5 steps to ensure your telephone emergency response service meets best practice guidelines

5 steps to ensure your telephone emergency response service meets best practice guidelines
21 February 2022

In the face of an emerging chemical emergency, it is vital you receive clear, immediate, and actionable advice when calling your telephone emergency response service.

Speed is of the essence, and the support you receive should be perfectly tailored to the ongoing incident.

Level 1 chemical emergency response – or telephone emergency response – plays a crucial role in developing a competitive, compliant and commercially responsible chemical safety strategy. A robust service should provide knowledgeable and informed support to any caller, whether it is a member of the public, a stakeholder or a responding organisation, where they are required to manage an incident involving chemicals or hazardous materials.
 
It is vital not only for chemical manufacturers to safeguard their products throughout the supply chain, but also for organisations that use or transport chemicals around the world.
 
In 2018 the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) collaborated with the National Chemical Emergency Centre (NCEC), part of the Intervention in Chemical Transport Emergencies (ICE) network, to produce guidelines for Level 1 emergency response providers to illustrate best practices. It is recommended that organisations consider using these guidelines when reviewing their own emergency response provision.

To help you review, implement and maintain best practices in Level 1 emergency response, whether handled in-house or outsourced to a third-party supplier, here are five key steps to get you started.

1. Work with wider stakeholders to determine your organisational drivers for Level 1 emergency response

CEOs, directors and managers are responsible for shaping and aligning every component of their businesses, including safety performance. Legislation plays a crucial role in capturing corporate momentum but, investment and leadership in chemical safety create value for everybody – from shareholders and customers to employees and wider society. You must consider what your organisation wants to achieve with Level 1 emergency response:

  • What are your goals?

  • Do you simply want to comply with legislation, or do you want to manage organisational risk?

  • Are you trying to meet Responsible Care® commitments or demonstrate to stakeholders your commitment to environmental, social and governance standards?

Different drivers will determine what decisions are needed about changes to your processes.

2. Review your existing process against the best practice guidelines

Understand your current processes and consider if they are sufficient to meet your organisation’s emergency response goals. If you intend to demonstrate a strong duty of care to your downstream users and stakeholders, having an emergency response process that meets each of the best practice guidelines is a must. Companies that handle their emergency response in-house need to consider who takes their calls, how their calls come through and if their resilience plan is robust enough to ensure that all calls will be answered whenever needed. Organisations that use an outsourced provider should be aware of who provides their emergency response service, if they respond to calls how they want them to and if their service is adequate to meet your organisation's goals.

3. Ensure that the person answering your emergency number can provide sufficient support to the caller

The level of expertise required to mitigate the risk of chemical incidents for your organisation will depend on the type of chemicals that you deal with. If the chemicals that you manufacture, use and/or transport are relatively inert, information from a safety data sheet may suffice. If, however, there is the risk of an incident involving a more harmful chemical, the caller would expect the emergency responder to have the level of chemical knowledge required to provide actionable advice tailored to the circumstances.
This requires a technically qualified chemist with sufficient training or experience in responding to a vast array of different incidents. We would suggest using real-life scenarios to test their knowledge of chemical properties and behaviour and their ability to find risk-averse solutions.
To find out if a supplier’s emergency responders have the appropriate knowledge, you should work with them to develop planned and considered scenarios before performing test calls. At the start of the call be sure to let the emergency responder know that it is a test in case a real emergency needs to be prioritised. Develop your scenario carefully and be prepared to answer questions in return from the emergency responder while they try to build a picture of the incident. Determine the criteria in advance so you know what you are testing and how this is measured.

4. Ensure the appropriate infrastructure and processes are in place to be able to follow best practice 

Emergency response processes must be resilient. A robust infrastructure is required to ensure the first person at the scene of an incident can always receive the required support. To achieve this, all processes and systems must have at least one backup available, for example, a secondary dedicated internet connection.
Mobile phones do not provide a secure connection and risk losing signal or running out of charge. A backup hardwired phone system and a backup generator will mean that you will never need to rely on a mobile phone. Continuous training is essential to ensure that emergency responders have the correct level of tactical and regulatory awareness. Call recordings and call reports should be reviewed to highlight areas where training is required. Be sure to ask your supplier about their infrastructure and processes.

5. Consider if your current requirements are going to change

You may decide that your current emergency response provision meets your organisational needs and goals adequately. This is great, but be sure to consider if your operations are likely to change in the future. If business increases you may see a rise in the number of calls you receive, meaning you may need to hire more staff and adjust your infrastructure. If it is likely that your operations will expand into new territories, regional legislation may require that you provide local language calls.
 
Your reputation is important to the ongoing success of your business and, the bigger your reputation, the greater risk of reputational damage. Ensuring that your emergency response service follows the best practice guidelines reduces the risk and impact of chemical incidents on people and the environment while protecting your organisation's assets, financial exposure and ultimately, your reputation.

If you have any questions about ensuring your telephone emergency response service meets best practice, or you would like to partner with NCEC, a telephone emergency response provider you can trust, then contact us through the form at the side of this page or email us at [email protected].