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Emergency Action Code (EAC)

On arrival at an incident, emergency responders may have to make rapid decisions and actions, the consequences of which may determine the success of the operations carried out. However, information gathering is time consuming and it is often necessary for responders to act only on the information immediately available.

The emergency action code (EAC) (also known as the Hazchem code) is designed to cover the first vital step and gives an immediate indication of any actions that could be taken should it be necessary to proceed immediately without waiting for reference materials or expert advice.

Once any immediate action has been taken to save life, protect the environment and prevent the incident escalating, the next phase can involve more detailed information from the operator or driver, the company, paperwork from the vehicle cab and various data sources.

There is more information on EAC in the latest version of the Dangerous Goods Emergency Action Code list book. But the code can be explained as follows:

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Image 18 Interpretation of the emergency action code

The firefighting extinguishing medium is determined by reference to the first character of the EAC as follows:

  1. Denotes coarse water spray
  2. Denotes fine water spray
  3. Denotes normal foam i.e. Protein based foam that is not alcohol resistant
  4. Denotes dry agent – water should not to come into contact with substance

Where the second character of the EAC is ‘S’, ‘T’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ normal firefighting clothing is appropriate (i.e. self-contained, open circuit, positive pressure, compressed air breathing apparatus (BA) conforming to BS EN 137 worn in combination with fire kit conforming to BS EN 469, firefighters’ gloves conforming to BS EN 659 and firefighters’ boots).

Where the second character of the EAC is ‘P’, ‘R’, ‘W’ or ‘X’, liquid-tight chemical protective clothing (CPC) conforming to BS 8428 should be used, in combination with breathing apparatus (BA) specified as above are to be used.

An ‘E’ following the first two characters of an EAC indicates that there may be a public safety hazard outside the immediate area of the incident and that the following actions should be considered:

  • People should be warned to stay indoors with all doors and windows closed, preferably in rooms upstairs and facing away from the incident
  • Ignition sources should be eliminated and any ventilation stopped
  • Effects may spread beyond the immediate vicinity; all non-essential personnel should be instructed to move at least 250 metres away from the incident
  • Police and fire and rescue service incident commanders should consult each other and a product expert, or with a source of product expertise
  • The possible need for subsequent evacuation should be considered, but it should be remembered that in most cases it will be safer to remain in a building than to evacuate

Where the EAC contains a ‘P’, ‘S’, ‘W’ or ‘Y’ there is a danger that the substance can be violently or explosively reactive or that there could be:

  • A violent or explosive decomposition of the material involved, including ignition or friction
  • The ignition of a flammable gas or vapour cloud (this danger exists for all flammable gases and liquids with a flash point below 60°C)
  • The rapid acceleration of combustion due to the involvement of an oxidiser
  • A reaction with water, which is itself violent and may also evolve flammable gases.

In some cases, a higher level of personal protection is required than the one indicated on the emergency action code (EAC) displayed on a vehicle or tank. In the list of EACs. This is indicated by the presence of an additional personal protection (APP) code of ‘A’ or ‘B’ in column four of the EAC list. This information also appears on the Chemdata database entries for the material.

Code letter A indicates that fire kit (to the specified standards as indicated in the EAC list) should be worn in combination with gas-tight chemical protective clothing (CPC), again as specified. The fire kit is intended to protect against one or more of the following additional hazards that are indicated in the list by the appropriate character(s) in brackets, following the A:

(c) Liquefied gas with a boiling point below -20°C

(fg) Flammable gas

(fl) Flammable liquid

(cf) Liquefied flammable gas with a boiling point below -20°C

(h) The substance may be carried above 100°C

(co) Oxidising gas with a boiling point below -20°C

(!) The substance may have a particularly deleterious effect on chemical protective clothing (CPC)

An APP code letter B indicates that the chemical protective clothing (CPC) should be gas-tight conforming to BS EN 943 part two, in combination with the breathing apparatus (BA), as specified in the EAC list.

When directed to apply additional personal protection code (APP) code A, the most vulnerable areas of potential exposure will probably be the hands and feet. Appropriate hand protection for the particular hazard should be taken into consideration when conducting the risk assessment of any task to be undertaken. Structural firefighting kit is specified as tunic, overtrousers, fire hood and firefighting gloves, all conforming to the relevant British or European standard.

Most firefighting gloves cannot be worn with gas-tight suits. Even if personnel are wearing gloves that meet the additional requirements of additional personal protection code (APP) code A, they will still not be fully protected against the extremely low temperatures encountered with cryogenic substances

Consider the following when selecting the most appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) ensemble:

  • Physical properties of the substance
  • Form (gas/vapour, liquid, solid)
  • Toxicity and/or infectivity
  • Concentration levels
  • Quantity of product involved or potentially involved
  • Likelihood of direct contact
  • Type of hazardous material incident (fire, potential fire, leak or spillage)
  • Limitations of personal protective equipment (PPE) on identified tasks
  • Nature and extent of proposed actions
  • Location within the environment (open air, enclosed compartment or structure)
  • Prevailing weather conditions
  • Potential decontamination strategy

Consider the following when personnel are wearing chemical protective clothing in potentially flammable or explosive atmospheres:

  • A risk/benefit assessment should be carried out to establish if it is necessary to enter the risk area in chemical protective clothing
  • Always have firefighting media and covering sprays immediately available
  • The build-up of electrostatic charge on the fabric with the potential to ignite a flammable atmosphere or cause an explosion 
  • Sparks can also be caused by stones or grit embedded in the soles of boots and the use of metal tools
  • In circumstances where the relative humidity is below 25%, the likelihood of sparks is increase
  • Wetting the suit before entry to reduce electrostatic build up