Any business or enterprise that uses oil or chemicals should have an emergency response program as part of its hazardous waste management. No matter what size your operation—mom & pop or industrial strength—you need to consider the environmental damage that might be caused by an unintentional discharge, regardless of whether such a disaster is manmade (e.g. stupidity) or an Act of God (e.g. hurricane).
This blog entry provides information about hazmat emergency response programs. Q&As include:
What should you do in the event of a hazmat spill emergency?
What should a hazmat emergency response program include?
How extensive does an emergency response program need to be?
Who should be in charge of your hazmat emergency response program?
How do spilled oils and chemicals pollute?
What conditions impact the severity of an oil or chemical spill?
Who can help you develop a hazmat emergency response program?
1. What should you do in the event of a hazmat spill emergency?
This is a good question to ask now instead of later, as the surprise occurrence of an oil or chemical spill isn’t the time to begin a discussion about what to do in the event of one. Instead, a hazmat spill should instigate a well-defined and rehearsed emergency response program, with every employee up-to-date on what triggers its implementation.
2. What should a hazmat emergency response program include?
Effective hazmat emergency response programs differ from company to company according to the types and quantities of chemicals they handle and the kinds of things they do with them. You can get expert advice here. But in general, a hazmat emergency response program should have five parts:
Rescue—evaluating the spill area, providing aid to affected individuals, and seeking emergency medical assistance as necessary
Confinement—limiting the spill area as well as you can (e.g., covering drains to prevent the pollutant from entering municipal sewers; and isolating contaminated persons (e.g., not allowing them to leave and contaminate others)
Reporting—informing the appropriate emergency response authorities about the spill, its type, size, location, and if there are any injuries
Securing—ensuring that nobody enters the spill area until emergency personnel say it’s okay to do so. If the polluted area has multiple entrances, locate personnel at each to prevent entry
Cleaning—which must be conducted by personnel who have appropriate protective equipment, cleaning materials, and training
3. How extensive does a hazmat emergency response program need to be?
Each step of your hazmat emergency response program should be written in plain language and well-rehearsed.
During an emergency, adrenaline kicks in while “executive functioning” heads for the exits. That means that people won’t be in the right mental state to read and evaluate complicated pages of do’s & don’ts. But they will likely be able to execute simple, well-rehearsed assignments.
Make sure that all personnel knows about your hazmat emergency response program and that each knows his or her role within it. Provide regular training to educate new employees and keep current ones qualified. And run drills—some planned and some a surprise—to improve their readiness to swing into action.
As a component of your hazardous waste management, hard copies of your hazmat emergency response program should be kept both offsite and onsite in places that are intuitive and easily accessible to employees. Web copies are best kept in a secure cloud-based platform that’s accessible on any device.
4. Who should be in charge of your hazmat emergency response program?
An oil or chemical spill doesn’t care about your organizational chart. So, who should be in charge during a hazmat emergency might not be the person who’s running things during a normal day of operations.
Thus, your hazardous waste management should include an Incident Command System (ICS), wherein once a hazmat emergency is declared, authority and responsibilities are clear, unequivocal, and without regard to the usual departmental boundaries.
Your ICS should outline exactly what must be done during the first hours, days, and weeks of a spill, with responsibilities delegated to specific personnel at each juncture to make sure that no important detail is inadvertently missed that might later buy some lawyer a new ski boat.
5. How do spilled oils and chemicals pollute?
Oil or chemical spills usually evoke images of rusted and leaking oil tankers flagged by countries you never heard of and wouldn’t visit on a dare. However, if you don’t act quickly and effectively, less-dramatic amounts of oils or chemicals can contaminate lakes, rivers, and wetlands when spilled on land.
When wayward oils or chemicals get into aquatic environments, they can harm organisms that live on, nearby, or under the water’s surface. Spilled oils and chemicals can also do major harm to the local food chain, including the stuff we humans eat.
6. What conditions impact the severity of an oil or chemical spill?
The environmental damage caused by an oil or chemical spill is affected by a variety of incidental factors. Among them:
- Surface tension. This is the measure of attraction among the surface molecules of the pollutant. The higher the tension, the more likely a spill will remain in place. Contrarily, if surface tension is low, a pollutant will spread—even without help from water currents or wind.
- Viscosity. This is the measure of a pollutant’s resistance to flow. So, it also influences its tendency to remain in place. The higher the viscosity, the better for cleanup, because the pollutant will sit still (relatively speaking).
- Specific gravity. This is the density of a pollutant relative to that of water. A pollutant will float if it’s lighter than water, so you can skim it. However, it will sink if it’s heavier than water, complicating your cleanup methods in a very major way.
- Ambient conditions. A summertime disaster might be less manageable than one that occurs in winter. This is because warmer temperatures will reduce a pollutant’s surface tension, leaving it more likely to spread than in colder conditions.
7. Who can help you develop a hazmat emergency response program?
A suitable emergency response program for dealing with possible accidents and disaster scenarios is your first defense against the financial, legal, and political damage caused by any hazmat spill.
The first step is to identify your operation’s greatest vulnerabilities.
While it isn’t possible to foretell how a spill will exactly impact your business, you can nonetheless develop a hazmat emergency response program that will lessen the degree of damage to your operations, your reputation, and—ultimately—the financial health of your company.