How Training Can Bolster Chemical Plant Emergency Response

Steve Bassine

A site-specific training and exercise program can help prepare chemical plants for incidents and emergencies.

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Chemical plants and manufacturing facilities present unique preparedness and incident response readiness challenges. The first step in ensuring emergency preparedness is analyzing potential hazards and evaluating them according to their likelihood of causing injury, damage and severity of the impact. The next step is to implement a compliant, effective and site-specific training and exercise program.

Chemical plants are required to conduct and document response training and exercises to satisfy certain EPA and OSHA regulations. Training staff on the response plan aims to promote a safe work environment, instill specialized response skills and improve overall preparedness. Although drills and exercises are often considered separate components, these coordinated methods blend to optimize safety and preparedness objectives.

What is the difference between a drill and an exercise? A drill can be defined as “an operations-based exercise that is a coordinated, supervised activity.” An exercise is defined as “an instrument to train for, assess, practice and improve performance in prevention, protection, response and recovery capabilities in a risk-free environment.”

Training Resources for Chemical Facilities

Chemical plant emergency managers should aim to create an efficient method to track individual training needs and identify team members’ qualifications. Through proper maintenance of a training portal, individuals will remain at peak optimal response capabilities. Training should include, but not be limited to:

  • Familiarization with Response Plan
  • Individual roles and responsibilities
  • Plan review training whenever a substantial change or revision is made to the plan that affects organization, procedures, roles and responsibilities, or response capability
  • Refresher courses, as necessary

A great first resource is OSHA’s HAZWOPER training and ranges from “first responder awareness level” to the “hazardous material specialist level." Each chemical plant under a corporate umbrella may require further specialized training depending on the current operations, unique hazards, location and associated regulations.

The goal of the exercise program should be to improve the overall readiness and capabilities of emergency response program that encourages:

  • Realistic scenarios
  • Proper training validation
  • Effective emergency plans
  • Identification of action items
  • Operational response capabilities
  • Preparedness to respond to incidents, regardless of the threat or hazard

Exercise Best Practices for Chemical Plants

To ensure chemical plant employees and response personnel are prepared to respond to an incident in an efficient and effective manner, exercise guidelines should be established as minimum requirements within an emergency preparedness program. Management should ensure that:

  • All aspects of response plans are fully exercised annually (at a minimum) with participation of the appropriate response, incident management, and support teams.
  • Each response plan component is exercised at more frequent intervals, as appropriate, to prepare for the main annual exercise.
  • Notification exercises for each team and response component are verified and practiced at least twice per year. This exercise should involve unannounced checks of the communication procedures, equipment and contact information.
  • National and local training and exercise requirements should be used to assess the overall preparedness of your response teams.

Companies often utilize the following range of exercise activities in planning and executing their program:

Level 1 Tabletop Exercise: Useful for considering policy issues and for building team relationships in a low stress environment.
Level 2 Mobilization and/or Notification Exercise:
Used to validate mobilization and response times, and verify internal/external notifications and contact information.
Level 3 Limited Exercise:
Used to validate mobilization and response capabilities of specific team functions, and the status of integration and coordination among these groups and other company-based response organizations.
Level 4 Full Scale Exercise:
Full-scale exercises offer comprehensive validation of current emergency and crisis management system, and should demonstrate a degree of response integration throughout the system.

Response Plan Follow-Through

Chemical plants and manufacturing facilities pose unique safety risks. Implementing and maintaining a robust response plan is an important responsibility for plant managers. But if staff are not regularly trained on the plan and conduct exercises to familiarize themselves with possible scenarios, that plan is not being used to its full potential. Prioritizing training and exercises can ensure staff are up to date on the unique aspects of their emergency response plan.

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