Given the potential complexity of hazardous materials incidents, it is important to develop a clear and risk assessed response plan. This will ensure important factors are not overlooked and will help prioritise actions and tactics. Setting objectives is key to this process. Where more than one service or organisation is at the scene, this should be done on a multi-agency basis by establishing a joint understanding of risk (JUR).
Hazardous materials incidents should follow the same dynamic risk assessment (DRA) or analytical risk assessment (ARA) as any other emergency. However, at hazardous materials incidents a specific assessment of the substances and their hazards will need to be carried out to inform the incident risk assessment.
Incident risk assessment considers information from:
- Site-specific premises risk information
- Operational guidance, including those for hazard specific incidents, for example radiation, asbestos and acetylene cylinders.
- Observation of incident circumstances
- Eye witnesses at the time of the incident
The selected safe systems of work (SSoW) should be implemented, developed, maintained and reviewed throughout the life of any incident. There are several risk assessment methods that can be used in the initial and subsequent incident phases.
The process of risk assessment at hazardous materials incidents falls into three distinct phases:
- Initial attendance and risk assessment of time-critical actions
- Secondary actions to stabilise the incident
- Hazardous materials assessment
The hazardous materials assessment process requires personnel who have received specific training on the subject. Responders should be skilled in interpreting the information collected and how it can be applied to create a risk-assessed tactical plan. This should always be based on a dynamic risk assessment.
At larger or more complex incidents the volume and detail of applicable hazardous materials information is likely to be greater. The capacity of personnel to assimilate information will vary in proportion to the nature and size of the incident and the stage the operational response has reached. The ability to scale up the crucial process of hazardous materials assessment may require additional support to ensure the required tasks are completed in a precise, detailed and timely manner.