Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Drilling for Disaster

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Drilling for Disaster

Article excerpt

When things go wrong in your plant, you've got to handle it right. That means planning, preparation and practice.

ARE YOU PLANNING FOR A DISASTER? I hope you are, because that's the only way to ensure that such an event doesn't occur.

As we're all aware, there's no guarantee that a fire, chemical spill, or even a natural disaster such as an earthquake will never affect your operation. I can guarantee that if you haven't prepared your people and your response, the damage will be far greater than it needs to be. Each plant needs an emergency response plan, under OSHA regulations. OSHA's guidelines may seem overwhelming at first. You have to chip away at them to fully understand and implement them. OSHA Standard 1910.38 deals with emergency planning; 1910.119 deals with process safety management; and 1910.120 deals with hazardous waste operations, which primarily affect the maintenance and engineering departments.

Disaster planning should be integrated into the overall safety program, following the specific steps outlined here. Along with the preplanning necessary to handle a disaster, one of the best ways to familiarize your people with the demands of an emergency situation is to conduct your own "mock" disaster drill. At Aurora Packing Co., we conduct such drills on an annual basis, using plant personnel who participate on company time.

How do we justify that kind of expense? We don't look at it as cash flowing out, but as an investment going in -- an investment in the people we are responsible for, those who operate our plant each day. Proper planning is part of the equation. Proper training is also key. A disaster drill takes a lot of planning, but the results are worth it. Here's how a recent drill at Aurora worked.


We coordinated the event with three local hospitals in Kane County (Illinois); the county LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Committee); three local fire departments; the Kane County Sheriff's Dept. and the North Aurora Police Dept. Team leaders were designated; volunteers were recruited to play the role of injured victims; and observers were appointed to act as referees and to stop the drill in the event of any real danger.

All told, the drill involved more than 200 emergency and safety personnel, along with an equal number of employees and management people from our company.

With this many people involved, communication is critical. In the event of an emergency, who knows the plant layout and the blueprints better than the plant manager or the plant engineer?

But what if one or both is out or on vacation? Have backups been selected and trained, and are accurate plans and records maintained?

During the disaster drill, communication is essential. As in a real emergency, many different agencies are involved, and it all takes place right in public view.

The most important priority is to determine what the problem is and what chemicals might be involved. Then the proper valves and shut-off can be activated.

Let me underscore the importance of properly marking and recording all valves in the plant. When a line or a valve is changed, make sure to properly record that change. It's too easy to say: I'll write it down tomorrow. Don't do that.

When a disaster strikes, your plant will not be accessible to you. Make sure that your planning includes provisions to bring first aid supplies outside the building. Every department needs a team leader who will be responsible for making employee lists to account for everyone. Of course, these lists need to be coordinated with the personnel director to account for absences, vacations, and employees who are out sick.

If injuries are involved, triage must take place. Although the plant will be closed in the event of a serious emergency, don't let employees leave in their cars.

Make sure that your new-hire orientation and safety training programs emphasize that fact. …

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