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Decontamination Procedures: Chemical, Hazmat & Equipment

Instructor: Alexandra Unfried

Alexandra earned her master's degree in nursing education and is currently a hospital supervisor/administrator.

Decontamination is an important part of community, medical, and health safety. This lesson will discuss chemical, hazmat, and equipment decontamination.

There's Been an Accident

Bonnie is the leader of the community hazardous material (HAZMAT) team in her town and in her community hospital. She is leading her team as they prepare to decontaminate several community members after a truck accident. It's located right outside of the hospital and caused exposure to hazardous chemicals in paint supplies that have spilled. Bonnie knows that paint supplies can be irritating to the skin, eyes, and lungs. There are several cars involved in the accident, so patients will require decontamination as well as medical treatment.

The emergency medical services (EMS) team has responded and is ready to help the HAZMAT team. Twenty people have been exposed to the chemicals, and four of those people will require further medical treatment for injuries. The HAZMAT team arrives at the scene and begins to explain the decontamination procedures to the EMS team and people involved in the accident.

What Are Hazardous Chemical Materials?

Hazardous materials are considered any substance that may cause injury to people or the environment. Various chemicals are considered hazardous materials. Other hazardous materials include gases, liquids, solids, and radioactive material. Chemicals can travel from surfaces and through the air while irritating or damaging equipment, the environment, lungs, skin, and eyes. A decontamination procedure is necessary after anything or anyone is exposed to a chemical or other hazardous material.

Hazardous materials are clearly labeled
Hazardous materials are clearly labeled

The team immediately puts on personal protective equipment (PPE) and sets up a decontamination area. PPE includes protective clothing, masks, gloves, and anything else that will provide protection against harmful substances. Bonnie also places her PPE on and begins handing everyone masks to protect their lungs while she explains the decontamination process. As Bonnie hands out the masks, she surveys the area to make sure no one is severely injured. Everyone looks stable at this time which means that they can be decontaminated before needing medical treatment.

Preparing for Decontamination

Decontamination is the process of removing or neutralizing hazardous materials. This prevents further toxicity from the material that can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled and stops further contamination to others or equipment.

Bonnie sends some team members to assist with organizing the process including steps such as:

  • Setting up triage (assessing patients to prioritize who needs to be seen first)
  • Providing PPE to workers and patients
  • Keeping the decontamination procedures correct and making sure equipment is in the right place
  • Controlling crowds
  • Managing media and the press

In the meantime, the rest of the HAZMAT team has established a hot zone which is where everyone will enter to be decontaminated before entering the hospital. It is better to complete decontamination in an outside area before entering the hospital to reduce further exposure to others. If decontamination must be done in the hospital there should be a separate room or area which is away from other patients. All contaminated equipment and materials must also be sealed so it can be disposed of properly. Various equipment that should be ready will be discussed.

Level A Equipment

Level A equipment offers the most protection. Those coming into direct contact with contaminated people or equipment will use this. Level A equipment consists of chemical resistant suits that cover the entire body, breathing masks that are positive-pressure and self-contained, double layered gloves that are resistant to chemicals and boots.

Level B Equipment

Level B equipment is not as protective as level A equipment. Full respiratory coverage is still required but there is less danger to the skin. Chemical-resistant suits, gloves, and boots are still used but airtight seals are not needed.

Level C Equipment

Level C equipment is used when there is a low risk of exposure. A breathing mask is still used but is not self-contained and the chemical-resistant suit, gloves, and boots do not have to fully cover the person.

Level D Equipment

Level D equipment is used when there no risk of exposure. Regular clothing is worn and there is no need for respiratory protection.

Personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment

Other supplies that should be available are:

  • Waterproof tags for identification
  • Sealable bags
  • Cleaning supplies (soap, buckets, long-handled brushes, sponges)
  • Water source and containers (hoses, showers, and containers to catch drainage such as barrels, wading pools, and pumps)
  • Patient gowns, towels, and blankets
  • Medical supplies

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