Facility Safety Management

June, 2007

HazMat:  Not For The Fainthearted

By  Michael D. Shaw

Ready for HazMat

Even The Basics Are Confusing

Assuming that we are not referring to the Marvel Comics/Electronic Arts character, “HazMat” is simply an abbreviation for Hazardous Materials.

Here’s a good definition:

A hazardous material is any item or agent (biological, chemical, physical) that has the potential to cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment, either by itself or through interaction with other factors.

Sadly, one of the factors that now has to be considered is terrorism.

Clearly, this definition covers a lot of territory, and, not surprisingly involves a bewildering number of government agencies and regulations. Indeed, navigating through the bureaucratic maze has become a specialty, spawning many companies that offer compliance materials and training programs.

Most prominent among the federal HazMat regulating agencies are:

  • The Department of Transportation (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Office of Hazardous Materials Safety, operating under regulations promulgated in Title 49 CFR Parts 100-185. PHMSA ensures safe and secure movement of hazardous materials to industry and consumers by all transportation modes, including the nation’s pipelines. Since the most likely scenario for a HazMat incident would be when the materials are being shipped, DOT has become the lead agency in hazardous materials matters.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is concerned with hazardous materials in the workplace and response to hazardous materials-related incidents, especially via the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) regulations found in 29 CFR 1910.120. Also of great interest is OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard 29 CFR 1910.1200, which includes the now familiar Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).
  • The Environmental Protection Agency focuses on remediation efforts, as well as the handling and disposal of waste hazardous materials. The Agency is empowered under various laws including The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission is concerned with hazardous materials that appear in products sold for household and consumer application. Numerous statutes apply, including 16 CFR 1700 (Poison Prevention Packaging); and 16 CFR 1500 (Hazardous Substances And Articles). The Commission also relies on voluntary standards organizations such as American National Standards Institute (ANSI), ASTM International, and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates items or chemicals classified as “special nuclear source,” by-product materials, or radioactive substances. Refer to 10 CFR 20 (Standards For Protection Against Radiation).

In most cases, any amount of a hazardous material beyond the so-called “small quantity exception,” of 49 CFR 173.4 is subject to regulation. Of course, the responsibilities of these agencies may overlap, this list is not meant to be comprehensive, local agencies may have stricter guidelines, and your mileage may vary.

Hazard Versus Risk

Cefic—The European Chemical Industry Council—offers some helpful definitions for us:

“Hazard” is the way in which an object, situation, or substance may cause harm.

“Exposure” is the extent to which the likely recipient of the harm is exposed to—or can be influenced by—the hazard.

“Risk” is the chance that harm will actually occur.

As Cefic expresses it:

Risk = Hazard + Exposure

In essence, the philosophy behind modern hazardous materials management holds that we can minimize the risk by keeping the hazard bottled up. Failing that, the exposure must be limited to the greatest extent possible, by first responder mitigation and evacuation of those recipients, if necessary.

The HazMat Plan

In accordance with CERCLA, RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), and other controlling legislation, it is prudent—and very likely required—to have in place a HazMat incident contingency plan.

Elements of this plan generally include:

  • A statement of purpose
  • The scope of the plan
  • Identifying whom within the organization has authority for the plan
  • A list of all known hazards in the facilities covered by the plan
  • A description of appropriate emergency procedures, including a worker alert/evacuation system
  • Provisions for the outfitting of first responders, and reporting standards for all incidents
  • The necessary education and training of affected personnel and the preparation of documentation, including Material Safety Data Sheets and Standard Operating Procedures/Special Precautions
  • Provisions for measurement data collection, used to evaluate the efficacy of the plan
  • Performance standards for plan evaluation (usually done annually)

CHEMTREC®—The HazMat Community’s Best Friend

Known to many as the organization behind the toll-free number posted on virtually every tank car containing a hazardous substance, CHEMTREC (an acronym of CHEMical TRansportation Emergency Center) is dedicated to providing emergency response information and assistance 24-hours-a-day for spills, leaks, fires, or exposures involving chemicals or hazardous materials.

CHEMTREC was established in 1971 by the American Chemistry Council as a public service hotline for firefighters, law enforcement, and other emergency responders. Additionally, for a fee, CHEMTREC assists shippers of hazardous materials in complying with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) Hazardous Materials Regulation (49 CFR 172.604) requiring a 24-hour emergency telephone number on shipping documents that can be called in the event of an emergency involving the hazardous material that was shipped.

49 CFR 172.604 (Emergency response telephone number) provides, in part:

(a)   A person who offers a hazardous material for transportation must provide a 24-hour emergency response telephone number (including the area code or international access code) for use in the event of an emergency involving the hazardous material. The telephone number must be–

(1)   Monitored at all times the hazardous material is in transportation, including storage incidental to transportation;

(2)   The number of a person who is either knowledgeable of the hazardous material being shipped and has comprehensive emergency response and incident mitigation information for that material, or has immediate access to a person who possesses such knowledge and information;

For those companies that use CHEMTREC’s services to meet the DOT requirement for a phone number on shipping documents, an emergency response call center is provided. The call center is staffed by Emergency Service Specialists (ESS). Many have backgrounds in emergency response by way of either military or public service experience, and all receive rigorous and recurring hands-on emergency response training. Collectively, CHEMTREC’s ESS staff has over 250 years of hands-on emergency response training.

CHEMTREC strives to be recognized globally as the most effective emergency response communications service of choice for the business of chemistry and as a valuable public service of the chemical enterprise. With its staff and capabilities, this lofty goal is very much in sight.

Additional CHEMTREC offerings are available. For more information, check out their website.

Putting It All Together

Documentation and planning are wonderful, and provide the basis for your emergency response. However, being in the midst of an actual HazMat situation is not the best time to be reminded of the difference between what “the book” says, and what might happen in real life.

That’s why savvy managers run simulations of various feasible scenarios, to test the practicality of their written protocols.

Stories are told of evacuation plans relying on the local high school, that under simulation expose ridiculous problems such as not being able to find the keys to open the facility! What if a critical contact outside your plant is not available when you need him? Do all the “little people” who comprise integral parts of your plan appreciate the importance of their roles? How accessible is the equipment you will need, and how quickly can it be deployed?

The failures of emergency response typified by Hurricane Katrina could have mostly been avoided with intelligent simulations. Let that be a lesson to all responsible for dealing with a HazMat emergency.