Building a Chemical Emergency Toolkit

Building a Chemical Emergency Toolkit

It can be difficult to keep track of chemical hazards in your facility.

Gas detection in the chemical industry can range from hand-held specialized meters used by industrial hygienists or chemical engineers to the basic clip detection monitors utilized by the hundreds of operations personnel and contractors at a facility. There are a wide range of chemical hazards that can be found throughout a plant and there are a multitude of ways to detect these hazards. Because of this, it can be difficult to keep track of who is monitoring what hazards, where, and how. 

The truth, however, is that keeping your employees and community safe has never been easier through the effective use of a chemical emergency toolkit. 

Why You Need a Chemical Emergency Toolkit 

The first line of defense against gas hazards is a small personal monitor. These devices, while essential, are often treated as the ultimate protection against gas hazards when in fact they represent the first building block in a true emergency response toolkit. Whether your gas monitoring program consists of a small team in one area or hundreds of contractors, one point remains the same: a properly vetted and practiced emergency toolkit is critical.  

The core objective of a chemical emergency toolkit is to provide a common operating framework during emergencies, rapidly respond to incidents, limit financial loss and protect human health. An emergency toolkit is a testament of your commitment to the safety and well-being of your community, your employees and your shareholders. 

In communities across the globe, residents living near chemical facilities have not been trained in how to respond during a chemical accident—meaning it’s up to you and your team to protect your community from any hazardous gases or related incidents. A 2018 survey, “Awareness about hazardous chemicals of residents living near chemical plants in South Korea,” found that only 10 percent of residents living near chemical facilities had been trained or educated on how to respond during a chemical accident while only 30 percent of residents believed the facility operators had taken proper actions against chemical accidents in the past. 

What to Include to Ensure Protection 

While personal gas monitors are critical in protecting individual personnel, a true emergency response requires careful consideration of how these tools can be used in a broader context. By properly equipping your workers and responders, you are already taking a key step protecting your people and your community. 

Incorporating real-time weather data is a necessary consideration to increase the scope of your response readiness. Conditions can change rapidly during a crisis and relying on data that is delayed can seriously impair the ability to make the best decision possible. By understanding live weather conditions surrounding your site, you can pinpoint areas of concern and ensure the safety of the potentially affected population. No matter the hazard, real-time weather data helps enable rapid assessment of where to deploy team members in an emergency. 

The addition of connected area monitoring equipment greatly improves multi-threat detection, establishes hazard perimeters, monitors for long-term hazard, enables remote monitoring of potential critical receptors and is easy to re-deploy as a chemical emergency unfolds. 

Connected area monitoring equipment can be further enhanced with dynamic plume modeling software to truly take control of any chemical emergency. Dynamic plume models automatically adjust to your site’s conditions while recording incidents from the beginning of the incident to end. This feature gives you the information you need to understand any potential environmental impacts as well as review and develop lessons learned from the incident. 

Dynamic plume modeling is extremely versatile and can help your team in an emergency by: 

  • Quickly calculating chemical release rates 
  • Identifying potential leak sources 
  • Understanding how current conditions are affecting response teams and areas of concern 
  • Providing real-time data from on-site gas and weather sensors 
  • Establishing event views that provide the whole picture of an incident (including hazard location, personnel location, changing wind conditions, road closures, hot zones and more) 
  • Establishing critical receptor locations and ensuring monitoring takes place  

Deploying a Chemical Emergency Toolkit 

Once you have added the right gas detection equipment to your chemical emergency toolkit, you will want to implement multiple best practices at your facility to ensure the highest safety processes are in place. 

First, pre-define the scenarios where a chemical emergency toolkit is needed. You need to acknowledge and understand the gas hazards impacting your facility by characterizing each hazard to create an individualized response plan. Next, identify points of interest both on-site and off-site. These could include places like schools, hospitals, public venues or evacuation points. These points of interest should be built into your common operating framework. Then establish a communication plan with local responders and local emergency planning committees so you can better respond to your neighbors. 

From there, you’ll need to practice, practice, practice. This entails everything from training your teams on how to use their equipment (What do those beeps mean? Who sees the data? How do I know what a safe or harmful condition is?) to understanding the operating framework (How do these devices communicate with each other? What are the hazards identified by dynamic modeling? How do we respond?). 

Once everyone at your plant knows how to use their equipment and the role they play, implement both small and large drills. For small drills, its recommended to practice equipment deployment and remote monitoring. Meanwhile, large drills replicate a full-scale scenario involving several departments and incorporating multiple elements of the chemical emergency toolkit. These scenarios and drills should be reviewed annually or semi-annually. Hazards come in all shapes and sizes, and it is best to be as prepared as possible. 

In a recent example, a major refinery in the U.S. implemented their own emergency response toolkit and began running true-to-life drills with simulated chemical plumes. In doing so, they discovered that local first responders would be severely impacted by the modeled chemical hazard as they attempted to reach the facility. They were able to incorporate this information into their toolkit and are now able to ensure first responders will be protected while they respond to future incidents.  

Having a set plan in place, knowing how to use your gas detection equipment, incorporating dynamic modeling and consistently practicing emergency response drills is critical in not only establishing control during an emergency but keeping workers and communities safe during a time when every moment matters. 

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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