Navigating Unexpected Disasters: A Lesson in Emergency Preparedness

Published 10.08.17

The Incident

On a Monday morning, just after half-eight, a massive explosion abruptly shattered our tranquil weekend thoughts. Our neighbouring solvent recycling plant had burst into flames, instantly transforming our operation into a scene resembling a war zone.

Enacting the Emergency Response Plan

The explosion and ensuing fire triggered our Emergency Response Plan. This was when we realised the value of our regular emergency evacuation drills. Our trained Fire Wardens sprang into action, ensuring all staff were immediately evacuated and accounted for. Forklifts and equipment were left where they stood.

The Aftermath

Flaming projectiles rained down in our yard, plastic wrapping on packs disintegrated, and drums and debris from the neighbouring plant littered our premises. Timber packs along the fence line caught fire, and constant explosions echoed from the adjacent site. Anything plastic on the facing wall of our facility suffered damage but, fortunately, did not ignite.

Sadly, one of our neighbour’s workers was severely injured in the blast. Ambulance crews and the Careflight helicopter arrived promptly on the scene.

The Response

Eighteen fire engines with 100 firefighters from western Sydney descended on the site, working tirelessly to contain the fire. Hazmat crews took control due to the chemical nature of the fire. Ground firefighters began hosing down our burning stock, and a snorkel truck was deployed to douse the flames from our side of the fence. About 45 minutes into the ordeal, it seemed our factory and most of our stock would be safe.

The Aftereffects

The incident led to a halt in the day’s work in the factory. All our production staff had to abandon their possessions where they were when evacuated. Car keys and personal belongings couldn’t be accessed until given clearance from the fire brigade. Afternoon shift operations were also suspended for the day.

EPA, SafeWork NSW, Penrith Council, police, and insurance teams arrived on site to start the investigation and ensure environmental hazards were monitored. Media, both on the ground and in helicopters, broadcast the events.

Lessons Learned

In the aftermath, we realised that as bad as things were, they could have been much worse. Lost stock, lost production, and lost sales are insignificant compared to the safety of our staff.

This experience has taught us valuable lessons about emergency preparedness. It’s crucial to have an Emergency Response Plan and practise it regularly. Consider not only your insurance but also your neighbours. Do they have enough cover if their actions damage or destroy your business?

At Programmed Timber Supplies, we take our Duty of Care seriously and do as much as possible to ensure everyone’s safety on our site at all times. The value of vigilance becomes evident when luck doesn’t go your way. This time we were lucky – or were we? Yes, but we may not have been without a clean and accessible site with serviced hydrants and trained staff.

We thank all our staff, emergency workers, responding authorities, service providers, customers, and suppliers for your actions on and after the day.

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