Explosives magazine on mining site in Australia.

Security managers in many Australian facilities are responsible not only for the security and protection of property, staff and clients on a site. Many also handle the fire safety role, including the vital area of storing and protecting hazardous waste.

Security managers already handling a broad portfolio of duties must also consider the management of hazardous materials at their sites. Such materials can be loosely defined as any toxic and/or flammable material, gas or fluid, from diesel fuel and natural gas, through to hydrochloric acid. Alternatively, the security manager could be responsible for a facility that manufactures PVC or other plastic materials – once alight, PVC burns furiously, releasing huge amounts of toxic fumes.

In many big sites, poor funding or past slackness has meant a hazardous materials survey was never carried out but such a survey must be undertaken as a matter of priority. Once the survey is completed, software-based graphic maps should be incorporated into the alarm/access system’s display, allowing operators to be aware of the potential danger of events that might occur near storage sheds that would otherwise be considered low priority.

Hazmat Survey

Consider this scenario. A fire breaks out in an inconspicuous out-building which has been locked for years. Security staff clear the immediate area and the fire brigade is called. Moments later 2 big gas cylinders explode, tearing the shed apart and rupturing 6 old drums of powdered chlorine stored behind it. In the resulting conflagration, toxic gas pours into nearby buildings, crosses the site and envelops a neighbouring school, a local shopping centre and adjacent residences.

On the day after the disaster, senior management may agree there was nothing more the security manager could have done. But in a courtroom when the company is millions of dollars poorer and after several lives have been lost, this generous position will be cold comfort for the security department that failed to order a hazmat survey.

If 9-11 and the resultant sacking of security management at the terrorist’s primary airport of embarkation showed the industry one thing, it was that proactive protection is the obligation of security managers. This means you must look at all threats in their worst-case scenarios when planning the management of every situation, including management of hazardous materials. Plan for worst case and train for it, remembering that the security department has a responsibility to control a situation until the appropriate authorities arrive.

In all cases, it’s essential for security managers to know if potentially dangerous materials are on their site, where they are in relation to each other and what sort of threat they pose to surrounding areas. Bear in mind that whatever threat they pose won’t just apply to your own people. Regardless of its direction on the day, the plume blown from any fire or chemical leak will stream downwind. That means your neighbours in all directions are also your responsibility.

Find out about the hazardous materials. Do they burn? Will their vapours kill? Should they leak, will local waterways and ecosystems be damaged? There are a number of ways to ascertain all this. In all cases, suppliers of hazardous materials will freely supply information about a product, its dangers and the methods that can be used to control it.

In many cases, basic information will be supplied on the side of the drum or canister in which the material is contained. The information will indicate whether the material is flammable, whether it’s corrosive and the type of extinguisher that should be used to control a fire involving it. You can also talk to your fire systems provider, or to the hazmat division of local fire services.

Hazmat Storage

Once the nature of each material has been established you need to liaise with the site’s facilities manager about where it should stored, taking into account which materials can be stored together. If the materials won’t react with each other, a single storage facility allows easier monitoring using CCTV and management using access control.

You need a strong, hazardous material storage shed, complete with provision for the external and internal mounting of fire extinguishers and incorporating spill-trays and a high level of physical security. Another essential is to ensure that the site’s internal fire control system has detectors and relevant suppression systems inside the storage shed. Close to the shed, but not too close, additional fire extinguishers should be located that are able to control the material/s in the hazmat shed should they ignite.

Another consideration is that correct safety clothing and breathing apparatus be provided to those individuals who will be expected to try to control a spill, leak or blaze in the first instance. If possible, such clothing and equipment should be kept in close proximity to the hazardous materials against which it protects. If the cost of duplication makes this impossible, the equipment needs to be housed in a central and accessible location.

As the security manager formulates the procedures in relation to hazardous materials, as many scenarios as possible should be mapped out and procedures written to counter them. Training is an important consideration. Even if the operation of the security department only calls for the monitoring of fire alarms, general admin and manpower support for fire prevention professionals, some form of training for security officers is still essential.

At many large industrial sites in Australia highly trained response teams (drawn from the ranks of security staff) engage in mock first-control of hazardous materials. One week it might be controlling leaking gas from a pipe located close to a foundry, the next week a mock oil or paint spill must be stopped from entering a nearby creek. The importance of these dummy runs can’t be overemphasized. A security department from management down to the newest security officer must build up smoothness of operation if a hazmat role is taken on.

Hazmat Training

In all facilities, security management should ensure that at the very least, security staff are fully trained in the use of fire extinguishers, fire blankets and other fire protection agents. Security staff should also be fully aware of which locations or building materials on a site pose a hazmat threat and require special consideration.

If security staff are to get involved in first response fire control, then training has to be done properly. Security officers should experience fire control first-hand through attendance at training courses run by local fire services, or with one of the specialist fire control training agencies operating in Australia or NZ.

Actual disposal of hazardous materials, except where special training, equipment and liability insurance have been provided for operations on a limited scale; should be left to professionals. Security managers should resist attempts to have their security officers involved in the physical handling and disposal of hazmats, past initial spill management and first response fire control. Instead, find out who the local hazmat disposal experts are, make them familiar with your site and with the materials that are stored or manufactured there, and work with them to make your site safer.

From the outset, security managers need to discuss with senior management and fire control specialists the level of involvement security staff will have in first response situations. In most cases, this response should be to evacuate the facility, cordon off the area and keep a blaze or spill from spreading to surrounding buildings or areas through a process of containment. Click here for more information on the management of hazardous materials from WorkSafe Australia.

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