Training, Drills, Communications Pay Off During HazMat Emergency

Nov. 1, 1998
Safety training, drills, and communication with local fire and rescue departments are winning combinations to successfully meet a hazardous materials

Safety training, drills, and communication with local fire and rescue departments are winning combinations to successfully meet a hazardous materials emergency, said two speakers in September at the National Association of Chemical Distributors Operations Seminar and Trade Show in Long Beach, California.

"There's an art to emergency response," said Michael Callan, a hazardous materials consultant. "Put a good system together and then test it to be sure that it works."

Also discussing emergency response was David Binder, director of quality and regulatory affairs for Tanner Industries Inc, who emphasized the importance of training and drills so that employees can act swiftly to meet the emergency as well as to comply with government regulations.

While most companies provide training required by law, few conduct drills often enough, said Callan. "An annual drill just doesn't cut it. Most of those are scheduled, which isn't nearly as effective. Emergencies don't occur on schedule. Usually managers say training and drills cost too much. Well, the price isn't important if it works when you need it."

Safety training prepares employees, who are most familiar with the facility's environment, to respond appropriately in the event of an accident. The alternative may be having to rely on local fire departments and rescue teams that aren't likely to understand the characteristics of a spill.

"Firemen will risk their lives to save life and property, but they will destroy your facility in the process," Callan said.

Both speakers pointed out that if employees are trained properly, they can oversee the response effort. "They become part of the command structure," said Callan.

Appropriate Training Appropriate training includes an emergency action plan that lists escape routes, shutdown procedures, and the need for a head count. All employees must know who to call and when - managers, rescue squads, fire department, and/or 911. "If you can take action within 30 minutes, you can prevent further spread of the situation," said Binder.

In addition, all emergencies must be reported within 15 minutes to the National Response Center (NRC). Some states and local entities also require immediate reporting. "Train the person to stop and make the calls. Always write down the name of the person talked to, the number called, the date, and time," said Callan. "NRC will provide a six-digit log number. They will ask some questions. The person making the report should always say he or she doesn't know if the answer isn't known."

And, he added, prior interaction with an emergency rescue company under contract is not enough. Considerable familiarity with local rescue personnel, including regular meetings and briefings, can pay off in an emergency.

"Get to know your local units," said Callan. "Don't wait until you need them in an emergency. Invite them to your facility for training and refreshments. Providing refreshments lets your responders know you appreciate their time and effort. Additionally, if it is a volunteer community, the best time to contact them is in the evenings and on the weekends. Schedule meetings at convenient times."

He emphasized the importance of cooperation between the industrial sector and local entities. "Poor cooperation causes many incidents to escalate and turn into major disasters."

Employee training can be at several levels, said Binder. Some people may only be trained to be aware of any emergencies that might occur and have only the authority to alert others and evacuate. An eight-hour training program can prepare employees to take defensive actions such as closing an open valve on the way out of the area after putting a dike around the drain. Technician-level training requires 24 hours of special instruction that includes health tests and the use of special equipment. Specialists receive more in-depth training in chemicals and emergency response plans. An incident commander is trained to be in charge of the emergency response.

Callan noted that employees must be trained about specific products and warned against taking inappropriate action. "They should know what the flash point is before they hear the swoosh," he said. "You don't want them thinking, 'I'll just hold my breath and run in there and turn off the valve.' They get in there, realize they are in trouble, and the first thing they do is take a deep breath."

Training should include preplanning, the roles that individuals will be responsible for, the chain of authority, emergency recognition and prevention, the safe distance from the emergency location, and how to secure and control the area.

HazMat Contacts For more information about hazmat training and response, contact: Environmental Protection Agency - Department of Transportation - E-mail Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) at [email protected] E-Mail Binder through the Tanner Industries web site - E-mail Callan at [email protected].