FEATURED ARTICLE: Are you prepared if the worst happens?
NCEC’s Ian McDiarmid discusses emergency response and the CEFIC Guidelines for Level 1 Chemical Emergency Response
Most legislators require organisations to provide an emergency telephone number on transport documentation and safety data sheets (SDS) before they can be distributed. Typically, regulations are established at national level, so the conditions of their implementation vary from country to country. This has an impact on the practical aspects of the emergency telephone number requirement – such as the language spoken, if it is a local or international number, or if the number is available 24/7.
To avoid the commercial or legal implications of non-compliance, those transporting or supplying hazardous goods must ensure that the emergency telephone numbers they provide meet the requirements of every country in which they operate. Requirements for emergency telephone numbers are sometimes defined in a country’s dangerous good regulations.
However, more often, the requirement is due to the implementation of the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) and national SDS regulations. In addition to the various national requirements, a 24-hour emergency telephone number is required when transporting hazardous chemicals by air. While many companies view emergency response services simply as a way to achieve regulatory compliance, the more forward-thinking organisations are driven to invest in emergency response services for the following reasons:
* To protect people, the environment, assets and reputation (PEAR) from the effects of an incident
* To reduce the scale and cost of incidents.
* To demonstrate commitments to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and Responsible Care
NCEC receives over 8,000 calls/year on its emergency helplines. Of these, approximately 10% are categorised as medium-sized incidents and up to 1% are categorised as severe, high-consequence incidents. Over a two-year period, a company is almost certain to experience at least one medium-sized incident during the lifecycle of its products (on site, during transport or in use), resulting in significant cost. Studies audited and confirmed by independent third parties and the UK Department for Transport reveal that an effective response to a chemical incident can deliver a potential return on investment of 15 to 1.
As chemical markets grow and supply chains become more complex, the risk of a major chemical incident become statistically greater. As a result, more and more companies are choosing to invest in robust, professional emergency response to ensure the long-term viability of their business, and the protection of their stakeholders and the wider community.
The CEFIC guidelines were introduced in July 2018 and were intended to establish best practice guidelines for Level 1 (remote information and general advice) emergency response providers. This was the first time that the chemical industry had a clear indication of what an effective emergency response system should look like.
The guidelines were also introduced in complete accordance with the Responsible Care guiding principle ‘To work with customers, carriers, suppliers, distributors, and contractors to foster the safe and secure use, transport and disposal of chemicals and provide hazard and risk information that can be accessed and applied in their operations and products’.
For all chemical incidents, the first requirement from emergency services or other callers is rapid access to accurate advice concerning the chemical involved or the actual and potential hazards posed by the chemical when contained or accidentally released. During serious incidents and those involving more dangerous chemicals with specific hazards, there is often the need for rapid, product-specific, detailed advice (e.g. advice about the hazards created by the product in a fire or when released to the environment). This is the type of information that should be available and can be reasonably expected from a responsible company.
The CEFIC guidelines apply to national Intervention in Chemical Transport Emergencies (ICE) centres and other providers of Level 1 emergency response services. Level 1 may be provided by the chemical manufacturer, the ICE National Centre (Europe) or another organisation, such as NCEC, or via a coordinated effort by several organisations.
How to prepare
The guidelines serve to illustrate best practice. As such, responsible companies should use the guidelines to gauge the effectiveness of their existing emergency response arrangements. This will enable them to identify any areas of potential weakness and risk associated with their current emergency response system, apply corrective actions and ensure preparedness.
The guidelines form the basis of an ‘ideal’ Level 1 emergency response provision. They are an essential measure for companies involved in the manufacture, management and distribution of chemicals to ensure their systems have suitable features to support a fast and effective emergency response intervention. Their most important features are:
* Availability of emergency number at all times
* Advice in the local language
* Connection to advice in 3-5 minutes
* Access to expert network
* Knowledge of chemicals and chemical behaviour
* Advice tailored to the circumstances of the incident
* Tactical awareness
* Regulatory awareness
Ultimately, companies should already have analysed and understood the potential risks inherent in dealing with chemicals. CEFIC’s guidelines will provide the perfect benchmark by which companies can evaluate their ability to manage chemical incidents, stop them escalating and, ultimately, protect their own long-term future and hard-earned reputations.
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