Q&A Series: 4 Important Emergency Response Questions and Answers

Emergency ResponseWhile the ER coordinator serves as the point person during an emergency, it is important to prepare your entire facility for a possible emergency in order to streamline the response and control the situation. Practicing different spill scenarios and other emergencies is the best way to identify procedural flaws and potential issues that could exacerbate an already dangerous situation. I recently delivered a webinar on this topic and provided answers to some of the most common questions received.

How often and what types of drills should be conducted?

You can really conduct safety drills as frequently as you'd like. You could do a small spill of a liquid inside of a lab and go through the scenario of, “Do you handle it internally or do you handle it externally in looking at what chemical type it is?” In some cases, we've had companies ask us to do multiple drills where they went through and did different scenarios throughout a month. We had one company located on a river ask us to do river response as their worst case. Afterwards, we were asked to simulate a drill with an injured person caused by chemical spills.

It is really open to what you'd like to test at your facility. The guidelines to base testing on can be determined by what you have for a chemical inventory and the scenario that you have at your facility. The best thing to do is to set up an assessment of your facility and maybe a walk through with your contractors.

Do you recommend a spill kit for each lab?

The answer for that could be yes or no. It has to do with what's inside that lab. Having a chemical inventory and knowing what's in each lab will help you determine if you do need a spill kit and also the type of spill kit that should be used. You don't want to just buy a generic spill kit that has solvent powder, acid powder, and base powder, with everything that's in there being completely different.

So, looking at it, a spill kit could be lab specific or it could also be based off what you have in your contingency plan. Will you have people clean up incidental spills? Or do you want people to just get out of the room? In those cases where spill clean up isn't allowed, even for incidental spills, they remove their spill kits from the labs and they have a centralized spill kit in the hallway that's only for their trained personnel.

Looking at what you have in your contingency plan or emergency action plan will help determine if you should have a spill kit. Sometimes having one might allow someone to think that they are helping you when they're not trained at that particular type of clean up.

What guidelines can you provide when you have a situation involving the release of an unknown chemical or if you have an abandoned chemical outside of the building?

We've had a couple of scenarios that have come up like this in the past. We've actually responded to an abandoned cylinder that was found outside of a building that was underground. And this was, “Wow, the company was breaking ground to expand.” In that case, it was dealt with as an unknown because the material was unknown. But, we had some research on that facility which helped to identify the level of PPE. In most cases, we can ask questions with the person that's on site. We know that when it comes to an unknown, we are at least going in under level B which requires at least four people.

For the air monitoring, if it's indoor and it's an unknown odor coming from a lab, getting the lab inventory will help you get through the situation. Then, you look to see what's in there and it can usually be scanned with a PID meter so you can go through and test the area to understand what it could be. But in all cases, it's being entered at least in level B and I recommend to shut off the area.

What happens if someone's injured in an emergency response situation? Do you deal with the person first or the spill first?

When you have someone’s life at risk during an emergency you want to designate key staff you can reach out to for help. If you are coordinating you want to make sure that someone is attending to that person while you have other people attending to the spill. You want to make sure that the person gets whatever attention is needed to remedy the situation.

It also comes down to some preventive maintenance to make sure that your aisle walks and safety showers are working when someone needs to get a chemical off them. If you do have first aid on site, make sure people have the equipment they need.

You always hope the emergency does not result in injury, but going through the test scenario of a mock drill and what would happen if someone gets hurt will make you better prepared. You want to know ahead of time who will be assigned to assist the injured person and if you do have to call medical personnel, that person will be able to help with the information transfer.

Check out the full webinar recording by clicking the button below.

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