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by the NFCC

Site-specific risk identification and planning

Although many premises, activities and materials pose a hazard to the environment, the potential impact of an emergency incident is not always realised. This is because three components need to be present before a risk to the environment exists: a source (hazard), a pathway and a receptor. If any of the components are missing or removed, there is no risk to the environment.

Environmental agencies recommend that all operators assess the nature and level of environmental risk that their site poses by carrying out an environmental risk assessment (ERA). At sites regulated by environmental agencies this is often a requirement of their permit, or it will be assumed to have been done if the operator can meet the requirement for the permit they are applying for. In other cases, environmental agencies will undertake the assessment or parts of its themselves within their assessment of the permit application.

Fire and rescue service personnel involved in incident planning should understand how ERAs are completed, as this will help them develop their own plans for high-risk sites. They may also have to undertake such assessments themselves or with environmental agencies, for example, at illegal or abandoned sites where the operator is unknown or unwilling to act.

The process itself is usually completed using a two-stage process. The first stage is a simple risk screening assessment; if a potential risk is identified, this will be followed by a more detailed assessment. Further details can be found in the GOV.UK guidance, Risk assessments for your environmental permit.

Pollution sources, pathways and receptors

Pollution sources and hazards include:

  • Hazardous materials
  • Eco-toxic materials
  • Organic or inorganic materials
  • Low hazard materials
  • Radionuclides
  • Pathogens
  • Products of combustion

Pathways include:

  • Dry ditches
  • Streams
  • Rivers
  • Lakes
  • Coastal waters
  • Permeable ground
  • Surface water drainage systems
  • Foul sewer systems
  • Air
  • Roadways
  • Land drains
  • Flood water

Receptors include humans, plants, animals and birds either:

  • Directly, for example through:
    • Drinking water
    • Contact with contaminated water
    • Contact with contaminated soil
    • Inhaling smoke or fire gases
  • Indirectly, for example through:
    • The food chain