A drum containing a benzene compound explodes. Construction workers expose asbestos when they dig around an old water main. Incidents like these are commonly reported every day. In fact, the National Response Center received 32,435 reports of hazardous incidents in 2000. Of those reports, 11,813 were from fixed facilities. Because it isn't possible to prevent every accident, it pays to be prepared. OSHA, EPA, and DOT all have regulations requiring preparedness for emergencies.
Addressing these requirements will require you to have a firm knowledge of any hazardous materials being used, as well as knowledge of any processes that could cause danger. With this information, you will be able to make a rational assessment of events that could occur, and to provide details of the danger that could be caused. This knowledge will also help you create effective response plans, train personnel to take appropriate action, and obtain the proper equipment needed to combat hazards.
In order to establish plans that work, you will need to secure the commitment of upper level management to devote both time and monetary resources to these efforts. Without this commitment, plans are often overlooked or remain incomplete--or necessary training gets neglected.
While you're writing your plans, consider each of the following areas and how they will help properly prepare your workers for the hazards they may be required to face.
Recognizing the Potential Hazards
Make sure all containers, tanks, and pipelines are properly labeled. The materials in facilities often are labeled with generic classifications, such as "flammable" or "corrosive." In order to be properly prepared, you need to determine what these classifications mean in context to your facility.
Have the MSDSs for hazardous chemicals handy when writing plans, and review them regularly to ensure workers are not put at undue risk because processes or procedures have changed or proper storage and handling procedures were not kept in check. The manufacturer or supplier of the material must provide an MSDS for hazardous materials being sold.
It's important to understand all of the implications of working with or transporting hazardous materials. This knowledge will help you avoid or prevent circumstances that endanger employees and others. Determine the "worst case scenario" that could happen with regards to each chemical. If a material is corrosive, you should know how aggressive it is and with which other materials it is incompatible. If a material is flammable or combustible, you need to know at what temperature it begins to burn. Developing a plan that prepares for the worst case for each hazard helps responders to have the knowledge and proper resources available to respond efficiently and safely.
Planning for Emergencies
Having the appropriate equipment on hand is also essential. The type of equipment necessary is dictated by the nature and quantity of hazardous materials at your facility. For example, if you have only one 55-gallon drum of a corrosive material on hand and it begins to leak, you would need to be prepared to respond to a spill of 55 gallons. If you are going to absorb the leakage from this spill, you must make sure the absorbent is suitable for the liquid and that you have the proper protective gear for your responders to wear while responding. Overpacks and other materials also may be needed to aid responders in getting the spill totally cleaned up.
If you have the potential for larger spills, your needs may be different. Do you need specialized equipment? Do you need diking systems? Do confined spaces complicate response? If the power is out, will you need generators to run pumps or other response tools?
The faster you can get a spill contained, the easier it is to clean up. Now is the time to gather any equipment you may need and to train responders on its use. If you wait for a spill to happen, it is often too late to get the proper materials to respond quickly, safely, and effectively.
Some companies decide to use an outside agency to assist in spill management. If this is an option you are considering, you'll need to understand the implications of doing this. An outside response team will take time to arrive at your facility. Gridlock is becoming a significant issue in and around most metropolitan areas, and it can limit emergency team responsiveness. You may still need to have workers trained to take initial response so the effects of the incident can be minimized.
Training for an Emergency
Anyone who has the possibility of coming into contact with hazardous materials should have specific knowledge of the materials, what they can do, and how they should be handled. They must know which protective equipment should be used, where this equipment is, and how to use it. They also must know what to do in the event of an emergency.
This is not to say that everyone at your facility must be trained to the level of the responder team; it just means they should know what steps they are supposed to take should an emergency occur. This may mean that they immediately clear the area and contact their supervisor or sound a siren. It may mean that they need to be trained to use a fire extinguisher. Whatever the action may be, make sure the information is clearly communicated through training so workers know what they are supposed to do--or not do--in the event of an emergency.
Training for emergency response must be ongoing and become an integral part of the business culture. It must include anyone who could be affected by a release of hazardous material. While it seems obvious to train those who normally handle a hazardous material and those on an emergency response team, others who work in the area and those who may be in the area occasionally must understand the potential for harm from a spill and what they are supposed to do or not do.
Know Your Suppliers
We are fortunate to live in a society that gives us many options for just about any product we wish to obtain. Response equipment is no exception. But the lowest price is seldom the best choice.
Acquiring the right equipment for effective emergency response requires a thorough understanding of the materials needed and the context in which the items will be handled and used. It should come as no surprise that equipment that is suitable in one site might be entirely unsuitable for another.
Look for suppliers who are manufacturers or who specialize in the equipment you require. Manufacturers are going to know their products better than bulk warehouse-style distributors and should be able to provide greater insight on how their product will work for your situations. Granted, this will probably not allow you to purchase "everything you need" from one supplier, but it will help ensure you are getting the best equipment and products for your specific needs. A good supplier also will know the limitations of its products and should not be afraid to tell you that its product may not be the best one for your application. It also may be a good source for referrals on other products you need that the supplier doesn't carry.
Reviewing Your Plans
From time to time, processes change, chemicals being used change, and employees are hired or leave the company. These sorts of changes necessitate a review of your plans to ensure the procedures outlined are still valid and relevant to the situations that may be encountered. If changes are made to the plans, make sure they are communicated to all affected employees through training. Even if there are no apparent changes, it is a good idea to review plans annually and after any incident to ensure they are still appropriate for the needs of your facility.
Finally, the best programs will be based on eliminating possibilities and potentials for releases of hazardous materials. Writing plans with this in mind should help prevent a majority of incidents from occurring. If employees are properly trained and follow outlined procedures, accidents should be fewer and their consequences less severe. And, when an event does occur, workers should be able to handle it safely with minimal consequence.
Karen D. Hamel is a technical specialist at New Pig Corporation, a Tipton, Pa.-based manufacturer of industrial and hazardous material leak and spill response products.
For more hazmat related articles and information please visit our website at http://www.hazmatspecialists.com
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