Is Your Site Natural Disaster Ready?

Posted on 9/11/2017 by Roger Marks and Roseanne Bottone

When natural disasters strike, EHS professionals have a responsibility to keep employees safe and protect their facilities. Already this summer, we’ve seen Hurricane Harvey disrupt the petrochemical industry in Texas and Hurricane Irma devastate the Caribbean and South Florida. 

Protecting Workers Comes First

While the threat of chemical releases and explosions is heighted during a natural disaster and can cause tremendous property damage, the number one priority is protecting workers at your site.

One critical step you can take now is to review your emergency response and evacuation plans. Make sure your OSHA, Clean Air Act, hazmat security plan, and other related emergency response
procedures are complete, accurate and up-to-date. The day before a disaster hits is a bad time to find out your plan doesn’t include a recent facility expansion or account for new chemicals.  

In addition, make sure your employees are fully trained on their responsibilities in an emergency. Run regular drills that entail the worst-case scenario. This may include evacuation/shelter-in-place training, spill response training for a dedicated team of employees, safety training for contractors, and an off-site emergency phone tree to keep employees informed.

Lastly, make sure you have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) ready and inspected for use. Don’t wait until PPE is needed to check if it works—check it regularly even if it’s not used every day. You never know when a disaster may strike that requires an employee to use that equipment.

Employees who may be required to use personal protective equipment should have PPE training on proper use, maintenance, and testing to ensure they can properly protect themselves.

Remember—Workers Are Human Beings

In the sea of regulatory compliance requirements, sometimes the human element gets pushed aside. When a major disaster occurs, an employee’s first concern will likely be his or her own family. Wherever possible, take steps to help employees and their families plan for these emergencies—so they can focus on safety when the time comes, knowing their families are prepared. Even simply sharing resources with employees can go a long way toward helping them stay vigilant and ready for anything.

Humans have other needs too. If an emergency traps personnel at your facility, you should be ready with food, water, and first-aid supplies.

Chemical Release Response, Process, and Storage Safety

In addition to the PPE they wear, employees may need equipment in order to effectively respond to a release or other emergency. Inspect your spill control and decontamination equipment and supplies to make sure they are ready for use. Also, make sure fire extinguishers are functional and easy to access in the event of a fire.

Tornado2.jpgIf you store hazardous chemicals outdoors, be prepared to move them inside if possible. Make sure incompatible chemicals are stored in a way that will prevent co-mingling if a release occurs. 

If you store temperature-sensitive materials—like organic peroxides—do you have a contingency plan in place in case there is a power outage? Is your generator out of harm’s way? If it rests on the floor, it may fail when flood waters begin to rise. Be certain you have an adequate backup plan if the power goes out.

In emergency situations, machinery may need to be shut off immediately to prevent a release.  Employees know how and when to use emergency shut-off features for things like chemical processing equipment, electric current, and gas lines.

When it’s time to start the equipment again, follow safe start-up procedures.A pre-startup safety review and complete, up-to-date written procedures are essential for this purpose.  

Bulk Chemical Inventory

One of the biggest risks facing chemical facilities is that the chemicals they manufacture and store are hazardous by nature. The hazards posed by chemicals—flammability, toxicity, corrosivity, etc.—are often what make the chemicals useful in the first place. 

Fire.jpgTo control your exposure to risk in the event of a natural disaster, consider ways to minimize the chemical inventory you currently store on site. A purchasing agent may jump at a great deal to buy hazardous chemicals in bulk—without thinking of the regulatory or safety implications of storing the chemicals.

Second, if you have unused or expired chemicals or hazardous commercial products, keep them around only long enough to determine whether you will or won’t use them. The risks of releases or explosions may be exacerbated if your facility is unnecessarily storing chemicals.

By the same token, you might consider more frequent off-site shipments of hazardous waste to limit the volume on site at any one time, especially during hurricane or tornado seasons. Or, if you know a storm is coming, you may want to schedule a pickup in advance to make sure those hazardous chemicals are out of your facility before disaster strikes.  

When it comes to natural disasters, prevention and planning are crucial. By planning well in advance and keeping detailed, up-to-date response plans, you will help prevent the chaos and fear that accompany a disaster from impacting safety and response at your site.  By controlling your chemical inventory and properly storing chemicals, you can avert a release that would endanger workers and even the public.

Most importantly, vigilant disaster preparation will ensure that your employees know their responsibilities and can efficiently, confidently respond to emergencies and unforeseen events.

Online Hazmat Training for Shippers and Freight Forwarders 

Working_On_Computer_2.jpgGet trusted training on the latest rules for shipping hazmat by ground (49 CFR), air (IATA DGR) or vessel (IMDG Code). Online hazmat training at is interactive and engaging, so employees learn more and retain the knowledge long after the training is complete. Plus, online courses include Lion Membership, for access to the Finder Q&A service, exclusive updates and resources, discounts on select training events, and more. 

See a list of available online courses at or call 888-546-6511 for help selecting the hazmat training that's right for your team. 

Last Workshops of 2017! 

Need training this year? Don't wait. Find training to help you master the complex regualtions you deal with every day, from US DOT hazmat shipping to RCRA hazardous waste, OSHA workplace safety, EPA pollution prevention, chemical management and much more. 
See the full list of available training workshops, online courses, and live webinars at 


Tags: emergency, EPA, hazardous waste, hazmat, osha, preparedness

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