Manufacturing facility benefits from steam-powered shower and eyewash safety system.

Two Therm-Omega-Tech Therm-O mix stations provide instant tempered water supply at Johnson Matthey’s manufacturing plant in New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Therm-Omega-Tech.

Employee safety is paramount in any manufacturing or industrial setting. That was certainly on the mind of Johnson Matthey Senior Project Engineer Mike Slivak when he went about installing a pair of emergency shower and eyewash systems in the pharmaceutical company’s New Jersey manufacturing plant that employs about 170 people.

Complicating matters for Slivak was the fact the safety areas were located outside the manufacturing buildings.

“The main idea is you don’t want to get into a safety shower when it’s 10° F outside and you have chemicals on you and the system is frozen,” he says. “You also don’t want to be taking a shower that is delivering 40° F water.”

Slivak solved his quandary by specifying two Therm-Omega-Tech Therm-O-Mix stations, which provide instant tempered water supply for safety showers and eyewash stations that use steam to heat cold water. The stations operate with as little as 15 psi steam pressure, a drastic reduction from a previous 45-psi model.

“It’s a tough environment where they are installed,” he says.  “We couldn’t economically use electrical stations because they have to be explosion-proof.  They are under a canopy to keep the rain and snow off, but the sides are open. If enclosed it would have been a hazard-classified H-2 building and require special wall construction and blowout walls. In New Jersey, it can get up to 100° F outside and get down to 5° F in the winter. It’s a difficult application for steam and water.”

Therm-Omega-Tech Vice President of Engineering Nick Tallos notes station installation involves plumbing the outlet line to where the eye wash-shower system is and taking the cold water supply to the inlet connection and bringing steam into the appropriate connection. Hot water is generated in the heat exchanger and then blended with an infusion of cold water to get the temperature back into appropriate safety range.

When the shower or eyewash station is activated, the pressure drop on a diaphragm opens a steam control valve. Water and steam flow establish and instantly heat the water and condense the steam. A water mixing valve then blends the heated water with cold water to produce a consistent temperature output of 85° F. Additional valves keep the system preheated, freeze- and scald-protected.

“It’s an on-demand heater,” Tallos says. “You are bringing cold water and steam to it. You are not making hot or tepid water. The system is not activated until you initiate water flow.”

One minor adjustment to the unit had to be made after installation. A thermal siphon was inserted into the eye of the wash bulb, which further ensured freeze protection.

“We found out after testing the unit there was no way of getting the water out of the eyewash bulb part and it did freeze,” Slivak says. “Therm-Omega-Tech recommended using one of its freeze protection valves and screwing it right into the unit. When the temperature drops down to 40° F, it opens and releases any trapped water. The water comes right out. So the next time you turn it on, it just fills up again. We have to make sure those units don’t freeze up.”

Slivak has been pleased with the effectiveness of the new systems, especially given the ever-varying East Coast climate.

“The winters have been cold here lately,” he says. “Every time we test them in the winter, they dispense water between 85° F to 100° F like they are supposed to. This was the most appropriate and cost-effective solution we could put in there. You have to have reliable safety systems and these have done the trick.”