Any employee has the potential to be put in a first responder role in the event of an emergency at the office, jobsite, or facility. As a result, all employees should be trained in response measures appropriate for site-specific vulnerabilities and identified risks. The rapid mobilization and proficiency of initial actions, as well as response procedure familiarity is essential in order to minimize potential chaos, scenario consequences, and plausible chain-reaction events.
In order to avoid the onset of panic or prolong emergency circumstances, necessary and effective reactive measures should become second nature to any potential initial responder. Familiarity through training and exercises can combat the natural effects of stress in tense situations. Having a well-rehearsed emergency plan enables efficient and effective response coordination, reduces losses, and can limit the impact to employees, the environment, and surrounding community.
Efforts must be made to train non-response team members in initial response actions and the appropriate initiation procedures. Any employee or contractor, upon discovering a significant event or condition that requires urgent response from outside trained personnel, should be trained to take the suggested initial response actions listed below:
Initial Response Actions:
- Warn others in the immediate area through verbal communication and/or activate local alarms.
- Take immediate personal protective measures (PPE, move to safe location, etc.).
- Report the emergency to Security or 9-1-1, depending on company policy.
- Implement local response actions (process shutdowns, activate fire protection systems, etc.) if safe to do so, and consistent with level of training and area specific procedures.
Industrial facility employees often encounter unique, site-specific hazards, and potential threats, unlike those in other fields. Specialized training must complement response team roles and responsibilities in order to address these specific vulnerabilities and risks. But despite an industrial setting, not all employees will be assigned to a formal response team.
Employees who may be exposed to hazardous substances are required to be HAZWOPER certified. HAZWOPER, an acronym for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard, communicates the required training that addresses hazardous operations and potential spills or releases. The intent of the HAZWOPER standard is to protect workers engaged in "Emergency response operations for releases of, or substantial threats of releases of, hazardous substances without regard to the location of the hazard." (29 CFR 1910.120(a)(1)(v)). However, this does not mean that all HAZWOPER certified employees are responsible for terminating a release. According to the standard, the following first responder levels are not trained to terminate a hazardous incident.
The Awareness Level: According to OSHA, the first responders at the “awareness level” must demonstrate competency in areas such as recognizing the presence of hazardous materials in an emergency, the risks involved, and the role they play in their employer’s plan.
Who should be trained? This level is applicable for persons who, in the course of their normal duties, could be the first on the scene of an emergency involving hazardous material. Responders at the awareness level are expected to recognize the presence of hazardous materials, protect themselves, call for trained personnel, and secure the area without engagement.
Individual companies can set their own hourly training requirements; however, employees must be capable of demonstrating the following:
- What hazardous substances are, and associated risks during an incident
- The potential outcomes associated with an emergency when hazardous substances are present
- Ability to recognize the presence of hazardous substances in an emergency
- Ability to identify the hazardous substances, if possible
- The role of the first responder awareness individual in the employer's emergency response plan, including site security and control and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Emergency Response Guidebook
- Ability to realize the need to make appropriate notifications for additional resources
The Operations Level: Operations level responders meet and exceed the competency level of the awareness responder. Operational responders are trained to respond in a defensive fashion without actually trying to terminate the release. Their function is to contain the release from a safe distance, keep it from spreading, and prevent exposures.
Who should be trained? These responders are part of the initial response for the purpose of protecting nearby persons, the environment, and/or property from the effects of the release. Operations may receive additional training in HAZMAT/CBRNE defensive techniques of absorption, damming and diking, diverting, retention, vapor dispersion and suppression. They may also be trained in basic decontamination procedures and PPE.
First responders at the operational level should complete the 8-hour HAZWOPER training course or have had sufficient experience to objectively demonstrate competency in the following areas:
- Basic hazard and risk assessment techniques
- How to select and use proper personal protective equipment
- Basic hazardous materials terms
- How to perform basic control, containment and/or confinement operations within the capabilities of the resources and personal protective equipment available with their unit
- How to implement basic decontamination procedures
- The relevant standard operating procedures and termination procedures
For a free download on conducting an effective exercise, click here or the image below.