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NCEC work with CEFIC to develop guidelines for chemical emergency response

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Chemical companies in Europe are strongly advised – and often legally obliged – to include a telephone number on supply and transport documentation for hazardous goods which can be called to provide emergency response advice during a chemical incident.

However, proving an emergency response number just to comply with regulations should not be the end of the road, instead it is just the start. Whilst regulatory compliance forms the basics, the minimum that should be applied, it doesn’t consider wider reasons to put in place robust emergency response arrangements, namely to manage the risk of your products impacting on people, the environment, on your (or other) assets, and of course on the reputation of the company.

To address this, the European Chemical Industry Association, CEFIC, have recently published a new set of guidelines for the supply and transport of hazardous materials to help chemical companies deliver best practice in telephone chemical emergency response, which the UK’s National Chemical Emergency Centre (NCEC) worked with them to develop.

The new CEFIC guidelines, which have been adopted by all National Intervention in Chemical Transport Emergencies (ICE) Centres in Europe, detail the fundamental requirements of an emergency response service. They aim to help companies enhance their internal emergency response provisions or guide the procurement of a professional third-party supplier.

Among the core requirements specified by CEFIC is the need to provide robust and reliable telephone infrastructure that can receive and handle calls 24/7, with fast connection to a chemical expert. This restricts the use of mobile phone networks as the sole or primary means of contact.

The guidelines state that the emergency responder should have access to the relevant safety data sheets (SDS) and be able to provide proportional advice tailored to the circumstances of the incident. According to the new guidelines, this should be provided by a trained technical expert, typically a university graduate chemist, who has knowledge and tactical awareness of chemicals, chemical behaviour and hazards across a range of incident types.

Advice should be provided in the local language, which is already required by law in many European regions, and connection with local language interpreters must be straightforward. The emergency responder should be able to provide initial advice in the local language in under 10 minutes and further detailed advice in 30 minutes if required.

The guidance also includes features for best practice beyond immediate telephone response, including the recommendation that SDS should be notified with the relevant poison centres. This is already a regulatory obligation in most EU regions.

Daniel Haggarty, head of emergency response for the UK’s National Chemical Emergency Centre (NCEC) led the CEFIC group generating the guidance. Speaking about this, he said:

“In publishing its new guidance, CEFIC and the ICE National Schemes have defined best practice for emergency response in Europe. By following this guidance when implementing or procuring an emergency response service, companies can be confident that a caller will receive immediate advice from a trained professional on how to mitigate the impact of a chemical incident and protect people, the environment, assets and reputation.”

It is important that an organisations risk management programme considers external risks as well as internal risk, and in particular the impact that your products may have downstream. To discuss more about how you can work within these guidelines to adopt a robust and proportionate emergency response system suitable for your organisation, please contact NCEC: ncec@ricardo.com / +44(0)1235 753 068

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