ISEA Communique: Planning for the Unthinkable

Is your facility stocked with the additional PPE to meet an emergency?

by Dan Shipp, president, International Safety Equipment Association

Safety directors and employers are accustomed to preparing for known risks. They have assessed the hazards in their workplaces, eliminated them where possible and provided personal protective equipment for workers where the hazards remain.

It's an orderly system. Match the PPE to the hazard, train the workers in its use and maintenance, make sure that they are properly supervised to wear and use PPE when needed.

But the possibility of a terrorist incident disrupts this orderly process. Suppose there is an explosion, fire, or release of a chemical or biological agent near the workplace. Employers need to plan for all sorts of contingencies, to make sure that all workers are protected from a new array of hazards. And if these contingency plans call for additional PPE, companies should make sure they have it on hand, separate from PPE for routine use, and ready to be used in an emergency.

This new hazard analysis has to take into consideration what kind of work is being done at a particular location, to determine what kinds of hazardous substances might be released, for example, if a bomb goes off. This applies to other nearby facilities as well. What will be needed for employees who may become emergency responders, controlling the hazard and helping other reach safety? What is safety - a remote location or a secure location inside the facility?

Evacuate or Shelter in Place?

The whole question of "evacuate or shelter in place" is central to any response planning, and to any consideration of PPE selection and use. If there is a fire in a facility, there needs to be a plan to get workers out safely. But will workers there, or in neighboring buildings, be more at risk by evacuating or staying in place until the fire is contained? Similarly, if there's a chemical release, workers may have to be evacuated, or sheltered until the chemical is dispersed. Different responses call for different types of PPE planning.

A good first step is to evaluate the kinds of PPE you provide workers already. If they are routinely exposed to hazardous substances that might be released in a terrorist incident, then it's possible that the same kinds of PPE should be available to all employees. This means stocking emergency supplies and training workers on how to don and use the equipment. It is likely that this PPE will be for short-term use, so it probably would not be necessary to provide full protective ensembles to every worker. But it is also important to remember that they must be readily accessible, and inspected periodically to ensure that everything is in good working order.

If plans call for evacuating workers, then you should consider supplying emergency escape PPE. Again, the selection will depend on the kind of hazard that is anticipated. Respiratory protective escape devices, or smoke hoods, are designed to provide emergency egress from fires. They are able to filter out carbon monoxide and provide breathable air for enough time to escape, even from a high-rise. Other escape hoods now on the market are designed to protect against chemical or biological agents, but do not offer protection against combustion products.

Plan Ahead

Whatever kind of PPE you intend to stock for emergency response, remember that it may be harder to find in times of heightened threat. In the spring of 2003, manufacturers are working at full capacity to make enough respirators to meet worldwide demand caused by the SARS outbreak. Once an incident occurs, it will likely be too late to get the protective equipment your workers need. Plan ahead. There is competition for supplies of PPE.

There are numerous resources available to help with this kind of planning. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security maintains a Web site, www.ready.gov, that includes information on preparedness and links to state emergency planning and response agencies. A comprehensive guide to citizen preparedness called Are You Ready? is available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in print or at www.fema.gov.areyouready/. The National Safety Council has updated its On-Site Emergency Response Planning Guide which includes the key elements for developing a personalized site plan (www.nsc.org).

Information on types of PPE that can be used in emergency response can be readily obtained from manufacturers. The ISEA Buyers Guide (found at www.safetyequipment.org) has links to these manufacturers. Safety equipment distributors are also a good source of information.

Everyone hopes that a terrorist incident will never happen. But safety professionals, with their understanding of how to protect workers from known hazards, can play a vital role in ensuring that all workers are protected against the unthinkable.

Arlington, Va.-based ISEA represents some 80 manufacturers of safety and personal protective equipment. Established in 1933, ISEA supports its members in manufacturing and marketing the highest-quality products to protect the safety and health of individuals who may be exposed to hazardous and potentially harmful environments while working on the job or at home.

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