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Emergency Response Planning

Each employer is required by OSHA to have a site-specific employee emergency response plan. A clear evacuation plan, as well as other systems and training, are required to ensure workplace safety and an adequate emergency response plan.

The EPA requires a risk management plan if your workplace stores or uses highly hazardous chemicals and materials. Any workers who are tasked with dealing with a chemical emergency must receive first responder training. The development, training, and implementation of an incident command structure to ensure a safe and coordinated response to any emergencies is part of incident emergency response planning.

First Responders & Emergency Response Plans?

Management should review plans with employees at the start and whenever the plan or employees’ responsibilities change. Plans should be re-evaluated and updated on a regular basis. The following emergency procedures, including the handling of any toxic chemicals, should be followed:

  • Evacuation procedures and route assignments.

  • Special procedures are in place for employees who perform or shut down critical plant operations.

  • A system for tracking all employees after they have been evacuated.

  • Employees who perform rescue and medical duties.

  • A method of reporting fires and other emergencies.

  • Contacts for more information on the plan.

It is necessary to appoint an emergency response coordinator and a backup coordinator. The coordinator may be in charge of plant-wide operations, public information, and ensuring that outside assistance is requested. A backup coordinator ensures that a trained individual is always on standby.

Members of emergency response teams should be thoroughly trained for potential emergencies, as well as physically capable of carrying out their duties. They should also be aware of toxic hazards in the workplace and be able to determine when to evacuate personnel or seek outside assistance.

It is critical to have effective emergency response communication. In the plans, an alternate location for a communications center other than management offices should be established, and the emergency response coordinator should operate from this location. Emergency alarms should be provided by management, and employees should be trained on how to report emergencies. An up-to-date list of key personnel and off-duty phone numbers should be kept.

Once workers have been evacuated, a system for accounting for personnel should be established, with a person in the control center responsible for notifying police or emergency response team members of persons believed to be missing.

Effective security procedures, such as cordoning off areas, can prevent unauthorized access and safeguard vital records and equipment. Duplicate records for essential accounting files, legal documents, and lists of employees’ relatives to be notified in the event of an emergency can be kept in off-site locations.

Every employee must be aware of the emergency action plan’s specifics, which include evacuation plans, alarm systems, personnel reporting procedures, shutdown procedures, and the types of potential emergencies. Drills should be held at random intervals, at least once a year, and should include, if possible, outside law enforcement and fire authorities.

Training must be provided at the outset, when new employees are hired, and at least annually. When new equipment, materials, or processes are introduced, procedures are updated or revised, or exercises show that employee performance is inadequate, additional training is required.

Emergency Plan & Hazardous Chemical Response Basics

What are chemical emergencies?

Where do dangerous chemicals come from?

Hazardous chemicals have been developed for use in warfare by military organizations. Nerve agents such as Sarin and VX are examples, as are mustards such as sulfur mustards and nitrogen mustards, and choking agents such as phosgene. Terrorists may be able to obtain these chemical warfare agents and use them to harm people.

In industry, many hazardous chemicals are used (for example, chlorine, ammonia, and benzene). Others can be discovered in nature (for example, poisonous plants). Some could be made from commonplace items like household cleaners. These dangerous chemicals could also be obtained and used to harm people, or they could be released accidentally.

Hazardous chemical types and classifications

  • Biotoxins are poisons derived from plants or animals.

  • Blister agents/vesicants—chemicals that cause severe blistering of the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin when they come into contact with them.

  • Blood agents are poisons that enter the body through the bloodstream and have an effect on it.

  • Caustics (acids) are chemicals that burn or corrode people’s skin, eyes, and mucus membranes (the lining of the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs) when they come into contact with them.

  • Chemicals that cause severe irritation or swelling of the respiratory tract are known as choking/lung/pulmonary agents (lining of the nose and throat, lungs)

  • Incapacitating agents are drugs that impair people’s ability to think clearly or cause them to experience an altered state of consciousness (possibly unconsciousness)

  • Long-acting anticoagulants are poisons that prevent blood from clotting properly, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding.

  • Metals—agents made up of metallic poisons.

  • Nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that work by interfering with the proper functioning of the nervous system.

  • Organic solvents are agents that cause tissue damage in living things by dissolving fats and oils.

  • Riot control agents/tear gas—highly irritating agents that are typically used by law enforcement to control crowds or by individuals for protection (for example, mace)

  • Toxic alcohols are poisonous alcoholic beverages that can harm the heart, kidneys, and nervous system.

  • Chemicals that cause nausea and vomiting are known as vomiting agents.

If you don’t know what the chemical is, you can protect yourself.

Even if you didn’t know what chemical had been released, you could protect yourself during a chemical emergency. Read this Web site’s fact sheets on evacuation, sheltering in place, and personal cleaning and disposal of contaminated clothing for assistance with an emergency response plan for general information on protecting yourself.

An emergency response, also known as responding to an emergency, is an effort made by employees from outside the immediate release area or by other designated responders in response to an occurrence that results, or is likely to result, in the uncontrolled release of a hazardous substance.

Responses to accidental releases of hazardous substances that can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled at the time of release by employees in the immediate release area or by maintenance personnel are not considered emergency responses under the scope of this standard. Responses to hazardous substance releases where no potential safety or health hazard exists (e.g., fire, explosion, or chemical exposure) are not considered emergency responses.

Hazardous materials response (HAZMAT) teams are an organized group of employees designated by the employer who are expected to perform work to handle and control actual or potential leaks or spills of hazardous substances requiring possible close proximity to the substance as part of an emergency response plan.

The team members respond to hazardous substance releases or potential releases in order to control or stabilize the incident. A HAZMAT team is not a fire department, nor is a typical fire department a HAZMAT team. A HAZMAT team, on the other hand, may be a separate component of a fire department or brigade.

A chemical, a chemical mixture, or a pathogen can pose a health risk if there is statistically significant evidence from at least one study conducted in accordance with established scientific principles that acute or chronic health effects may occur in exposed employees.

Chemicals that are carcinogens, toxic or highly toxic agents, reproductive toxins, irritants, corrosives, sensitizers, hepatotoxins, nephrotoxins, neurotoxins, agents that act on the hematopoietic system, and agents that damage the lungs, skin, eyes, or mucous membranes are all considered health hazards. Temperature extremes can also cause stress.

The portion of an emergency response that occurs after the immediate threat of a release has been stabilized or eliminated and cleanup of the site has begun is known as post-emergency response. If an employer’s own employees who were part of the initial emergency response perform a post-emergency response, it is considered part of the initial response and not post-emergency response plans.