While you were finishing up work in a panel, a strong chemical smell suddenly filled the area. You immediately left. You sounded the alarm on the way out, and some operators quickly followed you. First responders have followed their protocol and are handling the problem.

Your hazard communication training should have taught that your next step is to report any such smell as a suspected spill — to the operations supervisor and your own supervisor. When you do this, be careful to stick to the verifiable facts.

After you've made your report, you can discuss your opinions and theories with your supervisor. But don't put those in writing or talk with others about them. The reason for this precaution is because anything said about the incident forms part of an official report and legal record.

Errors of fact in that report can mean huge, unnecessary fines or even an extended shutdown of the facility. It can also mean chasing the wrong problem. The company needs an accurate accounting of what happened.