The West Virginia chemical spill we mentioned in our previous article Spill Risks: How to Manage Spills in the Workplace cost WV businesses a total of $61 million. The company from which the harmful spill came from later filed for bankruptcy.
When chemical spills get out of hand they can cost a huge amount for concerned companies. One example of huge expenditure due to a chemical spill is the spill on Helena St in Fort Erie, Canada. The clean-up cost nearly $1 million.
Industries dealing with chemical and liquid products should be wary – not deterred – by the numbers. Most of these spills and leaks can be rapidly subdued and contained as long as your employees know what to do. A disaster and emergency team can also be trained specifically and deployed for this purpose.
Training your Employees
Holding training sessions for your employees will prove beneficial in the long run. Well-trained staff can be an asset in case of emergencies like the ones described above.
Most training should start with a brainstorming activity in which employees would talk about worst case scenarios. Certain problems will be outlined based on the industry the employees are in.
The main purpose of employee trainings is to impart knowledge as well as to introduce the emergency action plan to the employees and make sure they really know it. If the emergency action plan is not yet established, the training can be a great venue to establish it. The emergency action plan should also contain an evacuation policy. Every office building or factory should already have evacuation policies in plan in case of a fire or other emergencies.
Evacuation coordinators should lead the evacuation process in the case of an emergency or drill. He or she should know all the proper exits while the clean-up team contains the spill and the first aid team tends to anyone in need of help.
The training can be organised by the company itself, however, it is recommended that all companies refer to outside trainers from a government agency dealing with emergency preparedness or an industry that deals with the clean-up process.
What Should Be Addressed in Training?
Most training includes an in-depth lesson on how to clean up various kinds of liquid and chemical spills, including the right tools to use. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlined the topics to be discussed during training. Key points include the following:
Individual roles and responsibilities
The training should outline each employee’s responsibilities. During an emergency, everybody should know exactly what they are supposed to do. Those who have bigger responsibilities should also get different training about their roles.
Threats, hazards, and protective actions
The training should include a discussion about the possible threats and hazards that could occur in the workplace. Employees should be clear about what protective actions they should exercise.
Notification, warning, and communication procedures
This part of the training should introduce employees to the sound of the alarm, as well as warning and communication procedures. If your company uses colour coding when issuing a warning, make sure it is well understood and practiced in drills.
Means for locating family members in an emergency
In case of emergency, the company should be able to contact numbers from a database or at the very least a hard copy phone book to contact families.
Emergency response procedures
The emergency response procedures should be outlined one by one from start to finish. To ensure the safety of employees the procedures should be practiced in drills. Drills often give employees a sense of a real life threatening situation. Of course, in real emergencies, problems can arise. Review the procedures often to help minimise this.
Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures
In the case of a spill in the workplace that may prove harmful to employees, evacuation and shelter should be prepared in advance. The procedures to reach this place should also be discussed. In every evacuation group, there should be one person who is accountable for the employees. This person should have thorough knowledge of the evacuation procedures.
Location and use of common emergency equipment
Emergency equipment needs to be placed somewhere where it is accessible to everybody. There should also be kits in most strategic places; those places which have the highest possibility of spill emergencies. The use of this equipment should be demonstrated to each and every employee. Equipment for spills and leaks may include specialised vacuums, absorbent cloths and buckets among others.
Emergency shutdown procedures
Once there is an emergency, everyone should be prepared for shutdown procedures. Shut down usually helps minimise or contain the problem to a small area. Make sure everybody understands what will happen during a shutdown.
Ideal Response Processes
Karen D. Hamel, technical specialist for New Pig Corp. outlined the steps to be taken during a spill crises:
1. Identify spills
What has been spilled? Was it a harmful substance? Do employees require an emergency evacuation or is the spill in a small area and not likely to cause any issues? Identifying spills should be easy, as all stored chemicals and liquids in your workplaces should be labelled properly.
Notify everybody in the workplace if it is an emergency. Notify the proper authorities especially if desperate measures are required.
3. Protect response team
As for the response team, make sure they are properly clothed with all the protective gear in place. If the team underwent training, they will know better than to enter the spill site without the proper equipment.
4. Life safety
Make sure you prioritise life over the process of eliminating the spill. In case it gets out of hand, call for more people and ask for help. Always make sure that everybody in the building has been evacuated, an alarm has been sent off to warn the authorities and civilians are supplied with necessary facts if needed.
5. Contain the spill
Now, contain the spill. Try as much as possible to keep it from spreading. Make sure to steer the spill away from any water supplies or drainage which may lead it to spread. Once you’ve cordoned it, you can start the process of eliminating the spill.
6. Stop the source
The source should be stopped at once. But make sure the person or team stopping it are well equipped with protective clothing and tools and they know what they are doing.
7. Clean up the spill
Clean up the spill with the use of the emergency spill kits. Spill kits are sold based on the size of the spill or the liquid they can contain. For bigger companies with a large volume of stored liquids, make sure that your kit is applicable for the amount that could spill in a disaster.
Even if there are no signs of liquid left after cleaning, if a harmful chemical has been spilled, you need to exercise extra caution by decontaminating. In hospitals, decontamination is a must to avoid the spread of any life threatening substance. This also applies to any other workplace.
For simple spills, bleaching will do the trick. But for hazardous substances, you should use an approved decontaminate substance that can counter the effects of the spill.
Only after everything has been dealt with should you report what has happened with all the necessary details. Whether you will provide it to management or a government agency, make sure it’s accurate.
Restock the tools and the kits you have used. You never know when it’s going to happen next. Learn from the emergency and adjust any emergency procedures that were lacking and try to strengthen them.
Training your personnel to understand the right response to a workplace emergency can help you avoid outstanding costs after a spill. Follow the training points mentioned in this blog post and make sure all employees receive the same important information about spill risks and emergency procedures.