How Industrial Hygienists Assist in Rail Emergencies

Speaking at an AIHce 2016 session, several experts said industrial hygienists are well suited to anticipate, recognize, and respond to the hazards and to control the risks using science-based methods.

Industrial hygienists are well prepared to perform an important role during the response to a railroad hazardous materials emergency, several experienced experts said during an AIHce 2016 session about rail crude oil spills on May 24. Risk assessment, data analysis, and plan preparation (such as the health and safety plan, respiratory protection plan, and air monitoring plan) are important early in the response to such emergency incidents, and CIHs are equipped to do all of these, they stressed.

"With our knowledge, skills, and abilities, the training and education that industrial hygienists get, we're well prepared" to interpret data on the scope and nature of a hazmat spill following a derailment, said Billy Bullock, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, director of industrial hygiene with CSX Transportation. He mentioned several new roles the industrial hygienist can manage in such a situation: health and safety plan preparation, town hall meetings to inform the public, preparing news releases for area news media, interpreting data from air monitoring, working with the local health department, and serving as the liaison with area hospitals, which can improve their treatment of patients affected by the spill if they understand where exposures really are happening and where a gas plume from the spilled crude is moving, he said.

Bullock said the industrial hygienist's role is primarily in evaluating chemical exposures:

  • assessing the risk for inhalation hazards
  • supporting operational decisions
  • gathering valid scientific information
  • managing data and ensuring data quality reporting and recordkeeping

"All of these things we do as part of our day job transfer to an emergency situation very, very well," he said, explaining that it's very important to gain the trust of local responders and officials, including fire department leaders, hazardous materials response teams, the health department, and city officials....