This paper outlines some general principles of emergency preparedness and response that are relevant to occupational health. This is followed by a brief summary of what 'occupational health' means. It then discusses occupational health aspects of emergency preparedness and response from two perspectives; firstly, when occupational health supports the impacted business line, and secondly, when occupational health itself might be affected by an emergency and needs to address its own business continuity.
Emergency situations faced by the oil and gas industry come in a number of different forms. There are those directly related to the business undertaking which occur from time to time despite the application of largely successful health and safety management systems; an example being a fire or explosion on a company operated offshore platform. Locations may also be affected by events occurring elsewhere such as a release from an adjoining chemical plant operated by another entity that produces a plume of toxic material landing on company premises. Probably the type of event least under a company's control is a natural disaster such as an extreme weather event like a hurricane or an outbreak of a communicable disease such as a severe influenza pandemic.
Several years ago it was common to refer only to 'emergency response' but increasingly the broader nature of the issue is conveyed when it is described as 'emergency preparedness and response'. This implies the continual need to maintain readiness and improve response arrangements.
Optimum performance in emergency preparedness and response requires a team effort and it is quite appropriate to apply the phrase 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts' in this context. The 'team' works through an Incident Command Structure under the direction of an Incident Commander. It is made up of the business line (operations) and its support functions such as human resources and public affairs often under the facilitation of a specialized group of emergency preparedness and response professionals that is usually a sub-set of the safety, health and environment department.
An acronym that may be used when assessing the significance of the emergency event under the Incident Command Structure is 'PEAR', which stands for People, Environment, Assets and Reputation. It is not just a coincidence that 'people' is the first letter. Ultimately human health and safety is the priority in any emergency even if this is simply to assess the 'people' aspects and, once confident they have been addressed, move on to deal with the parts of the acronym that have most relevance to the situation.
Occupational health is concerned with the relationship between work and health. This relationship can work in both directions i.e. how work can affect health (such as the development of an occupational illness like asbestosis or noise induced hearing loss) and how health can affect ability to work (fitness for work [safety and effectiveness] and rehabilitation after an episode of ill health).
Occupational health professionals come from a number of disciplines including clinical (physicians, nurses), industrial (occupational) hygiene and administrative. The overall objective of an occupational health department is to provide appropriate support to an employer to manage all aspects of the work - health interface.