Crafting a Safe Solution

By helping develop a new tool, Duke Facilities Management staff solves a messy problem

From left: David Wilson, Steve Williams, Bryan Curtis and Mike Snyder stand with Duke's Safety Shower Test Carts.
From left: David Wilson, Steve Williams, Bryan Curtis and Mike Snyder stand with Duke's Safety Shower Test Carts.

If you find yourself in one of Duke’s science buildings early in the morning, late at night, or when campus empties out for the summer, you might encounter one of Duke Facilities Management’s plumbers pushing around a bizarre-looking wheeled cart.

The body of the cart is boxy and adorned with valves, hoses and handles. On top, a pipe juts upward and is capped by a comically large funnel.

It’s not going to win beauty contests, but as a solution for a vexing problem, it’s downright elegant.

“It looks crazy but it actually works,” said Steve Williams, a maintenance engineer for Duke Facilities Management.

In coordination with a Wisconsin-based company, Withee Works, Williams and his colleagues in Duke Facilities Management helped develop the Safety Shower Test Cart, which makes testing lab safety equipment safer and more efficient.

“It’s much easier,” said plumber David Wilson.

Federal regulations require that where there are chemicals used, safety equipment such as emergency eye showers and eye wash devices must be available, ready to flush away any dangerous substance a person might get exposed to. In order to ensure those safety features will work when needed, they must undergo periodic testing.

The showers are tested by plumbers from Duke Facilities Management annually, usually during the summer when labs are mostly empty. These tests involve running the showers on full blast and judging the amount, temperature and quality, of the water. With floor drains in most labs, plumbers used to place trash cans under the devices to catch the spray.

“When it was going full bore, that was lot of pressure,” said senior plumber Bryan Curtis.

After the trash cans were full – and extremely heavy – they’d be wheeled outside to be dumped. No matter how careful the plumbers were, it was hard not to have some water end up on the floor.

“We were creating another safety hazard with water on the floor, not only in the lab, but potentially in the hallway when plumbers were taking the cans to where they were going to dump it,” said Mike Snyder, Safety Manager for Duke Facilities Management.

One of the tasks that faced Williams when he was hired three years ago was to evaluate and improve testing procedures for the roughly 1,000 eye washes and showers in buildings scattered across campus.

“The manufacturers of the eye washes and safety showers design them, but they don’t always design for them to be tested,” Williams said. “They can forget that piece. That’s why we had to come up with something.”

In January 2017, Williams contacted Withee Works and, with their engineers, helped develop the Safety Shower Test Cart that catches water from safety devices and drains it into nearby sinks.

Last summer, plumbers gave the cart a trial run while testing showers. In August, a second version arrived featuring the modifications suggested by Duke’s plumbers. That cart has a wider funnel, a taller telescoping pipe, a clear tube to better gauge water clarity and a wider wheel base for more stability. It’s also Duke blue instead of green.

And now there’s a new design in the works just for eye-wash tests.

By making the plumbers’ jobs easier, moving forward the strange-looking cart will become a familiar sight to those who frequent Duke’s on-campus labs.