SetSize110140 Matthew Hawes National Chemical Emergency Centre
Matthew Hawes

On-scene emergency response


We are often asked the question “Where can we source a waste contractor who offers an emergency response service?”. It has been asked by different types of caller from around the world as a result of incidents involving various chemicals, such as:

  • A request from a fire and rescue service crew that was responding to a road traffic collision involving a vehicle carrying fertiliser based on ammonium nitrate.
  • A logistics company transporting a tank of a corrosive liquid that had begun to leak.
  • A manufacturer whose cargo of two different cleaning products had spilled in a foreign country.

Sourcing an emergency response waste service can be achieved during an incident. However, it is more expensive and less efficient than having a contract in place as part of your business continuity and incident response processes. It also adds an extra level of stress and complexity to what is already a challenging and difficult situation, and sourcing the contact may not be something that the person dealing with the incident is used to doing.

So, why is sourcing an emergency response waste service during an incident more expensive?

There are two main factors affecting this. The first is that almost all of these contractors provide a subscription service in addition to a one-off response. In common with vehicle roadside assistance associations, the cost of a one-off response is often much greater than that of a year’s subscription. Secondly, the length of time spent locating and contacting a suitable emergency response waste service provider may result in the scale of the incident escalating. This will increase the cost of remediation and could have a greater impact on your organisation’s reputation.

All of the specialist waste contractors will have a 24-hour emergency telephone number, but this may only be available to their subscribers.

From our experience, people answering the telephone are likely to speak only the language of the country where the company is based. Therefore, without having an emergency contract in place, it is important to consider how you will communicate with them.

Additionally, you will need to sign a contract and pay for a response. This means you will need to ensure that your organisation has people available outside of normal office hours who have the necessary authority to do this and that they know the commercial ramifications of their decision. This is why it is better to establish these relationships ahead of time.

Choosing a supplier

It can be difficult to remember all of the pertinent questions you may need to ask before employing a remediation company to deal with the incident. Below are some of the things that should be considered when identifying a suitable organisation:

What capabilities do they have?

A large number of contractors provide a response for fuel and oil spills only. While the majority that do provide a response for incidents involving dangerous goods, they cannot and will not deal with explosives, biological agents or radioactive materials – there are specialised service providers that can respond to events involving these materials. In addition, not all contractors have maritime capabilities, can remove and treat contaminated soil or are able to repair tanks and bunds.

What are their standard response times?

If a company has the capability to deal with the class of product involved, can it provide the response time you require?

Most companies list a response time, but it is important to be clear what this time means. Is it the time they will arrive at the scene or is it the time a team will leave its home base?

It is also important that this time meets your recovery time objectives and to check if it is the same for one-off incidents as it is for subscribers to the service.

All of the companies will have a limited number of response personnel/teams. Therefore, if a contractor is already responding to a subscriber’s incident, then it is likely that your incident will be dealt with only when the response team becomes available. Additionally, it is important to know if a contractor operates from a single location or if it has several sites and, if so, do all of the sites have the same capabilities and response times?

What language(s) do the response teams speak?

If the driver of the vehicle only speaks English and is in Germany, it will complicate matters if you choose to contract an emergency response team that speaks just Spanish. Ensure that contractors you select are able to respond appropriately for the locations you operate in. This may require you to work with a number of different contractors to cover all of your operations.

What accreditation and certifications, if any, are held by the emergency response waste service provider?

A company accredited and certified to the relevant national and international standards is more likely to have the procedures in place to ensure that a response is performed in compliance with local legislation and that industry best practice is used.

What insurance is held by the emergency response waste service provider?

Even the most proficient and experienced teams occasionally make mistakes and, when they do, it is important that they have an adequate level of insurance to ensure that your company’s liability is limited.

What now?

As I’ve highlighted in this blog, it is important to carefully consider the selection of the contractors you will work with in the event of an incident and that you do this in a proactive considered way to ensure you can respond suitably to an incident.

To enable companies to efficiently prepare for and respond to incidents, NCEC has created ChemRespond. This powerful online solution will help you to identify incident remediation companies around the world and enable you to effectively manage a chemical incident.

The companies listed have provided answers to the pertinent questions above (and more) to help you efficiently identify a suitable emergency response remediation service provider with the correct capabilities, response time, accreditation and insurance for your organisation.

Visit to sign up to ChemRespond or just to find out more about how this new service can play an important role in your business continuity and incident response processes.


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