By Andrew Perks

I know we have chatted before about the new SANS 1514:2018 Site Emergency Plan Regulations and the yearly requirement to do an Ammonia Site Incident Response training exercise, well it would appear that I am not just a voice in the wilderness.

As a member of the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) I get their quarterly Condenser magazine and the last one had an article titled ‘Pre-emergency preparedness’. What it tells me is that there are a lot of other people out there with similar issues and problems.

Being a third world country, we have our own set of emergency response issues with lack of plant training, plants that are not in conformity, lack of effective safety equipment and worse still, a lack of training on how to use the safety equipment and the general response from our emergency services.

That said I have met so many really good and effective Fire Department people. They do not have much experience specifically with ammonia releases and so may not understand the overriding issues. At the end of the day these guys are your ultimate back up before and if the Hazmat team (an organised group of professionals who are specially trained to handle hazardous materials or dangerous goods) arrives.

I will highlight some of author Kem Russell’s observations in his article ‘Pre-emergency preparedness’, which I am sure will make you think. His question is: are we blindly going forward under the illusion it will never happen to us? The Ammonia Safety and Training Institute (ASTI) video on what happened to Jose Mata certainly is a wake-up call; not really about the incident but the chain of events that followed it, where there was only half an idea about how to handle someone who was injured by an Ammonia release and the consequences of this.

The object of doing the regular response training exercises is to look at different scenarios and the impact on the basic site response plan. You can never fully prepare for everything, but by doing a series of different exercises and truthfully doing individual incident critiques you can see where you can do it better. Hopefully, with this feedback the emergency plan gets a lot more practical.

Russell’s comments were that the majority of people do not consider their preparedness for an emergency, and only seriously think about what they should have done after the emergency occurs. He said that with great confidence as he was a volunteer for Search and Rescue for over 20 years. For example, he poses the question – of all the people who have ever been lost, how many have a map? Answer: almost none. Here’s another: how many people with a GPS device know how to work the device or know what the co-ordinates mean? Answer: much the same – not very many.

There is no hard and fast rule as every site is different; plant layouts vary, wind directions and access are dependent on the condition at the time of an incident. Each plant must be treated on its own merits. Only by doing a factual exercise can we recognise the shortfalls.

The thirty-minute plan as tabled by ASTI is a schedule of time related procedures that should be implemented should there be an emergency situation.

I know I am talking about Ammonia but that is not always the only hazardous material and any possible incident on site may need to be addressed. It’s all about procedures and structure that is understood by all and adhered to.

Once there is a scenario selected, the full emergency team (it would be beneficial to get the appropriate emergencies service involved) starts to evaluate the incident and determines what should be done and who does what. There are some very good videos out there with good practical examples. After the initial brief the team members should have a very clear idea of what’s happening and who is doing what. It’s important that when a message is passed down that the recipient responds by saying ‘am I correct in understanding’, and then repeats the instruction so that the correct message is filtering down through the organisation. Everyone on the emergency team should know their role and the command structure.

Co-ordinating with the local emergency services such as the fire department, ambulance service and the police will get you better prepared to deal with an incident should it occur, and also illustrates what assistance you can expect from your local emergency services. At the end of the day it’s your site and until qualified help arrives your team will need to deal with the consequences of any incident. If you plan, practice, train and co-ordinate your on-site emergency team you will be much better prepare for any eventuality.

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Next month I will give you some feedback of the 2020 IIAR conference in Orlando, which should be fun.