24 Hour Numbers - Why do you need one?

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Labelling and placarding requirements for chemicals are intended to communicate basic information about the hazards of the products they contain. However, for an incident to be dealt with as safely and efficiently as possible, the emergency services, and the fire service in particular, will usually need to obtain more detailed information about the product from the supplier. This technical note discusses current and forthcoming legal requirements and industry best practice on the provision of 24 hour telephone numbers.

Legal Requirements for Transport (UK)

Regulation 9(3) of the 1996 CDG Road Regulations requires specialist advice to be available by telephone at any time for goods being carried in tanks. For most companies, this effectively means 24-hour cover is required, since vehicles may be in use or parked in a suitable facility overnight. This requirement is currently under review as part of the UK consultation on new carriage of dangerous goods regulations. However, removing the mandatory requirement to display a telephone number on tanks will not necessarily mean that companies no longer need to operate such a number.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Section 2(2)b lays down more general requirements requiring employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances. Section 3(1) of the Act, as amended by the Consumer Protection Act, goes on “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.” It is also worth noting that ‘vehicles' are included in the definition of ‘Premises' under the Act.

The meaning of “So far as is reasonably practicable” is explained in HSE's “Guidance Note L1 – A guide to the Health & Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974”. Basically, it requires employers to balance the degree of risk in a particular activity against the time, trouble, cost and physical difficulty of taking measures to avoid the risk.

It is common industrial practice to include a 24-hour telephone number on labels and transport documentation for dangerous goods. In the event of a prosecution following an incident an employer who does not provide such a number might have to prove that the time, trouble, costs and physical difficulty outweighed the risks involved.

There is no equivalent requirement for specialist advice in the CDG legislation for packaged goods, and this is unlikely to change. However, the arguments above apply equally to packaged goods. Employers will need to balance the risks to their employees and others who may be affected by an incident against the resources needed to make specialist advice available.

Voluntary Requirements for Transport

The UK Chemical Industries Association (CIA), as part of its commitment to Responsible Care, has developed guidelines, including performance standards, for the provision of 24-hour information and advice during distribution incidents. These guidelines, which form part of the CIA's CHEMSAFE scheme, have been developed in partnership with industry representatives, the emergency services, government agencies and other interested parties. They are mandatory for CIA member companies, and apply to ALL chemicals in the distribution chain, not just those classified as hazardous.

Other trade associations in the chemicals sector, notably the British Chemical Distributors and Traders Association, have also now adopted these standards.

Other examples of best practice

CEFIC (The European Chemical Industries Council) has developed a set of Tremcards, which contain best practice information that exceeds the minimum requirements of ADR for ‘Instructions in Writing'. Within the card there is a clearly identified space for an Emergency telephone number to be provided. According to CEFIC, by adopting the CEFIC Tremcard standard, companies can provide the best available information to minimise the potential impact of an incident involving their dangerous goods

Security Requirements

More recently, attention has been turned to security measures for the transport of dangerous goods. The UN has adopted provisions for the security of dangerous goods into its latest Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, and these are expected to be adopted into the modal regulations (ADR, RID, etc.) from 1 January 2005 and hence into UK domestic legislation. These provisions will include requirements for persons involved in the transport of dangerous goods to consider security requirements and to develop a security plan, which amongst other measures, should include effective and up to date procedures for reporting and dealing with security threats, breaches of security or security incidents.

Organisations, particularly those transporting what are described as high consequence dangerous goods, will need to ensure that they have robust systems in place to respond to such incidents and activate appropriate measures. The first step in any such system will be a telephone number that is answered 24 hours a day by someone who knows how to respond to that call. These procedures are likely to be tested on a regular basis by the enforcing authorities, possibly as part of the routine vehicle checks currently undertaken.

Other International Requirements

A number of states and airlines operate variations under the IATA Regulations that require the inclusion of a 24 hour telephone number from which emergency response advice and information can be obtained. At present these include shipments to the United States, Canada, United Arab Emirates and shipments on the following airlines: Gulf Air, Indian Airlines, TAM, Dragonair, Singapore Airlines, and Transbrasil.

A number of countries also have requirements for 24-hour emergency response telephone numbers to be available during domestic shipment of hazardous goods. These include the US and Canada.

Supply Requirements

The ACOP on The Compilation of Safety Data Sheets provides guidance on the information to be contained within a Safety Data Sheet. In Para. 34 it states “2 Give the name, full address and telephone number of the person established within the European Community (EC) (or European Economic Area (EEA)) responsible for supplying the substance or preparation, whether the manufacturer, importer of distributor. In addition if possible, where this person in not located in Great Britain (GB), give a full address and telephone number for the person responsible in GB. An emergency telephone number should be added if access to advice in the event of an emergency is not available on the number already given.”

Para. 38 goes on to say “The reference to an emergency telephone number does not in itself require an emergency service to be introduced by the supplier. A decision on whether an emergency service is necessary will depend on wider considerations about the risk management of the chemical and legislation concerning the environment, consumer protection and health and safety.”

Thus a company producing relatively low hazard goods which are only likely to be used during normal working hours will probably not need to set up any special arrangements for providing emergency advice. However, a company producing more hazardous goods which might be used in processes normally run on a shift system might need to consider an extended arrangement to provide advice at the times that the products are normally being used.

Business Requirements

So far, we have talked about the legal requirements for having a 24-hour telephone number. However, for many subscribers to the NCEC's Carechem 24 service, these requirements are only part, if any, of the reasons that they want to operate such a number. For these companies, running such a number is a key part of their crisis management and customer care systems.

Many companies offer their customers support in case of incidents involving the use of their products, and in these cases, the NCEC's Carechem 24 team can offer advice to callers on dealing with the immediate hazards of the incident, whilst activating the company's response procedures to resolve the incident as appropriate. Some of the calls that the NCEC's responders deal with are not chemical emergencies in the true sense of the term. However, to the customer whose plant may be about to shut down because a delivery hasn't arrived, or the driver who is unable to move his load because the documentation isn't in order, their problem is an urgent one and won't wait until Monday! In these cases, the response procedures can be used to contact appropriate personnel and resolve the problem.

Response procedures can also be activated as part of a company's in-house crisis management procedure, for example for companies operating on multiple sites, the Carechem 24 responder can make sure all appropriate personnel are alerted in case of an on-site incident, or initiate emergency procedures where company personnel are injured, for example in a road traffic accident.

About the NCEC

The NCEC is one of the world's leading centres of expertise in the provision of advice for managing chemical emergencies. Having operated the UK National Centre for more than 30 years, the NCEC is an active centre employing trained Emergency Responders. These Responders help develop the range of products and services that the NCEC supplies worldwide.

For more information on how we can help you with chemical emergency management, health & safety or regulatory compliance, please contact us.

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