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Why Does ISO 14001 Talk About Preparing For Emergencies?

An important part of the standard is how you undertake measures for ‘emergency preparedness and response’.

So why is this part of an environmental standard? Basically, if there is an emergency situation where a negative environmental impact takes place, the company needs to have plans in place to deal with this situation to avoid or minimise environmental damage.

Despite an organisation’s best efforts, the possibility of accidents and other emergency situations still exist. Effective planning and preparation can reduce injuries, protect employees and neighbours, reduce losses and minimise any production downtime.

The standard requires that three components are addressed by the organisation:

  • Establish and maintain procedures to identify the potential for, and the response to, accidents and emergency situations, in order to prevent and mitigate the environmental impacts that may be associated with them.

  • Review and revise the importance of learning from incidents. Obviously corrective actions will be taken and results of audits will be considered after the occurrence of accidents or emergencies or even ‘near misses’.

  • Testing of emergency plans should be planned and the standard indicates that periodic testing of such procedures should be carried out where practicable.

So, in essence, an effective emergency preparedness and response programme should include provisions for assessing the potential for accidents and emergencies, preventing incidents and their associated environmental impacts, plans and procedures for responding to incidents, periodic testing of emergency plans and procedures and mitigating impacts associated with these incidents.

In order to decide which situations to anticipate, it is best to look to the environmental aspects that we would have identified in last month’s exercise. After deciding what potential emergency situations you have, including potential accidents that could impact the environment, you need to decide how you will respond to them.

The response should be comparable to how significant the situation could be. Plans for a large spill of a potentially harmful chemical (such as dumping a barrel of acid) may entail having supplies on hand that will allow you to contain and clean the spill – including having breathing apparatuses, protective clothing and a team of skilled and trained individuals who can safely remove the spill with minimal environmental impact.

Conversely, plans for a small spill of a mostly harmless chemical (such as a very small bottle of alcohol) may be addressed with less detail and fewer safety concerns.

After deciding how to respond, this response needs to be documented in such a way that it can be used and understood. This again does not need to be a documented procedure, but needs to be in such a format that those in the organisation who need it can use it consistently. The procedures need to be reviewed periodically, and revised when necessary to ensure that you have a plan that will work consistently.

Lastly, the standard requires that these plans be used when an actual emergency occurs, which is of course the point of having them.

After an actual incident, it is also an important time to review the procedure for any errors or improvements that may be needed. Depending on the significance of the impacts, it is also required to test out the procedures where you can (such as having a pretend spill that you respond to as if it were a real spill).

Consistent with your organisation’s focus on continual improvement, it is a good idea to review emergency response performance after an incident has occurred. This review can help determine if more training is needed or if emergency plans and procedures should be revised.

Article originated in The Ideas Distillery blog

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