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Going to extremes

Published:  10 December, 2014

Safety Showers that are required for the safety of employees not only have to meet the latest requirements and regulations governing health and safety, they also have to be able to withstand and operate reliably in extreme environmental conditions. Get it wrong and the employer can be liable for the consequences, and the employee could be seriously injured. Janet Dickinson, operations manager of safety shower specialists Showers & Eyebaths Services, comments on the need to look carefully at conditions facing their workforce when specifying their safety equipment needs.

With the worldwide search for oil, gas and other natural resources ever widening, Global Contractors are turning their attention to increasingly inhospitable environments. The extraction of such resources, which previously concentrated on areas such as the North Sea, now encompasses Countries ranging from the freezing extremes of Kazakhstan and Alaska to the heat of the Middle East.

With breakthroughs in drilling techniques, it is now possible to operate in temperatures dropping to minus 40 degrees centigrade and right up to 40 degrees centigrade. The goal posts are therefore moving all the time with regard to coping with potential hazards.

Fortunately for the welfare of workers, previously less stringent rules governing safety have long gone. Even in the emerging markets, health and safety requirements surrounding quick, effective decontamination are getting tougher with companies having to meet strict specifications and compliance to the ANSI Z358.1-2009 International standard. Such requirements are encouraging operators and specifiers to look at the quality of the units, their operational needs and length of service. Going for cheap is not necessarily going to be economical in the long term.

So how can industry get it right for the right environment?

As a starting point you need to look at your water supply. If you can't connect directly into a reliable mains water supply then you require a self-contained unit. Gravity fed tank showers, are the ideal solution providing a guaranteed supply and instant tepid water. They are not affected by water interruptions or electricity failure, making them, operationally, some of the most efficient and cost effective safety showers on the global market. Units are built entirely of GRP and Stainless Steel which ensures that they are corrosion resistant and avoid costly maintenance issues normally associated with using galvanised steel and wood based materials.

You then need to look at the environment. 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. If the water was to remain at this temperature, it could cause or increase injury to the user.

In situations where the contaminant is a burn-inducing chemical, the hot water would intensify the burns and cause the substance to be absorbed further into the skins pores.

At the other end of the environmental scale, to suddenly douse someone with freezing cold water would not only shock them but at the very least give them hypothermia. The pores would close immediately, trapping the contaminant therefore hampering attempts to wash it off.

In order to resolve these problems we ourselves have spent a great deal of time designing effective water cooling and heating methods which go beyond the 15 minute tepid water drench time as recommended by the ANSI.Z358.1 standard as we don't believe that just 15 minutes is enough when working with or near potentially harmful substances.

In hot climates the provision of a chiller unit, coupled to a tank shower, reduces the water to the recommended 20°C. The chiller only activates when the incoming water exceeds this temperature, when the water has been cooled to the correct temperature the unit deactivates. Chiller units can be fitted to any tank shower.

In cold climates, where temperatures reach down to minus 40 degrees, the water supply needs to be heated to 20 degrees. Tank showers which have the capacity and capability to provide tepid water instantly for durations in excess of the recommended 15 minutes allow for more difficult chemical substances to be washed off whilst ensuring casualties don’t suffer from thermal shock. Water is heated by means of a thermostatically controlled immersion heater which keeps the water to a constant 'tepid' temperature as recommended by ANSI Z358.1-2009. This energy efficient system uses a 3kw immersion heater so it is therefore economical in terms of running costs, installation and gives immediate first aid. Tankless systems can take vital seconds for the water to become tepid resulting in the initial delivery of water being cold causing the casualty to suffer thermal shock also due to the flow rate of 76 litres per minute being required the amount of power required to heat such a flow instantaneously can be expensive to run and very costly to install due to power supplies required of up to 110 Kw. This can also be said for simply testing the system weekly for maintenance purposes.

Safety showers on oil and chemical tankers have to meet different design specifications to those on oil and gas fields.

The units need to soak up huge wave momentum, while also delivering an uninterrupted flow of water to wash away hazardous spills and materials. The water tank of a safety shower can hold in excess of 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 shower is put under extreme stresses and strains. This will twist a solid stainless steel water tank, as the constant shifting of its load exerts a huge strain on the tank. By using a flexible plastic tank and 316 external reinforced stainless steel framework, the forces involved can be absorbed, as well as withstanding the salty atmosphere. An additional special GRP internal baffle de-compartmentalises the load, thus reducing momentum.

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