HazMat, Not Just a Fun Suit: Asking the Who, What, When, Where and Why in Hazardous Materials Safety


Multiple agencies, not just those that house a laboratory, handle hazardous materials as a day-to-day duty and abide by a series of protective strategies put in place to emphasize safety and injury-protection. From chemistry classrooms to hospitals, chemical plants to college laboratories, the aspects behind safety all abide by the same principles of mitigation, prevention, and preparedness. These may include requiring protective glasses, lab coats, wearing gloves or other careful handling implementation, and takes place when standard operating procedures emphasize the actions to protect oneself from harm caused by chemical burns, contamination, or other injuries due to reaction.  By law, they must also keep a material safety data sheet (MSDS), a frequently-updated document that inventories chemicals and dictates how they must be stored and handled properly. Knowing not only how to handle these materials, but also why you should handle them safely, will better inform those working with the materials to be certain they are paying attention. Whether you work with these materials directly or in a building that houses them (as most do), materials safety is critical to ensuring system-wide safety in case of an emergency.

The following four steps should be performed in order to fully comprehend hazardous materials safety in the workplace:

Hazard assessments determine the type of health effects associated with exposure to a chemical.
Dose-response: Assess the relationship between exposure and health effects.
Determine the level of exposure and how it varies across uses and individuals.
Risk characterization: Combines exposure and dose-response to estimate risks to people.

In addition to this, a most recent National Science Foundation publication entitled, “Strengthening Toxic Chemical Assessments” recommends the following to ultimately ensure safety:

1. Identify and incorporate variability in human exposure and vulnerability into health assessments, so that all people are better protected.

2. When information is missing or unreliable, use science-based default assumptions that protect health, rather than waiting for more data, to speed up the chemical assessment and decision-making processes. There should be a clear set of criteria for when to depart from default assumptions.

3. In assessing the risk of chemicals, incorporate information about the potential impacts of exposure to multiple chemicals. Consider other factors, such as exposure to biological and radiological agents, and social conditions.

4. Because the population is exposed to multiple chemicals and there is a wide range of susceptibility to chemical exposures, it cannot be presumed that any—even low level—exposures are risk-free. It should be assumed that low levels of exposures are associated with some level of risk, unless there are sufficient data to contradict this assumption.

Sidenote: When I performed a risk assessment of St. John’s Parish in Louisiana after a recent flood disaster due to a hurricane, I was surprised to find that the Emergency Operations Center named terrorist attacks as a top-five risk to prepare for in the parish. Upon further evaluation, most industrial plants must plan for an unforeseen large-scale, low probability risk such as terrorism due to the potential of widespread devastation due to hazardous materials and infrastructure collapse (depending on the properties of production at the plant).

Answering the five W’s allows you think critically about how to ensure safety for staff in a hazardous materials context.

Who: Whose responsibility is it to ensure chemical safety? It varies, but being sensible in not only handing over protective covering, but practicing effective training on hazmat should be the top priority for those who may come in contact on a departmental level. Ensure that the trainings answer the rest of the questions posted here.

What: What does the chemical do? What causes a reaction? If it comes in contact with your skin, what happens? Are there long-term health effects of working with these materials?

When: Has the material been updated on a federal level for additional hazardous issues?  When was it last used?

Where: Where are the materials stored? Does it need to be in a fire/chemical storage cabinet? What state is the container in?

Why: To save a person from harm, and maintain the safety of the building. Knowledge is power, especially in case of large-or-small scale events or contamination, and you use good, updated information to inform facility-wide reliable procedures (or else they become useless).

If you have more ideas on how to ensure hazardous materials safety in the workplace, please let us know by posting a comment!


Safety in Schools and Your Community: Identifying Risks

During the last blog entry, we introduced the four phases of emergency preparedness. Today, we want to discuss hazard mitigation and preparedness while highlighting K-12 school risks. When we look at the emergencies that have swept schools over the years, what becomes the most difficult to assess is the ripple effect that it has on the overall community. If a school is damaged by a natural disaster or violated by an attacker, it compromises the quality of that community’s infrastructure and demands reevaluation of protocol and policies. Even more importantly, when the safety of our children has been compromised, the community must learn to better identify and prepare to recover from emotionally, physically and administrative challenges for the long-term.

Here at REM4, we are constantly reminded that there will always be hazards that are difficult to plan for. We wish to emphasize the importance of proactive hazard and risk assessments and programming so that you can create hazard mitigation and preparedness tools that will aid you in time of need, and ease recovery.

What is a Risk Assessment?

The purpose of risk assessments is to identify demonstrated vulnerabilities/hazards that will turn into liabilities for damage and policy, should the hazards not be addressed. The risk assessment is one of the first implemented documents in your Crisis Binder.  

There are several types of challenges that risk assessments seek to target:

  • School emergency and crisis preparedness planning
  • Security crime and violence prevention policies and procedures
  • Physical security measures including access control, communications capabilities, intrusion detection systems, perimeter security, after hours security, physical design, and many related areas
  • Professional development training needs related to school safety and emergency planning
  • Examination of support service roles in school safety, security, and emergency planning including facilities operations, food services, transportation services, pupil services, physical and mental health services, technology services, and associated school departments
  • School security and school police staffing, operational practices, and related services
  • Linking of security with prevention and intervention services
  • Personnel and internal security
  • School-community collaboration, school and public safety agency partnerships, and school-community relations issues on school safety

List courtesy of: http://www.schoolsecurity.org/consultants/security-assessments.html


Investment in a high-quality risk assessment is the first step in instilling a solid foundation for hazard mitigation and preparedness programming. For example, studying the crime rates and statistics in your community aid in evaluating your security needs, researching the natural hazards that have historically hit the region allow you to create sound evacuation and shelter-in-place drills/procedures, and knowing the special skills of your own staff will ensure that you have valuable assistance in any given crisis. Lists provided by professionals in Emergency Preparedness and Technology are the first step in risk assessment.

Emergency 101 Tips: Take your time and make risk assessment a priority. Question multiple resources including experts of different capacities on staff (i.e. facilities, maintenance, security, principal) and archived documents.

Already have a risk assessment, but there may be holes or it hasn’t been updated in a while? Don’t fret. Set up a recurring audit for your risk assessment is one way of ensuring that new information is added into your tool. Updating risk assessments is necessary to ensure quality data and programming is in place!  

Interested in an easier way to not only create, but implement a risk assessment? REM4ed is a leading expert in emergency management and preparedness, including a high-quality risk assessment tool and training for proper planning. Contact one of our experts for a consultation today: info@rem4ed.com