How effective is your emergency response plan?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Mill operation calls on Terrace Bay community first responders
by Doug Brown CRSP

Firefighters assist unconscious victim

Located 225 kilometres east of Thunder Bay on the shores of Lake Superior, the Terrace Bay mill employs more than 350 employees and produces over 330,000 tonnes of pulp annually. Recently the mill experienced a major workplace safety ‘incident’ that required assistance from the surrounding community.

Fire at the mill

Two pipefitters and a welder left for a coffee break after doing some “hot work” on a process line. Upon returning to their work area, they discovered fire and smoke, and an unconscious worker. At 9:30 am, security received a call from inside the mill stating, “There’s a fire in the old machine room and we have a worker unconscious!”  

The guard immediately called the mill First Aid responders and Fire Department. As they arrived, the First Aid responders couldn’t get close enough to retrieve injured workers due to heavy smoke. The mill Fire Department was overwhelmed upon discovering four more workers unconscious, and notified Security via radio requesting more support. Security called 9-1-1, and within minutes the Terrace Bay and Schreiber Fire Departments, Paramedics and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) arrived at the mill with sirens and flashing lights. 

Risk of explosion

There was also concern that a CLO2 (Chlorine Dioxide) tank close to the fire might explode putting the mill employees and rescuers at risk. The mill’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (EPRP) was activated, and various departments were notified to evacuate. With the local Fire Department taking control of the scene, the incident commander and mill management determined the potential of the CLO2 tank to rupture. The Township of Terrace Bay was made aware of the situation and emergency measures for the township went into effect, involving the schools, hospital, and residents in the small community.  

Fortunately, this was just a drill. Leading the practice scenario, Jeanette Pittman, Worker Member, and Gino LeBlanc, Management Co-Chair of the organization’s Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) involved the assistance of many others throughout the company and the town. Preplanning meetings were held with all groups to ensure everyone knew their roles. Employees were dressed as casualties and smoke machines brought to the mill to make the scene more realistic. 

The mock emergency not only tested the effectiveness of the AV Terrace Bay site plan, it assessed how well the mill and outside agencies would come together in an emergency situation. It’s one thing to have your EPRP procedures in place and review them annually, but it is another thing to physically put them to the test. Outside resources involved in the drill included: Manitouwadge Fire Chief, Terrace Bay Fire Department, Schreiber Fire Department, Ontario Provincial Police, NOSH McCausland Hospital, Canadian Red Cross, Trotier Bus Lines, local schools and media.

Why is it important to conduct mock emergency exercises?

Robert Ormerod, Health, Safety and Security Manager, commented: “It’s all about making sure our EPR Plan is properly communicated, and that our employees are trained and understand their responsibilities. We want to ensure we can effectively communicate and cooperate with outside resources in the event of an emergency.”  A debrief followed with all parties involved to discuss the strengths and opportunities identified during the mock emergency with the aim to make improvements.

Planning for emergencies cannot be considered reliable until tested and proved to be workable, especially since false confidence may be placed in a written plan. Generally, participants in exercises should have an awareness of their roles and be reasonably comfortable with them before they are subject to the stresses of an exercise. 

The reason firms conduct emergency drills is not to catch people making mistakes. It tests procedures, not people. An important aim of a mock exercise should be to make people feel more comfortable in their roles and to build morale. Mock exercises also support due diligence and this activity is an essential component of any emergency preparedness response plan.  

Three main components of mock emergency

  • Validation – to validate plans, protocols and procedures and demonstrate resolve to prepare for emergencies;
  • Training – to develop staff competencies, to give staff practice in carrying out their roles in the plans and to assess and improve performance. It also provides outside resources such as fire and EMS an opportunity to get familiar with your plan; and
  • Testing – to test well-established procedures and reveal gaps that may exist and continually improve.

Questions employers and workers should ask

  • Have we conducted a risk assessment at our workplace to determine various emergencies or natural disasters that could occur at our workplace?
  • What controls do we have in place?  
  • Is an Emergency Preparedness Response Plan developed?  
  • When was the last time we reviewed our plan?  
  • Have all employees received training and refresher training in the plan?  
  • Will our plan work?  When was the last time we conducted a drill?  
  • What local resources are available? Is the fire department and EMS familiar with our plan?

It was impressive to see how all parties came together during the mock emergency at AV Terrace Bay and demonstrate the Emergency Preparedness Responses Plan’s effectiveness. 

AV Terrace Bay is planning on conducting another mock exercise this year with the intent of continual improvement. The senior management are commended for providing resources and time, and recognizing the importance of having both internal and external resources involved in the mill’s mock emergency.

For more information, please contact dougbrown@workplacesafetynorth.ca.

Doug Brown is a Health and Safety Specialist at Workplace Safety North, and a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) with over 35 years of occupational health and safety experience, including 25 years at Resolute Forest Products. He received a certificate in Occupational Health and Safety from Ryerson University as well as a certificate from the Canadian Standards Association. 

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