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BakerTom
Tom Baker, Senior Emergency Responder

The importance of emergency telephone response

22/03/2015

A recent call to NCEC highlighted the importance of having your own, or a 3rd party, emergency response number, which is staffed by trained chemists alongside a poison centre number. Here’s what happened…

For most chemical manufacturing organisations to manage their risk appropriately there is a need to identify poison centre numbers on their SDS alongside that of their own, or a third party emergency response number. You’d therefore expect;

  • Where there is a chemical emergency, possibly including a medical response (particularly out of hours) this would go to the organisation or a third party chemical response number and if a medical emergency be passed to a poison centre (in Europe)
  • Where there is a medical emergency it is likely to go to the PC first, unless out of the hours of the poison centre operation

In the following example the hospital contacted NCEC, after speaking to the poison centre, to ask for further chemical information to support their medical response, as the information was not available from the poison centre. The hospital had copies of the SDS, but they were looking for more detailed chemical information to help them devise a treatment plan. The details of the incident were as follows;

  • Multiple chemicals were released during an industrial incident at a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant
  • Four personnel were immediately exposed
  • A three person rescue team, equipped with respiratory protection, suffered minor exposure
  • Five chemicals were being used, but it’s uncertain which were released
  • Symptoms related to exposure via inhalation
  • Hospital staff needed urgent treatment information

The emergency responder taking the call used their chemistry knowledge to review the five chemicals that were released and identify the two that were likely to have caused the injuries (discounting the others because of their lower vapour pressures limiting exposure via inhalation or their low hazard).

Our emergency responder was also able to advise that that one of the two more harmful products would look like steam and smell strongly of vinegar if released, while the other would resemble petrol vapour and have an unpleasant, fishy odour. This information was passed back to the Hospital so that they could question the rescue team to understand which chemicals had been released in the accident and prepare a suitable medical response.

This information helped the hospital provide a more comprehensive treatment plan and enabled them to focus on the chemicals of concern, rather than to try and provide a broad response taking into account all the products released.

This real life example is one of many that demonstrates why chemical emergency responders are able to provide that deeper level of insight which is so important.

 

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