Emergency eyewash stations must be fully accessible for workers with disabilities
Employees who get refrigerant, battery acid or any other caustic chemicals in their eyes generally have just 10 to 15 seconds to reach an emergency wash station. Speed is of the essence when you need to flush away a corrosive substance before it does serious damage.
That’s why across Canada, organizations that use hazardous substances must provide emergency wash facilities. And the rules for these stations are spelled out loud and clear in provincial occupational health and safety regulations. Less obvious, however, is the need for these wash facilities to be fully accessible to people with physical disabilities.
Although Canada has no specific regulations regarding accessible emergency wash facilities, your organization may be courting a lawsuit if it fails to make them available. Consider these points of national and provincial law:
• The Canadian Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on sex, race, nationality or disability. That means if you have wash facilities for able-bodied people, you should have wash facilities for people with disabilities, too.
• The Employment Equity Act states that organizations shall “correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by… persons with disabilities.”
• The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) stipulates barrier-free access to buildings, facilities, communications and other aspects of everyday life at organizations across Ontario. Private and public sector companies that violate the act’s regulations could face fines.
AODA is specific to one province, of course, but according to Jessica Young, a lawyer at Stringer law firm in Toronto, employers throughout Canada will probably have to follow similar rules soon.
“I think this is something we’re going to see in every province,” she says of the Ontario legislation.
Claudio Dente, president of Dentec Safety Specialists in Newmarket, Ont., points out companies would be wise to invest in accessible emergency wash facilities, even if they have no employees with disabilities today. If an organization doesn’t install accessible facilities “and they employ somebody thereafter who needs accessible systems, they have a problem,” he says.
From Dente’s point of view, this is no different than the situation employers face with other accessibility measures.
“If your business has a building in Canada, you have to have a certain number of handicap parking spots depending on the number of employees.”
The same principle applies to emergency wash stations.
“If you have employees who are handicapped, you have to make arrangements to ensure they have accessibility to protective products, including emergency eye washes,” says Dente.
But employers in this country don’t face legislative requirements common in other places. In the United States, for instance, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compels organizations to ensure no one faces discrimination for a disability. Many resources and guides with information about accessible emergency wash facilities point to the ADA as an important measure.
Canada has no overarching disability legislation comparable to the ADA. But the current federal government did promise to develop a Canadians with Disabilities Act, says Mary Ann McColl, academic lead of the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“There was some pressure to go that way after the British, the Australians and the Americans — all our policy comparators — went the route of having anti-discrimination acts. But our government hasn’t.”
Does that mean Canadian organizations might be able to get away with ignoring accessible emergency facilities? Unlikely, according to McColl. She points out the various federal and provincial laws work together to effectively require Canadian organizations to install accessible emergency washes.
Guidelines for accessible wash stations
Start with the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) Z-358.1-2009. This standard offers guidelines for installing emergency wash facilities. It discusses the need for wash systems that can be activated within one second and the need for facilities to be placed where people can get to them within 10 seconds after coming into contact with a harmful substance. Most provincial and territorial occupational health and safety regulations for emergency wash facilities reference Z-358.1 as a recommendation. Manitoba goes one step further and specifies the standard as a requirement.
Follow Z-358.1 and you can rest assured your facilities meet basic best practices. But the standard only offers guidelines for general use, not details for accessibility in particular. For that, look at ANSI 117.1-2009. It talks about the necessary knee clearance for someone using a wheelchair to get close enough to an eyewash and face wash station to use it effectively. The standard also indicates just how far shower heads and spray heads should be from the floor and the wall to afford barrier-free access.
Combine Z-358.1 and 117.1 and you’ll understand the essentials of accessibility. Emergency wash manufacturer Guardian Equipment has done the math and offers the following ideal measurements.
For eyewash and face wash systems:
• Minimum knee clearance: 68.6 cm
• Maximum spray head height: 91.4 cm
• Distance from wall or barrier: 93.2 cm to 98.3 cm.
• Maximum pull-rod handle distance from floor: 121.9 cm
• Ideal shower head distance from floor: 208.3 cm to 243.8 cm.
“There’s nothing in the industry to indicate what manufacturers need to do to ensure their products are barrier-free and ADA compliant,” says Travis McKnight, Guardian’s Chicago-based regional sales manager for Eastern Canada. “So we looked at the dimensions for ADA-compliant drinking fountains and bathing showers and used those, such as 27-inch (68.6 cm) knee clearance, or less than a 5-pound force to activate, or no more than 121.9 cm for the pull rod.”
Watch Ontario’s law for pointers
AODA includes accessibility measures all organizations should take — even those outside Ontario. Stringer lawyer Young points out that AODA regulations call on companies to create accessibility policies that ensure disabled employees can access emergency facilities and take part in emergency measures. If an organization has emergency wash facilities, for example, the accessibility policy should include information on how to help disabled employees access the wash stations. The policy may indicate another employee must provide assistance.
AODA regulations also require public sector organizations to consider accessibility when acquiring goods and services — another excellent reason to think about barrier-free wash stations.
All in all, the AODA aims to remove the barriers that people with disabilities face in five areas: customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation and the built environment. The provincial government means to ensure all Ontario organizations are barrier-free by 2025, says Young.
Organizations across the province are required to provide accessibility solutions, but the deadlines for compliance differ according to organization size and sector (public versus private).
To determine deadlines and requirements for your organization, visit Ontario.ca/accessON. The interactive tool on the website considers your sector and the size of your organization to pinpoint what you have to do and when.
The standards rollout process began with customer service regulations, which all Ontario organizations must meet. These rules require, among other things, that entities remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from obtaining, using or benefiting from goods or services. Other mandatory measures are part of an integrated standard that the government is introducing in phases.
Certain elements of the integrated standard came into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. Public sector and large private sector organizations (such as those with 50 or more employees) are supposed to have:
• policies that demonstrate commitment to accessibility
• accessibility plans that outline concrete steps to remove accessibility barriers.
“That’s one that caught some employers off-guard,” Young says of the requirement for accessibility plans. Many of her clients were under the impression that since they had already provided for customer service accessibility, they met all of the AODA standards. But the need for an accessibility plan is separate from the customer service standard.
Choose barrier-free products
Many wash station manufacturers offer barrier-free options. Guardian sells a range of accessible products including GBF 1909, a combined eyewash and face wash and shower facility that meets accessibility standards.
Another manufacturer, Speakman, recently introduced its Optimus line of eyewash stations. Each product comes with all the hardware you need to install it at wheelchair or standard height.
According to Imants Stiebris, director of global safety sales in New Castle, Del., Optimus not only meets the accessibility standards but it also meets Speakman’s own corporate requirements for supply chain efficiency.
“We’ve always sold a wheelchair-accessible product on its own, but as a company, we’re trying to minimize the boxes we have on the market,” he says. “So we want to put as many features as we can into one box.”
Stefan Dubowski is a freelance writer based in Ottawa. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2014 issue of COS.