Expert Commentary

The need for emergency-readiness with chemical protective equipment

Published on 24 March 2011
Refinery at night
Having the proper fire safety and chemical-protective equipment is imperative where risk of hazardous chemical exposure is great

With businesses still facing the effects of the economic crisis with budget cuts, safety remains a key concern when it comes to finding cost-effective solutions without compromising public safety. One type of incident which many businesses are not properly equipped for is hazardous chemical exposure. Ian Hutcheson of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics highlights the importance of having the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary for chemical protection and states that such preventative measures can be achieved, even with budget restrictions.

While the full-scale media hype about the "Global Financial Crisis" may be behind us, the follow on effects, such as continued tight budgets and reductions in government spending, are here to stay for the foreseeable future. The UK Government recently announced a major spending review with the aim of saving £83 billion over four years. As part of this, 192 QUANGOs will be abolished including Firebuy, the professional buying organisation for the Fire and Rescue Services. This focus on decreased spending means that now, more than ever, departmental budgets are being stretched and every purchase highly scrutinised to ensure the best possible cost efficiencies are achieved. But it is essential that a reduction in spending does not negatively affect public safety.

Challenges for Fire and Rescue Services in responding to hazardous chemical exposure

Recently, the UK's Audit Commission released a report entitled Business Continuity in the Fire and Rescue Services which investigated the plans the Services currently have in place to ensure that public safety can be upheld during short- and long- term disruptions (such as those caused by transport problems or adverse weather). Overall, the report found that many fire and rescue services have good business continuity management plans, but they cannot cope with every situation indefinitely.

Advances are being made in the development of chemical-protective equipment that both improve quality and decrease total costs

One area of particular concern was that, during these periods of disruption, less than a third of all Fire and Rescue Services could guarantee the availability of the sophisticated fire safety equipment needed in cases of hazardous chemical exposure.

Fortunately, chemical incidents are infrequent but it is paramount that public safety is given priority and maintaining a robust, compliant arsenal of chemical-resistant personal protective equipment is essential to being readily equipped for an emergency situation.

Chemical protective suits reflect advancements in PPE

There is, however, some good news for both the concerned public and those with stretched departmental budgets: advances are being made in the development of chemical-protective equipment that both improve quality and decrease total costs. This means that more Fire and Rescue Services will be able to fit equipment essential to chemical protection into their tight budgets.

One such advancement is the availability of limited-life chemical-protective suits. These suits meet safety standards and fit the same application areas as their reusable counterparts, but offer both a smaller upfront purchase price and reduced total cost of ownership. These lower costs are achieved through minimal recertification, inspection, maintenance and storage expenses.

Hopefully, decision makers will embrace the advances in chemical-protective equipment to ensure our fire services are readily equipped for all emergency situations.

Ian Hutcheson of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics

Ian Hutcheson - Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics

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