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Chemical Accidents Will Happen - Effective Emergency Response Training and Planning Can Make a Big Difference

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The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), an independent, non-regulatory federal agency appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, is responsible for investigating the root causes of major industrial chemical accidents at fixed industrial facilities with the vision of having a nation safe from chemical disasters. The agency, which consists of chemical and mechanical engineers, industrial safety experts and others with many years of chemical industry experience, was created under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

While the agency does not issue fines or citations, it does make recommendations to plants, regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry organizations and labor groups. In its almost 30-year history, the agency has deployed to over 130 chemical incidents and issued more than 800 recommendations that have led to many safety improvements for a variety of industries. In addition to specific accident investigations, the agency also reviews more general chemical accident hazard issues, which has led to new recommendations to OSHA and EPA for regulatory changes.

From years of investigating chemical accidents, the CSB has found that effective emergency response training and planning, along with better communication between the company, emergency responders and the community, are critical to preventing injuries and fatalities. Here are some responsibilities for each of those key groups to ensure a better response in case of a chemical accident:

Companies’ Responsibilities:
• Maintain current emergency response plans
• Communicate frequently and openly with residents, businesses, and emergency management officials about chemical hazards in their community and emergency response plans
• Train employees to respond properly to chemical emergencies and to evacuate when appropriate

First Responders’ Responsibilities:
• Have proper hazmat training and equipment
• Conduct frequent drills and exercise plans to respond to possible chemical releases
• Communicate with companies in their communities that deal with chemicals
• Know the key facility contacts in case of an emergency

Communities’ Responsibilities:
• Understand the hazards of the chemicals used at local facilities
• Support and maintain active local emergency planning committees (LEPCs) and up-to-date community response plans and teams
• Develop detailed evacuation and shelter-in-place plans that identify when and how community members are to respond to different types of emergencies
• Establish redundant communication systems to notify residents of a chemical emergency

Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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