Although not a common occurrence, when a large-scale industrial incident does occur, there is the potential to cause significant damage and disruption to personnel, the general public and the facility.
The storage, transport and manufacture of chemicals brings with it an inherent element of risk. Chemicals can be corrosive or toxic or react explosively, with the potential for considerable impact on human life and the environment, and with many thousands of chemicals in commercial use worldwide, there is the ever present risk of accidental release.
Chemical spills and accidents can happen, on a small and large scale, anywhere chemicals are found - from factories, to oil rigs to tanker trucks, shipping vessels and railway transport - and can occur with surprising frequency.
Just a few recent examples of smaller industrial-related HazMat incidents in the US in 2017 (all of which were successfully contained) have included a mercury spill at the Cincinnati VA Medical Centre due to the movement of an old pipe during construction work; an ammonia leak at a Butterball plant in Jonesboro Arkansas after a power outage; a polyethylene holding tank catching fire at a chemical plant in Gales Ferry, Connecticut; and a chemical scare at Flint Hills Resources in Illinois.
There are clearly defined procedures and working practices in place within industrial facilities to help assess and manage risk, and individual sectors of industry within the US and UK are also subject to their own specific regulations.
The fact remains though that the hazardous nature of the processes involved in the handling or manufacture of chemicals, together with the ever-present potential for human error means it is essential that emergency response teams are equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skills to handle chemical incidents.
The ongoing challenge for HazMat instructors working within an industrial setting (or indeed any environment where there is a HazMat risk) is to devise training scenarios that provide an authentic live-incident experience for their trainees.