Skip to main content

Decontamination of casualties

      Initial actions

      Initial operational response guidance focuses heavily on the initial actions to be undertaken by fire and rescue service staff at a CBRN(e) incident. It is generally accepted that such an event would require mass decontamination; however, these may not be the only incidents requiring this approach. Many industrial or commercial incidents could easily see a number of members of the public becoming contaminated and they would therefore benefit from the mass decontamination procedure.

      The first step in the procedure is to remove the members of the public from the hot zone or the area of gross contamination. 

      Once away from the contaminant, members of the public should now be encouraged to remove their outer layer(s) of clothing.  Testing has shown that clothing is an effective barrier against a contaminant in the short term, depending on the nature of the clothing and the amount of skin surface it covers. Materials such as waterproof fabrics will normally hold off a contaminant longer than materials that are absorbent, but none is likely to be chemical protection clothing unless it is being worn at a commercial or industrial premises and has been provided for that purpose. Rapidly removing the outer layers will remove the contaminant, however  care should be taken when removing clothing to minimise the potential of any substances touching the skin; clothing which would normally be removed by pulling over the head should instead be cut off to avoid spreading the contaminant over the face (nose, mouth and eyes).

      Once the clothing is removed, decontamination can commence. This will be either improvised, interim or full mass decontamination but often will be a combination of all three.