Spill Management Inc. Response Team Training Services Spill Management Inc. Specualized Response Training For Chemical Spills, ISO 14001 (4.4.7) Standard For Emergency Preparedness
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Reducing Risks Through Practical Hands-On Training

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Response / Training

Emergency responders must have practical, hands-on experience, training and knowledge to handle the dangers associated with chemical spills.

Unfortunately, often, the training they receive is impractical. As a result, responders are less effective than they should be and frustrated because their capabilities do not match the dangers they face.

Lack of practical knowledge is routinely demonstrated in various ways. Leaders of response teams may enter critical areas without wearing proper protective equipment; carry radios which might not be intrinsically safe in a highly flammable environment; and order all unprotected people out of the area whether this is necessary or not.

In short, the real training often begins when investigators determine what went wrong.

Dealing with the problem

Emergency responders are beginning to realize that they must become more effective in determining where their information and knowledge are incomplete. For instance, many are beginning to understand that information from labels, placards and material safety data sheets should be treated as indicator information, to be verified during an event.

Learning how to verify the dangers at a spill site can only be done through hands-on training, despite what many well-intentioned instructors and training departments are teaching.

Most training departments have been teaching that capability in dealing with spills comes from following standard operating procedures in which all the right things are done in the right order. This means that many of the response procedures being taught today are not in tune with the realities faced by responders.

Many professional responders may be succeeding more through good luck than good management, benefiting from business and industrial improvements to avoid environmental liabilities.

For example, it is common today to find:

  • Dykes or other containment features around large tanks.
  • Workplace risk and hazard awareness programs, that result in an educated work force.
  • A strong emphasis on safety and environmental programs, as well as emergency response programs.
  • Placarded tanker trucks and rail cars.
  • Well-trained truck drivers, who are accountable for their activities.
  • Corporate policies that support, encourage and demonstrate due diligence.
  • Manufacturers Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

In addition, extensive research has resulted in:

  • Higher-quality and safer personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Reduced incidence of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
  • More diversified response supplies.
  • Highly sensitive monitoring equipment.

All of these developments may make inexperienced responders over-confident and complacent. When something totally unexpected occurs, competency becomes the key factor.

What must be done

Reducing Risks Through Practical Hands-On Training - Drum RepairResponders must be trained to identify the dangers as they proceed with mitigation. This involves five steps: approach the site; secure it; identify the problem; assess the risks; and then respond (ASIA-R).

Unfortunately, responders often do not have a chance to combine practical knowledge with the techniques taught in the classroom. This becomes evident when inexperienced responders try to match the appropriate personal protective equipment supplies, action plans and response objective to the immediate risks and hazards.

Inexperienced teams are inclined to:

  • Charge in like knights in shining armour to handle all situations from first response to final clean-up.
  • Put blind faith in standard operating procedures.
  • Become frustrated as they discover that their training has not given them the skills to assess and deal with situations that are critical or escalating at rapid rates.

In fact, such teams may have trouble sorting out the “need to Knows” from the “nice to Knows”.

For example, if responders are using monitors to detect gasoline vapours in a confined space such as sewer, they might encounter methane vapours. The monitor may not distinguish between the two vapours. For immediate site safety, the fact that an explosive condition exists is a “need to know”. Whether the condition is created by gasoline or methane is a “nice to know” piece of information.

If responders are trained only to follow the procedures of donning protective gear and then entering an area to read the label on a drum that has spill, it could be exactly the wrong procedure. The atmosphere could be explosive and the protective clothing could present an ignition source by carrying a static charge.

Another example of the need for practical, hands-on training is the identification of unknown chemicals formed when two chemicals mix. For instance, if there is a mixture of sodium and chlorine, which MSD Sheet do you read? Do you suit up for the water-reactive sodium or for the corrosive, toxic and oxidizing properties of the chlorine? (The mixture, of course, produces sodium chloride - common table salt).

Many professional responders do not work with chemicals on a regular basis. These include firefighters, police, ambulance attendants, recovery operators and outside contractors. They will see the dangers of a chemical spill from a different perspective than that of people who work with chemicals on a day-to-day basis such as chemists or members of an industrial in-house response team.

In fact, experienced responders may appear to be too complacent in the eyes of other emergency responders who do not have practical experience or site-specific and product-specific training. Conversely, inexperienced responders may be viewed as over-reactive.

Reducing Risks Through Practical Hands-On Training - Drum TestingResponders have been dealing with chemical spills for a long time now. While there has been constant change and innovation in their training and response procedures, it is time to take a long, hard look at our current capabilities. We must recognize how information sharing and flexible guidelines will help us to understand the differences between the “need to knows” and the “nice to knows”. Once responders understand the difference between these two concepts, they will find there is no alternative to practical, hands-on experience, training and knowledge.

Cliff Holland, Spill Management Inc.