Hazardous Materials "Standard of Care"

Chemicals and compounds have been known to exist for centuries. Emergency responders have dealt with them for many years and often referred to them as chemicals or by their common chemical names, if known, such as gasoline, propane, ammonium nitrate...


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Operations-level personnel are those who respond to a hazmat incident for the purpose of protecting nearby persons, the environment or property from the effects of the release. Operations-level personnel are required to have awareness training as well as an additional eight hours of operations-level training. Awareness- and operations-level personnel do not enter the “hot” zone.

Technician-level responders are members of organized hazmat response teams. They may enter the “hot” zone and work in close proximity to hazardous materials if they have the proper chemical protective clothing, respiratory protection, mitigation equipment and training. Specialist personnel are those who are trained to the technician level and have additional training in an area of expertise such as rail cars or particular chemicals.

The incident-commander level requires training to a minimum of the awareness and operations levels (minimum 24 hours) and competencies outlined in OSHA 1910.120 and NFPA 472 for that position. NFPA 472 identifies the incident commander as the person responsible for all incident activities, including the development of strategies and tactics and the ordering and release of resources. OSHA philosophy on dealing with hazardous materials is actually quite simple – they want employers to train and equip their employees for the jobs they are called upon to do.

Some response organizations, because of reduced staffing levels, use operations-level personnel to conduct decontamination. These personnel are not technicians, but rather are trained and equipped operations-level personnel. This is an acceptable practice because operations-level personnel are trained and equipped to do decontamination.

 

Legal ramifications

In today’s litigious society, even emergency responders and organizations can be sued for not following a Standard of Care. Several legal terms should be known by responders and response organizations.

The first term is liability, which is defined as owing a responsibility or duty to act. All emergency responders have a responsibility or duty to act when called to the scene of an incident involving hazardous materials. Those responsibilities should be outlined in the organization’s SOPs. The only way to eliminate that liability would be to quit being an emergency responder.

If response personnel operate outside the organization’s SOPs or the hazardous materials Standard of Care, they may be determined to be negligent in the performance of their duties. Negligence is the performance outside of the accepted Standard of Care. Negligence can be the fault of the responder, officer, organization or employer. It is possible to be negligent without knowing it. However, I am sure you have heard the saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

Gross negligence occurs when a person, officer, organization or employer willfully operates outside of the Standard of Care; for example, if the organization/employer does not provide the required level of training for employees. More importantly, response personnel may be injured or killed if not following local SOPs or the hazardous materials Standard of Care. Hazmat response organizations, officers and personnel should be aware of and implement the requirements of OSHA 1910.120 and NFPA Standards 472 and 473 in their operations.