Training helps staff respond to hazardous exposures

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An Alberta Health Services educational program — known as the First CBRN/HazMat receiver training — teaches health care providers how to provide the best care to patients exposed to hazardous chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials. Photo courtesy of AHS.

AHS’ HazMat program protects patients, staff and even facilities

Story of Sherri Gallant | Photo courtesy of AHS

When patients come to the emergency department after being exposed to a hazardous substance, the doctors and nurses keeping them safe rely on their hazardous materials (HazMat) training provided by Alberta Health Services.

The program — known as First CBRN/HazMat receiver training — details how to provide the best care to patients exposed to hazardous chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials.

The training helps participants recognize and react quickly to exposures. This not only protects the patient, but also the staff, other patients and the care center itself. The program uses online training as well as hands-on sessions to familiarize participants with response carts, triage bins and level C PPE (personal protective equipment) decontamination showers.

Jeff Dutton is director of emergency disaster management in the southern zone. With Alberta being such an industrialized province, he notes that more employees have signed up – and he hopes that trend will continue.

“Prior to the program’s implementation 10 years ago, we had several documented incidents across the province in which infected patients presented to emergency departments but were not recognized as such,” says- he.

“They were recognized as being ill, but since it was not immediately clear why, they passed through triage into our care areas. At that time, we have nurses and doctors looking after that patient; the patient is now in a hospital bed in our emergency department – so we had issues where staff and doctors were contaminated by their patient.

“When someone is contaminated,” says Dutton, “often there is a noxious smell, but not always. Imagine you are going to the hospital. It’s one thing if you’re a healthy respiratory patient, but if you have someone with asthma or COPD or pneumonia, if the noxious smell gets into our emergency department and he breathe it in, it can have a profound impact.

Dutton says the program was put in place to mitigate, prepare for and prevent risks associated with potential contamination of staff, patients and care areas.

Exposure incidents, which occur in the home as well as in industry and agriculture, can range from mild to extremely dangerous or fatal.

“We’ve seen everything from incidents related to anhydrous ammonia, which is widely used in agriculture and refrigeration, to organophosphate pesticides, household cleaning chemicals like bleach, and even pepper spray,” explains Dutton.

“But one of the biggest was an anhydrous ammonia incident at a fertilizer plant. We had two patients who came through this; one with high exposure and one with moderate exposure.

“EMS staff had red eyes that were crying and they were coughing, but we were able to prevent that from happening in the emergency department because we put our nurses and our respiratory therapists in PPE, and we were able to take care of that. nobody. ”

Staff begin the HazMat training process through prerequisite modules completed through My Learning Link (MLL); available for clinical and non-clinical providers. These 90-minute courses teach personnel how to protect themselves against CBRN/HazMat agents, and how to respond and provide care safely during a CBRN/HazMat incident.

Practical training is then provided on site (three hours) and is aimed at acute and urgent care personnel who can become the first receivers in the event of an CBRN/HazMat incident. This includes clinical nurses, protective services, admissions staff and nuclear medicine technologists. In rural sites, this may also include local AHS personnel or contracted EMS personnel. Physicians, clinical nurse educators, and managers are also encouraged to take CBRN/HazMat First Receiver training, as well as facility maintenance and engineering personnel, and EMS personnel.

Skills are then updated through a repetitive two-year cycle to maintain readiness, with the MLL prerequisite module and practical training session in year one, and an MLL refresher module in year two.


Frontline employees who wish to enroll in CBRN/HazMat First Receiver training should speak to their supervisor, who can contact the Dutton team directly for information.

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