions in which it will be sited and used.
“Going for cheap is not necessarily going to be economical in the long term and can mean the difference between life and death. It is vital that lone workers feel protected in case of exposure to harmful substances. The worker will need to react to this type of situation quickly and directly, often not having the time or be in a position to call back to base.
“Triggers by way of alarm systems therefore must be in place that tells employees back at HQ immediately that a decontamination system, such as an emergency tank or mains fed shower, has been activated.
“But even before activation there are measures that corporations must take to make sure that decontamination facilities actually work first time every time when out in the field. Alarms should be fitted as standard to indicate water levels in the overhead tanks. Too little water and the required dousing time will be breached; too much water and the ability for keeping the water at the right temperature could be lost.
“There is an obvious need in freezing temperatures to protect personnel during decontamination. In this instance self contained tank showers are recommended which are heated inside, have spring-loaded doors and are lit both inside and out. Importantly, the water stored in the headertank should have its own heating element to ensure it meets the required ANSI standard, which states that delivered flushing water should be tepid and range between 15 to 37 degrees centigrade.”
“The heaters then need to be monitored as, for example; failure to heat water in freezing conditions will either ice up stored water or douse the user in freezing liquid which could possibly kill them through shock.
“On the other end of the scale, in very hot countries, where the water supply feed is exposed to extreme heat, the water would be heated naturally by the sun to a dangerously high temperature. In situations where the contaminant is a burn-inducing chemical or other substance, the hot water would intensify the burns and cause the contaminant to be absorbed further into the skins pores. As the water quickly cools, the pores close, trapping the contaminant and hampering attempts to wash it off. Fitted chillers therefore need to be constantly checked because if the water was to remain at these hot temperatures the user may experience further injury.
“It may also be critical in certain workplaces that not only the victim but also the ground or surface needs to be rinsed quickly, for example if working around pumping stations. Additional facilities such as safety hoses should be accessible which can be housed in an insulated cabinet with the option for an internal heater system.”
Moving away from dry land to the sea, safety showers on oil and chemical tankers have to meet different design specifications to those on oil and gas fields.
Craig continues: “The units need to soak up huge wave momentum, whilst also delivering an uninterrupted flow of water to wash away hazardous spills and materials. The water tank of a decontamination shower can hold up to one tonne of liquid 3 metres up in the air. When static on land, this tremendous weight is not a problem.
“However, out on the high seas, a vessel is being tossed every which way. This will twist a solid water tank unit, as the constant shifting of its load exerts a huge strain on the framework. By using an external reinforcedstainless steel framework, the forces involved can be absorbed, as well as withstanding the salty atmosphere. An additional special GRP internal baffle effectively de-compartmentalises the load, thus reducing momentum.”
As a guide, here are a few points for an organisation to consider when weighing up what facility, or facilities, they may need:
- Identify the hazard and the seriousness of the risk
- How big is a potential spillage?
- What is the size of the workplace or plant area – on or off shore?
- Do people tend to move around a lot? If so, portability of emergency units may be the answer. Mobile rigs are definitely a consideration for a lone worker.
- Can the water drain into the ground, will it need to be contained or washed away?
- Will the water supply be uninterrupted or intermittent? This is an important consideration to determine the most suitable type of shower.
- What are the physical constraints i.e. ease of access for maintenance etc.
All of this is especially pertinent in the UK with the new corporate manslaughter act which came into force in April 2008. Companies face prosecution if they are found to have caused a person's death due to their corporate health and safety failings.
“This undoubtedly includes the proper running, testing and maintenance of emergency shower units” Craig continues. “Maintenance costs on older types of showers can be high, and even higher if they are corroded beyond repair and need replacing. It is important therefore to replace emergency showers with ones that are manufactured completely from corrosion resistant materials to guarantee superior strength and long life for installation in any environment.
“But even little things like blocked nozzles can potentially effect their operation. It is simple to put right and keep on top of but companies are still not addressing this issue.”
Emergency showers hopefully vary rarely need to be used but unfortunately this can be quite a negative aspect as the equipment, standing miles from anywhere, can get forgotten – until it’s needed.
An organisation whose head office was in Merseyside is a case in point. It decided that a maintenance contract was no longer necessary as the units weren’t used and they felt that they could handle the maintenance in-house and therefore save money. 18 months later and the units had become inoperable as the company failed to maintain them. “We were called back in to rectify the problem. The state in which we found the emergency showers meant it would have been a very unlucky day for a worker to have needed to use them. Thank goodness this situation didn’t arise before we came in.” Craig concludes.
Showers & Eyebaths Services Ltd customer services can be contacted on 01744 889677.