Are we doing enough to protect our personnel, the public who depend on us to keep them safe and the environment? Are we taking the appropriate measures to mitigate the consequence of Hazmat Incidents by adopting a risk-managed approach?
Dealing with Hazmat Incidents often takes an emergency responder outside their comfort zone; they are invariably drawing on recollections from chemistry lessons in the past to attempt to establish an understanding of some of the basic principles unfolding at an incident. On most occasions a higher order of scientific and specialist technical advice will be needed and often this can bring its own challenges. Emergency responders are faced with the unenviable task of interpreting scientific data from an academic into the incident unfolding in front of them and turning that into an operational strategy.
The purpose of this article is intended to illustrate that adopting strategic thinking for Hazmat Incidents, combined with an integrated operational plan, the risk management of the incident can be significantly enhanced. The following outline methodology is offered as a potential way forward:
Understanding the risk – A core principle is to understand the risk and to identify the protection and operation response required. Intelligence needs to be gathered about storage and process plants involving hazardous materials, indicative quantities and nature of the hazards presented.
This is the start of pre-planning operational procedures and will inform the procurement of chemical protective clothing (CPC). In the case of CPC, potential wearers have a right to know that the suit that they have on is going to protect them against the known chemical they are likely to encounter, or if the toxic nature of that substance is such, that no suit will provide protection.
The message here is that when purchasing CPC we must ensure that is capable of protecting against identified risks; this will determine the selection of gas tight against liquid tight splash suits, or if re-useable suits are preferable to limited use suits. The next decision is to establish which material offers the best resistance to those chemicals and to determine the volume of CPC suits needed to be deployed.
Data from known chemical sites should be held as a central resource and be readily available to crews on route to an incident. This must include hazards presented by chemicals held, properties that the crews need to be aware of and the level of CPC required.
In addition, for those unexpected occurrences such as transport incidents involving dangerous goods, arrangements must be in place to facilitate access the additional chemical information databases such as Chemdata and IMDG, both of which are designed to provide invaluable advice to responders at Hazmat Incident scenes. Furthermore crews need to be able to call on specialist scientific advice 24 hours a day and 7 days a week in order to support operations.
Of course a vital component of this chemical data exchange is the availability of a person with the specialist training and skills to accurately process and interpret the technical data provided into an operational tactical plan, as a trained Hazmat Advisor.
Planned Operational Support Arrangements
Arrangements need to be in place for decontamination of personnel. The base locations for this equipment should ultimately be located in the perceived primary risk areas in terms of incident probability and severity of risk as a result of contamination.
In many cases something as simple as the provision of liquid detergent soap and a bottle of bleach provided on frontline vehicles would go a long way to provide an initial decontamination capability at a Hazmat Incident scene. From information gained at the incident, the detergent soap can be effectively used to assist in the removal of much of the chemical contaminant locally and the bleach combats most of the threats posed by contamination from a biohazard.
Hazmat incidents are rarely ever the same, but application of the following steps will contribute to the efficient and safe handling of an incident:
What can be seen on the approach to the scene that might shape the response to the incident?
This initial information gathering might well include a sense of the incident size, what might be involved, likelihood of casualties, fire situation or not, immediate surroundings, potential for escalation and an indication of the wind direction. These factors will start the process of managing the risk at the scene and will build a picture of the potential priorities. It will also allow the responder to gain a sense of how the situation could deteriorate, if immediate resources initially attending will be sufficient or whether more will be required.
A key element of the response to Hazmat Incidents is the approach, which can play a significant element in the safe and efficient outcome for the responding crews.
Approach will always be upwind and up slope, where possible, to the exposure to leak, gas cloud or smoke, in the event of a fire situation. The concept being applied when crews go into the risk area always uses an agreed ‘avoidance route’, keeping away from potential contact with the spill or airborne contaminant. Obvious perhaps, but the best form of decontamination is not to come into contact and be contaminated in the first place!
Scene Hazard Analysis
Factors that must be considered before developing a tactical plan to deal with a Hazmat Incident should include:
Is the incident in open air, if so am I able to see most aspects from a distance?
Are casualties involved, is there an urgency or possible complications for their rescue?
How much information is currently available to make a full assessment of the hazards presented?
What is the potential for the incident to worsen and the immediacy of action required to prevent that escalation of events?
What resources are currently available in terms of personnel, technical expertise, equipment and PPE and potential timeline for additional support if required?
What initial arrangements can be put in place to deal with any contaminated crews and casualties leaving the immediate scene to ensure their safety and extending the contaminated area?
It is important to recognise that decontamination at a Hazmat scene is only a method of allowing a wearer to get out of CPC in relative safety and limiting exposure to the contaminant. It is not designed to clean the suit or provide any assurance that the suit is free from contaminant and suitable for continued further operational use.
A record must be made of all personnel exposed to Hazardous Materials, the substance involved, the level and nature of exposure. Individuals must also be briefed to understand what they have been exposed to and provided with any necessary action to take in the event of subsequently feeling unwell post incident.
Planning, clear operational strategy and procedures as well as appropriately trained personnel will all increase the safety of crews. These are simple steps that will undoubtedly enhance the duty of care to our responders.
For more information, go to www.3action.uk