Everything You Need to Know About Changes to the 2016 Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG)

With nearly 15 million copies distributed, the North American Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) is one of the most widely used hazardous material references in the world. The book is updated and re-issued every four years as a joint effort by transport agencies in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The guidebook’s primary goal is to equip first responders with the information they need to respond to transportation accidents involving dangerous goods, lethal chemicals, and other hazardous materials.

The latest version of the guidebook (ERG2016) was released this April and contains a number of important revisions from the 2012 version, including critical changes to recommended initial isolation and protective action distances. A full PDF copy of the 2016 Emergency Response Guidebook can be found here.

Here is a breakdown of the most notable revisions in the ERG2016:

“How To” Section – Perhaps the most visible change in the new ERG2016 can be found in the section titled “How to Use This Guidebook.” In previous versions, this section included a step-by-step process that was designed to help users quickly and efficiently access information regarding specific materials and/or emergency procedures. In the 2016 edition, those steps have been replaced with a flowchart/decision tree (see below) that makes navigating to the pertinent information in the guidebook even easier.


Color-coded Sections – A number of additions have also been made to the color-coded sections throughout the guidebook.

White Section: As with previous versions, the White section of the ERG2016 contains general reference and usage information related to labels, markings, placards, shipping papers, trailer identification, rail cars, and pipelines. Much of this information has been updated from ERG2012 to reflect the latest findings and recommendations from health and safety organizations. Moreover, the section now contains a Table of Contents and portions of the Globally Harmonized Systems of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), with pictograms indicating specific physical, health, or environmental hazards. The sections on protective clothing and improvised explosive device (IED) safe stand-off distances have also been expanded and/or revised. A page allowing users to manually fill in the contact information of local emergency response agencies has also been added.

Green Section: This part of the guidebook contains information on initial isolation and protective action distances. Much of the content in this section has been updated from ERG2012 as a result of new research conducted on toxicity and reactivity over the past four years. Many of the distances listed in Tables 1 and 3 of this section have changed significantly, including those for chlorine and ammonia. As a result, it is critically important for individuals who have a previous edition of the ERG to replace it as soon as possible with the 2016 version. The Green section has also been expanded with a page that provides users with information on how to estimate wind speed based on environmental clues.

Orange Section: This section has been expanded to include two additional guides (#173 and #174), which provide information on emergency response measures for absorbed gases.

Yellow Section: This section, which contains information on using a material’s 4-digit UN number, has been supplemented with additions to the list of dangerous goods in the updated UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. This information has also been added to the Blue section of the book, which lists chemicals by name in alphabetical order.


Changes to Definitions and Verbiage: ERG2016 also includes a number of minor changes to verbiage that are, nonetheless, important to note, including:

  • The term “dangerous goods” is now synonymous with “hazardous materials.”
  • The term “toxic” is now synonymous with “poison” and “poisonous.”
  • The suffix “P” has been added to guide numbers to indicate a polymerization hazard.
  • The term “protective action distance,” along with an explanation of “shelter in place” has replaced the term “evacuation distance.”
  • Recommended distances are now listed in metric and English units.

Try the SAFER Mobile Response App

SAFER Mobile Response is a smartphone and tablet-supported application that integrates the trusted 2012 Emergency Response Guidebook with the power of Google Maps, Google Traffic, and live weather updates.  The app puts the guidebook’s data in the hands of first responders, hazmat personnel, and law enforcement who are called to the scene of a chemical fire or terrorist incident. Download the app for iOS or Android here.

Note: The updated version of SAFER Mobile Response with the new 2016 ERG data is here! For other awesome features of the SMR App check out the datasheet.


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