Trucks at Work

Emergencies by the book; the ERG book that is …

Late last year, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation – published the 2016 version of its Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG); something the agency does every four years as it’s a “critical reference tool” during the initial phase of a dangerous goods/hazardous materials transportation incident.

While the ERG is viewed as the “go-to manual” for firefighters, police officers, emergency medical services personnel and other “first responders” to transportation accidents, the PHMSA encourages fleet managers and truck drivers to get copies as well.

Why? I mean, emergency personnel get their copies for free, while fleet managers (much less truck drivers) would have to pay for theirs (if they are so inclined to spend precious cash on one) from firms such as Labelmaster.

So not long ago I asked Nikki Burgess, a staff regulatory specialist at Labelmaster, this very question: what’s the value of such a tome (it contains 62 separate safe clean-up guides, after all, for a range of hazardous materials) to fleet managers and truck drivers?

[Here’s a review of the 2012 edition to give you an idea of how much information is packed into the ERG’s pages.]

“Understanding the basics of emergency response for at common hazmat [materials] can help an executive not only communicate with first responders, but can also help [them] monitor the performance of his or her fleet operators with more of an eye towards their competence in the event of an incident,” she said. “If the executive knows his or her stuff, it will be easier for him or her to judge the knowledge and performance of his team in the same regard.”

Truck drivers hauling hazmat shipments would get more direct benefits, Burgess argued, assuming they aren’t incapacitated in the crash.

“He or she can use the ERG to communicate information to anyone onsite or arriving onsite that may be able to help, as well as to provide early information to a 911 dispatcher before any actual first responders are on scene,” she explained. 

In fact, Section 172.602 of the Federal Hazardous Materials regulations requires anyone who handles or transfers “dangerous goods” to provide emergency response information appropriate to those materials – and of course a book like the ERG can fulfill that role.

“Those trained in the use of the ERG are prepared to protect themselves and the public from any possible dangers and are better able to assist emergency response teams when they arrive at the scene,” Burgess pointed out. “Such knowledge can keep an accident from becoming a worst-case scenario – and even save lives.”

[Even the basics are important in hazmat transportation, such as proper placarding procedures, as the video from Schneider below illustrates.]

She added that probably the biggest two revised items in the 2016 edition that truck drivers should note include an updated hazardous materials listing (totaling 3,500 different materials) and a flow chart in the front of the book intended to help first-responders and truck drivers alike find recommended hazmat clean-up actions faster.

Other features of the new 2016 version of the ERG include:

  • Tabular data arranged by color code, identifying chemicals by proper shipping name or UN identification number;
  • A direct reference from these tables to the emergency response guidance pages assigned to each chemical;
  • A separate color-coded section dealing specifically with poisons by inhalation (based on their unique dangers in transport);
  • Additional sections dedicated to identifying chemicals based on vehicle types, personal protective equipment and potential terrorist-based scenarios;
  • Expanded and updated information about placards, markings and labels;
  • Added information about the new globally harmonized system (GHS) markings for chemicals;
  • Updated toxic inhalation hazard tables based on new data and reactivity research;
  • New and updated information about Canadian Emergency Response Assistance Plans (ERAPs).

Burgess noted that ERG has been available since 2008 as a downloadable PDF, and since 2012 as a mobile application, yet most “dangerous goods veterans” insist on having an old-fashioned book handy.

“After all, a book never runs low on batteries just when you may need it the most,” she stressed.

Good point there.

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