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Hazardous Material Spill Planning: Declaration of Emergency Response

Posted on Mon, Apr 08, 2013

In 2012, The National Response Center (NRC) received 33,551 reports of oil or hazardous materials incidents. The NRC, which is managed by the U.S. Coast Guard, is responsible for receiving reports of oil or hazardous substance spills, and disseminating the information to the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC).

The criteria for reporting incidents regarding oil or hazardous material spills are included in 40 CFR 110 for oil discharges, and 40 CFR 117 and 40 CFR 302, for hazardous substances discharges:

40 CFR 110.6: Any person in charge of a vessel or of an onshore or offshore facility shall, as soon as he or she has knowledge of any discharge of oil from such vessel or facility in violation of section 311(b)(3) of the Act, immediately notify the National Response Center (NRC).

40 CFR 117.21: Any person in charge of a vessel or an onshore or an offshore facility shall, as soon as he has knowledge of any discharge of a designated hazardous substance from such vessel or facility in quantities equal to or exceeding in any 24-hour period the reportable quantity determined by this part, immediately notify the appropriate agency of the United States Government of such discharge.

40 CFR 302.6: Any person in charge of a vessel or an offshore or an onshore facility shall, as soon as he or she has knowledge of any release (other than a federally permitted release or application of a pesticide) of a hazardous substance from such vessel or facility in a quantity equal to or exceeding the reportable quantity determined by this part in any 24-hour period, immediately notify the National Response Center

If there is doubt or uncertainty regarding the need for a declaration of an emergency response, the situation should be reported immediately per the company’s emergency reporting procedures. Factors that indicate if a spill or release requires an emergency response include, but are not limited to, whether:

  • Employees evacuate the area.
  • External response specialists are required.
  • There is potential danger to life and health.
  • There is a serious threat of fire and explosion.
  • There may be high levels of exposure to toxic substances.
  • Employees have adequate training or equipment to respond given the severity of the hazards, and/or the exposure limit could be exceeded.
  • There is adequate information to assess the situation.

Hazardous materials spills and releases that require emergency response actions are subject to the HAZWOPER Standard, and require that non-emergency personnel evacuate the immediate area. Per HAZWOPER, 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 minimize exposures.

According to OSHA, the following circumstances do not warrant an emergency response:

29 CFR 1910.120(a)(3)): Responses to individual releases where the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled by employees in the immediate release area, or by maintenance personnel, are not emergency responses. Responses where there is no potential health or safety hazard are not emergency releases. Such events are typically small in volume, have little potential for human exposure, and involve materials of law toxicity.

29 CFR 1910.1200: If the hazardous substances that are in the work area are always stored in very small quantities, and the hazardous substances do not pose a significant safety and health threat at that volume, then the risks of having a release that escalates into an emergency are minimal. In this setting, the majority of releases are incidental, and employees should be trained to protect themselves in handling incidental releases per the training requirements of the Hazard Communication standard.

For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Best Practices for Crisis Management.

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Tags: Oil Spill, Training and Exercises, Workplace Safety, HAZWOPER