When disaster strikes

23 March 2015

There is no substitute for adequate planning when it comes to tackling a major industrial clean-up operation or clearing up after a disaster occurrence. Neil Sutherland at DuPont discusses how companies can best prepare themselves

A clean-up operation can take many forms and it is the need to be prepared for a multitude of possible events that presents one of the biggest challenges to the facilities manager or environmental health officer. The objective of any clean-up operation is to return the affected areas to safe, unrestricted use. However, the success of this will be determined by the type, scale and complexity of the incident, its geographic location and the specific nature of the hazards presented.

Speed & quality response is key

Unlike those hazardous situations which might occur in relatively controlled environments, such as in well-ordered manufacturing facilities or during planned maintenance operations, many industrial, accidental and environmental clean-ups are emergency scenarios in which time and readiness are crucial. Work must be undertaken quickly and effectively, resources must be readily available and mobilised without delay and the deployment and coordination of clean-up operatives must be decisive and efficient.  

Some common examples of large-scale clean-up operations include oil and petrochem spills, chemical and hazardous material releases, biohazard and infectious waste clean-ups, environmental disasters and road, rail, or air accident clean-ups. In most accident situations, clean-up operations will normally commence after any initial emergency response activities. In some cases however, clean-up activities might proceed simultaneously or even in advance of first response teams where it is necessary to render a site safe for human entry. 

Hazard assessment

The identification and subsequent assessment of hazards is one of the most difficult and critical elements of any clean-up programme. Get the risk assessment right and you will minimise danger to responders and clean-up operatives, as well as meet your legal responsibilities. Get it wrong and the consequences could be serious. 

Pre-incident risk assessments will help determine the type of personal protection equipment (PPE) needed to adequately protect workers. However, it is essential that a continuous re-assessment of risks commences as soon as possible after an event to enable PPE to be modified or replaced.

Advance planning

In all emergency clean-ups the effectiveness of the response will ultimately depend on the quality of advance contingency planning and the organisation and management of operations. When faced with a major clean up situation the following procedures should be adopted to control risks:

  • Act quickly and professionally. Any time lost will result in a much more difficult and, sometimes, much more geographically dispersed clean-up operation. For example, pollutants that are co-mingled with natural materials such as foliage and aggregates, or that are widely dispersed by wind and tides, will be much harder and more hazardous to deal with.
  • Make sure you have access to all necessary resources including staff, plant, transport, clean-up materials, safety equipment and lighting.
  • Investigate alternative approaches. Are there less risky or less environmentally aggressive approaches that could be adopted? Could machines be substituted for staff?
  • Conduct a reconnaissance survey if the nature and extent of the operation is unknown and if time permits.
  • Ensure that the clean-up site is secured to prevent unauthorised or inadvertent access by the public or restricted parties.
  • Organise work to minimise exposure to the hazard using isolation barriers, screening, protective covers etc.
  • Ensure that the necessary temporary and segregated storage for contaminated materials is available and readily accessible.
  • Issue appropriate PPE such as coveralls, gloves, footwear, goggles, helmets and respiratory apparatus.
  • Provide suitable welfare facilities including medical/first aid points, toilets, resting/eating places and washing/decontamination areas.
  • Put appropriate health monitoring procedures and facilities in place where there is a risk of exposure to bio-hazards or nuclear particulates.

Selecting protective clothing for large scale clean-ups 

Personal protection is the last line of defence against hazardous physical, chemical and biological agents. If deemed necessary, appropriate protective garments should be carefully chosen, taking into account permeation data, nature of work, physiological and psychological factors. To be safe in the knowledge that staff are protected, facilities managers and environmental health officers should select equipment that offers multi-threat protection, i.e. garments that offer resistance to oils, particles and water-based chemicals. 

Choosing the best PPE requires sound judgement, a clear understanding of the hazards faced and a detailed knowledge of personal protection principles, technical standards and equipment performance. Unless it's a 'repeat order' situation it is not enough to rely on choosing protective coveralls (or any other PPE) from a web-site or a piece of literature without professional guidance. 

A global leader in personal protection, Dupont has been addressing the world’s safety needs with the best technologies and innovations for over 40 years. DuPont has a range of protective garments and accessories suitable for chemical handling operations including the Tychem 4000S designed for maximum comfort in hazardous environments and the new Tyvek 800J coverall which combines breathability and resistance to pressurised jets of water-based chemicals in a high comfort Type 3 limited-use garment. DuPont also offers comprehensive support in protective garment selection and chemical risk assessment as well as training on the use of protective clothing.