Respond properly in an emergency - our expert lecturer shows you how

Tobias Authmann is a certified biologist and has worked as a specialist for hazardous substance storage and occupational safety for the DENIOS Academy for the last 7 years. His specialist area is accident prevention with a focus on hazardous materials storage and handling. He is well known across a wide audience as an expert and competent adviser. His practical "Emergency Spill Training" course gives you the necessary expertise to avoid and handle hazardous substance leaks. We spoke to him about his experiences.

Mr Authmann, what do you think is the main cause of accidents involving dangerous liquids?

Wherever substances are moved or handled, ultimately there is also the possibility of leakage. This includes dealing with the substances in the workplace, but also the whole subject of storage and retrieval. Areas where larger containers are taken out of storage or stored with trucks, or removed from the warehouse or taken off the truck are for example particularly at risk of accidents.

In the leakage emergency training you deal with emergency measures in case of leakage. Who are the participants?

The leakage emergency training is aimed primarily at users of hazardous materials. It's therefore suitable for anyone working in a store or warehouse environment, who in the event of a leak are the first on site and need to know how to react quickly and correctly. Participants have also included safety experts who are involved in emergency planning and precautions. 

There is a lot of interest in your training courses. What are the biggest concerns people have?

That's not an easy question to answer as it varies enormously from company to company. It also depends on whether and how intensively you have dealt with the topic in advance. The trend is that large companies, for example, who are striving for appropriate certification or have systematic environmental management, are already well prepared and positioned. They are mainly interested in optimising individual steps in their emergency leak procedures. Other delegates have a more fundamental question - why should we bother with leakage management at all? To answer this I emphasise the legal aspects and the question of liability. Others have the problem that employees do not even know where to find the absorbents in case of emergency. So as you can see, the concerns people have very widely. For this reason, I always tailor the training content to the customer needs, and take time during the course to address the specific concerns that they have. 

In your experience, what are the biggest mistakes that people make when preparing emergency spill kits? 

One of the worst things that can happen in an emergency is not having enough absorbents available. This could be due to incorrect calculation of quantities required for example. For the required volume of drip pans, a technical rule states that at least the contents of the largest container stored thereon must be collected. In the same way, one should also consider the containers present at the risk location as potentially possible leakage quantities and provide binders with the appropriate capacity. If you only provide material for 200-liter drums and an IBC breaks down, you will no longer be able to handle the leak - regardless of how well the employees are otherwise trained and prepared.

Consumption in daily operation is also an important topic here. Often, typical small leaks occur at work - such as smearing or lubricating. For this purpose, binders are used and the stock is gradually consumed in small quantities. If the day X comes with a major leakage incident, the required target stock is suddenly no longer satisfied. Therefore, I always recommend keeping supplies and supplies separate. For example, supplies may be accessible to employees as roll stock on a wall holder, while the emergency material is stored separately in a sealed box. But at least the consumption should be documented and the material should be increased and reordered after a certain limit. Here it makes sense to specify this in the operating instructions and to appoint a responsible person who carries out regular inventory controls. Of course it is also fatal, if in case of the case, the appropriate funds are not available. In general, you should therefore ask the following questions in advance: What liquids are there at all on the premises? What quantities are we talking about? Where are these stored and where are they dealt with? Where are leakages most likely to occur, i. where is there an increased risk? All this can be calculated beforehand in order to provide appropriate binders near risk areas.

Why is it important to train for an emergency?

That's easy - so that no time is lost when an emergency occurs. Companies don't just need to prepare a proper emergency plan, they also need to communicate it and test it beforehand - just as you would carry out a fire drill in case of fire. This is not only sensible as a way of determining any areas of weakness in the plan that need to be addresses, but also as a way of ensuring that everything runs smoothly. 

If the employees are not trained as well as they could be, then reaction times will not be the best and some risky mistakes could occur. For example, treading the leaked liquid around the site, the incorrect use of personal protective equipment or causing contamination during the disposal process. Through regular drills, employees can learn the correct processes, allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them under non-hazardous conditions. In my experience there is always something to improve - with the training sessions that I have attended, it is extremely rare that everything runs smoothly right from the start.

What can the participants of your training course look forward to?

During the emergency spill training ensures the participants are ready to react correctly to an emergency. First of all, we will deal with the statutory information, the planning of emergency measures and emergency equipment in a theoretical section. The knowledge is then tested in practical sessions. I give advise on how to optimise emergency plans and procedures, correct errors and show all the little tricks which can save time and ensure safety in an emergency.

When I put together the course content, I ensure I consider the individual company's specific concerns and operational conditions. Before training, I therefore ask the companies what hazards are to be expected in the company, which materials are handled and if special operating instructions must be taken into account.

It is also important for me to practice under realistic conditions - and therefore also with the right container sizes. If the company handles 30-litre canisters, then we work with canisters - if IBCs are used, then I also work with IBCs during training.

Finally, what is the most important thing when dealing with a leak?

First and foremost, the most important thing is to assess the situation correctly: What exactly has leaked?  What hazards are presented by the leaked liquid? And then don't go near it until you have suitable protective equipment.  

I often get asked by course participants "Can I not do this and that first? Otherwise we'll lose so much time!" But once you've done one thing, it's only human to go on and do something else. And then another and another - and before we know it we have somehow got the chemical on our skin or been poisoned or injured in some way. It is important that participants leave the course knowing that they must not do anything before they have ensured they are protected.