Protecting industrial workers from chemical and biological spills is a top ­priority and it is also important to ensure hazmat personnel are mobile and comfortable to maximise their effectiveness. Furthermore, thoroughly ­completed clean-ups are essential to the health of workers, the environment, and business. Ian Hutcheson, market manager, protective & fabricated ­systems Europe, Saint Gobain Performance Plastics, has some advice on keeping industrial environments safe

Huthcheson says the following five tips can help those charged with ensuring occupational health and safety in potentially hazardous industrial environments achieve their goals.

Prevention is the best remedy
As hazardous materials are manufactured, used and/or stored in industrial facilities throughout the globe, comprehensive prevention and containment procedures should be implemented to avoid potential hazardous spills or leaks. According to the European Commission’s online Major Accident Reporting System (eMARS), more than 700 major industrial accidents were reported by the authorities of the European Union from 1982 to 2010. Of these industrial accidents, half occurred in the chemical industry and one in five accidents occurred in the petrochemical-handling environments, confirming the imperative need of these sectors to improve safety measures.
One method to reduce incidents is to demonstrate to personnel the importance of following containment protocols. One way to do this is to ensure highly visible and appropriate safety signage at all worksites, and make sure safety is emphasised when working around or handling hazardous materials. Instilling a culture of safety and prevention is the best strategy for minimising hazards.

You can never over train
It is impossible to overstate the importance of training in handling chemical and biological hazards. Personnel who work near potential spill locations need to be thoroughly briefed on the chemicals they may be dealing with, and they should also be able to identify leaks and follow protocols for reporting, stopping and containing spills.
Workers need to be educated on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as maintenance and inspection of equipment. Refresher courses, routine drills and regular audits are “must-do” activities to be regularly scheduled into the working week and not just something to be done if there is time.
As part of training, personnel should know where all PPE needed to respond to spills or leaks are located and how they are deployed. The PPE should be specific to the potential hazards, and a sufficient amount of equipment should be on hand to ensure containment if needed. Once spills have been contained, personnel need to be trained on collecting, transporting and disposing hazardous materials.

Select PPE carefully
Emergency responders need to be protected against chemical and biological hazards that are sometimes unknown or the result of certain chemicals or materials being combined unintentionally, forming hazardous compounds. Therefore, in choosing protective equipment, you need to anticipate the widest range of possible threats.
The highest level of PPE protection for a hazmat incident is a totally encapsulated gas-tight suit with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). These suits protect respiratory, skin, eye and mucous membranes from exposure. The suit should be composed of chemical- and biological-protective materials, be flame resistant and include a visor, boots, and a layered glove that offers both protection and dexterity. This is the highest protection possible and should always be worn when dealing with unknown chemical hazards or dangerous materials that result from the unintended combinations of different compounds.
To ensure the full protection of your emergency responders in a wide range of hazardous chemical and biological situations, it is recommended to consider chemical protective gas-tight hazmat suits that are certified and tested under one or both international standards, such as the EN 943 in Europe and NFPA 1991 in America. Also, when selecting a hazmat suit you should analyse its suitability in use and storage and maintenance requirements so you are secure in the knowledge that it is ready for use when needed.
In addition to safety, a hazmat suit should be lightweight, flexible and comfortable. It should also provide mobility for workers to carry out the tasks at hand. Another important consideration is the ability to quickly distinguish clean-up workers at a site. Many hazmat suits are available in bright colours for this very reason.

Inspection protocols
Despite the best efforts, accidents or mistakes sometimes happen. When there is an emergency, the first priority is to reduce exposure by evacuating non-essential personnel to safety immediately. Cleaning needs to be as thorough as possible to prevent exposure risks to workers and potential environmental contamination.
It is important to follow inspection protocols as closely as possible. All equipment exposed to hazardous chemicals, including hazmat suits, needs to be thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated before disposal or storage for immediate re-use.

Exceed regulations
Each country’s environmental and safety regulations are different, and it is your responsibility to know and follow local laws. For the sake of your business, you should aim to exceed those regulations. Anything less could put you in legal jeopardy.
Make sure your partners and suppliers are also following the most rigorous safety standards and regulations.
If a hazardous spill occurs, ensure that the follow-up investigation is as thorough and transparent as possible.
Following best practices and leveraging the technologies and solutions available to keep workers safe will minimise mistakes and their impact.
Saint Gobain Performance Plastics

T: +353 (0)1 8420838