Developing a Hazard Communication Standard Can Help Prepare Emergency First Responders
Making sure your institution has a hazard communication standard in place is crucial for ensuring employee health and environmental safety. But it can serve a purpose for people outside of your workplace, too. While the general public may first spring to mind—and make no mistake, their safety is of the utmost importance—I’m referring to emergency first responders.
No one wants to think of the worst case scenario. The truth is, however, that we must prepare for it. Accidents do happen, and emergency responders are often the first line of defense between a hazardous material spill and the general public.
Let’s consider rail-related accidents. Over the past decade, a reported 109 trains carrying hazardous materials have been involved in accidents. Even though hazmat-carrying trains are usually associated with shipping contents related to drilling activity, they can also contain commercial products, chemicals and plastics. While emergency responders should be trained specifically about crude oil1, it’s unfair to put all of the burden on that industry.
In this digital age, emergency responders have developed their own set of tools. They have software that can tell them what direction the wind is blowing, which can affect how far and fast fumes or fire will spread. They can also be informed of outside humidity, which can influence the reactivity of certain chemicals. Most important of all, digital tools can let emergency responders know the load contents of the train.2 After all, knowing all the environmental details in the world won’t matter a bit if you don’t actually know what you’re dealing with.
A Hazard Communication Standard Can Help Develop an Emergency Response Plan
While it’s true that sometimes the identity of load contents is considered confidential, it’s often best to comply with public safety officials and federal and local disclosure regulations when safety is at stake. No company needs that kind of bad publicity.
As part of the system put in place to prepare emergency responders for rail-related accidents, companies have begun informing localities about the different products carried by their hazmat trains. By using this information, response teams can put together a plan to execute in case the worst case scenario does occur.
Just like emergency responders rely on digital tools to help them with their preparedness plans, companies can use a chemical management system to aid their hazard communication standard. For example, first responders need to know the identity of a hazardous chemical in order to determine how to handle it. Should they put out the fire immediately or let the chemicals burn off? In some cases, the former is necessary while in others the latter is actually a better strategy.
A Chemical Management System Can Help Companies Maintain Their Hazard Communication Standard
A chemical management system is a useful component of any hazard communication standard. By adopting this digital tool, a company can eliminate unwieldy, and often outdated, chemical safety binders. In its place, they can enjoy the following advantages:
- Inventory Tracking: Companies can track a chemical through its entire life cycle on-site, from receipt to disposal. There’s no mystery or uncertainty.
- Safety Information: In addition to knowing the chemical’s identity, the system can also inform you of any special properties and considerations. Is it explosive? Or is it toxic? Maybe it’s something worse.3 Regardless of what it is, emergency responders need to know so they can tailor their plans.
- Proper Handling Procedures: Users can access a chemical’s associated safety data sheet from within the management system, making it quick and easy to look up information. When dealing with an emergency response, time is of the essence, especially when public welfare is involved. The safety data sheet contains information such as health information and how to dispose of a chemical properly. Both are aspects first responders need to know.
While rail-related accidents often draw the most attention, first responders have to deal with all sorts of emergencies such as truck spills, tank leaks or plant explosions. Even though no firm wants any of these things to happen under their watch, having measures in place is necessary. Your company’s proactive measures can save lives.
- “Saving lives more important to local responders than fighting fire,” August 21, 2015, http://www.postbulletin.com/news/local/saving-lives-more-important-to-local-responders-than-fighting-fire/article_b35fcb6f-01fd-5657-a76b-5e10691627b2.html ↩
- “Railroads, Emergency Responders, Prepared in Event of Oil Spill in Texas,” August 10, 2015, http://www.emergencymgmt.com/safety/Railroads-Emergency-Responders-Prepared-in-Event-of-Spill.html ↩
- “Hazmat Identification, Control, and Emergency Response: The Fundamental Weakness in the System,” July 1, 2015, https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2015/07/01/Hazmat-Identification.aspx?Page=1 ↩