As a super-hero fan, I was excited for several reasons to see the latest Marvel movie, Wakanda Forever. One reason was that the movie would mark the first live-action appearance of one of my favorite characters, Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Namor made his first appearance in comic books in 1939, and while that is well before my time, I have been reading his adventures for as long as I can remember. As the moody king of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, Namor would sometimes become upset with human “surfacer-dwellers” and attack them. Those attacks would usually involve a deluge of the coastline- tons of ocean water suddenly flooding cities and sending people running. Those scenarios remind me of labs which suddenly need to use the emergency shower…and are quite unprepared for the event.
The need for a safety shower in a laboratory should be based on a risk assessment, but the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and OSHA state that a safety shower should be located “where the … body of any employee may be exposed to (large amounts of) injurious corrosive materials.” If a lab stores large volumes of hazardous chemicals (5-gallon cubes of formalin, for example), a safety shower should be nearby. The shower should be within 55 feet (or ten seconds travel distance) from the potential hazard, and there can be no obstructions (like a door that opens toward you) in that travel pathway. Showers should be tested weekly, and the temperature of the water from the shower must be tepid, 60° F to 100° F or 16° C to 38° C. Once activated, showers should be used for fifteen minutes at a minimum to provide an adequate rinse.
Some lab safety showers are equipped with a floor drain, but many are not. In some locations, that may be because the rinse water from a hazardous chemical exposure should not be sent down the drain. Whether or not a drain is present, it should be understood that the use of an emergency shower will create a flooding event in the department, and the staff should be prepared to handle such a situation. A safety shower provides 20 gallons per minute giving a total of 300 gallons in the fifteen-minute timeframe. That’s a deluge of water to suddenly have to handle.
Departments equipped with safety showers should have equipment that can help to handle large volumes of water in a short period. Manufacturers offer containment devices that can be assembled quickly such as collapsible retainers or large volume berms or spill kits. Make sure staff are trained to use these supplies if they are available. If the use of a safety shower prompts a response from other departments (like facilities or environmental services, for example), it may be that a shop-vac can be brought to help pull up the water from the floor.
The physical environment of the laboratory should also be designed to handle the use of an emergency shower. Make sure electrical equipment is not located on the floor. Adding a shock injury to a chemical exposure could mean disaster. Ensure supplies in the department are not placed directly on the floor. Use palettes or other devices to keep items away from flood-prone areas.
Staff should not have to risk stopping an emergency rinse because the department is not prepared for the sudden influx of water. Inspect the physical area for readiness and perform large volume spill drills using available retaining equipment to ensure staff can respond to an emergency event. The use of a safety shower is not a common occurrence, but when it happens, the department will need to be ready in order to keep everyone safe from further harm after a chemical exposure incident.
Whenever the Sub-Mariner attacks the surface world, there is water everywhere, and it is unexpected. People will run and scream, and panic ensues. The need to use a safety shower may also be unexpected, but if a shower is in place in the lab, the environment and the staff should be ready at all times to use it and to handle the water it will provide.