Expect the best; prepare for the worst. It’s a saying that applies to almost every major industry, but when it comes to spill control it’s even more important. Spills of any kind of material can range from being a major inconvenience (losing time & money), to a dangerous or even life-threatening situation.
We only need to look at spills that have made the headlines to realize just how much of a devastating impact some can have. The largest ever accidental oil spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon, was at one point dumping over 2.5 million gallons of oil into the ocean per day. Environmentalists say the impact of this spill, and the dispersants used to control it, could devastate the Gulf coast for decades to come.
Of course, spills of this scale are unlikely to happen on an everyday job site, but that doesn’t mean that every precaution shouldn’t be taken to prevent them. With thousands of spills occurring annually in the workplace, damaging property, creating delays and causing injuries, every preventative measure should be in place.
Spill Control 101 - What You Need to Know
So, you took every precaution, but accidents do happen and now you’re dealing with a spill. What’s your first move? What equipment should you have on stand-by? Who’s going to take the lead? And when those precautions do fail (it’s always a case of when, not if), you need to be ready to quickly jump on spills and get them under control. Ironically though, it is something many companies don’t even think about until it’s too late.
“This is all something that a lot of companies don’t have on the top priority list,” warns Eric Reuscher, CSP, Safety Products and Service Manager at Global Industrial. “It's probably something that you're not really all that worried about, but you should be, because if the spill happens now, you're shutting down production.” And of course, ANY loss of production leads to lost revenue and perhaps even lost contracts and staff.
So, let’s take a look at a typical spill control response.
First and foremost, you’re almost certainly going to have to follow the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasures (SPCC). These measures have been put in place to safeguard the public, the land, and prevent hazardous and toxic chemicals from leaking into water supplies, so follow them to the letter. What substances are typically involved in spill control? Well, the most common ones are:
Biological spills: These include human and animal wastes and byproducts, and while inconvenient usually don’t pose a great threat to human life or the environment.
Chemical spills: These cover the gamut, including dangerous and deadly acids, chemical compounds, and other highly hazardous materials.
Radiological Spills: Again, the potential for major human and environmental impact is huge here (remember Chernobyl) and may require an appropriately large response.
ALL of these kinds of spills can include gasses, liquids, solids, dusts, fumes and more.
You should also have a spill control plan in place, which should be referenced the second you know what you’re dealing with, and personnel who have already trained to deal with this kind of situation.
Usually, your spill response to contain and dispose of chemicals and other substances will follow this kind of procedure:
1: RAISE THE ALARM
What substances have been spilled? How much liquid is involved, and are dangerous interactions possible? Does this warrant an evacuation? It is paramount that you keep your people (and anyone else around the spill site) out of danger. “If you're dealing with a very hazardous chemical, be it corrosive, flammable, something such as that, that's your very first biggest primary aspect,” advised Reuscher. “If you have a chemical that can react with air and off gas, that becomes a much more critical issue.”
2: REGAIN CONTROL
To use a medical term, you’ve got to stop the bleeding before you can fix the problem. That means following the correct procedures to either stop, or vastly reduce, the impact of the spill. Having the necessary equipment on hand will be crucial for successful spill containment. Now depending on the chemicals and liquids you’re dealing with, and the size of the spill, the kind and amount of equipment you’ll need will. But at the very least, investigate the following:
Spill control platforms (these come in a wide variety of sizes and configurations)
3: CONTAIN THE SPILL
By this stage, you should now be getting on top of the situation. You have stopped the source(s) of the spill and can now deal with containment to ensure it. Your biggest help here will be containment berms and pools and neutralizers and absorbents. You have got to address every area of concern, working to not only contain the spill but to ensure no-one else other than essential clean-up personnel come near the scene of the spill.
4: PERFORM FINAL CLEAN-UP & DISPOSAL
The light at the end of the tunnel. Some may say the hard part is done, but just as much attention needs to be put into disposal as clean-up. Remember, you are possibly working with some very dangerous and potentially life-threatening chemicals and substances. That means everything has to be disposed of following EPA and OSHA guidelines. And while no-one likes to throw away functioning equipment, things like brooms, pans, squeegees, mops, tarps and other supplies may also have to be disposed of safely if they are covered in hazardous waste. And once everything is clean and back to normal, ensure that all participants in the clean-up are completely decontaminated, too.
How To Prevent Spills - A Brief Overview
As we said earlier, precautions will fail at some point. However, without them you’ll be dealing with far more incidents and that means more chances to lose time, money, contracts, and even employees. Spill prevention specifics vary by industry but there are some overarching steps you can implement to reduce the possibility of a spill.
Storage protocols are key to the prevention of any spill. All containers should be effectively fastened and accurately labeled. Some chemicals and substances should not be stored anywhere near others due to hazardous interactions. Your Safety Data Sheets (SDS) should give you that kind of information. Ensure your storage areas are clean, well-maintained and are never overcrowded. You also want to make sure any shelving you have is secure and able to handle the weight of the loads. If just one shelf fails it could lead to a huge cleanup problem.
Perform regular safety inspections, either through a specialized third-party or trained personnel. And all workers on-site should be up-to-speed with the latest safety measures needed to prevent spills (and clean up should the worst happen). Your employees should also have access to appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which may be required when handling storage containers and cleaning up spills.
Berms can be used as a “just in case” measure as well as for handling actual spills. If you have your chemicals and hazardous materials stored in a berm, any minor spills can be contained within its barriers for easier cleanup. Of course, this berm may not be adequate for a major spill but could save a lot of time and money dealing with smaller spills.
Use common sense. On many occasions, just looking around at the environment can lead to spill prevention. Are some of the containers looking past their prime? Does the storage area look overloaded? Are there signs of leaks that could become worse? It’s amazing how often common sense can prevent spills from ever happening. Reuscher continues with additional questions you should ask; “Do you have a written plan? Do you have a control plan? Have you brought it out, have that plan in place and then maintained it?” Just asking these kinds of questions before anything happens can make all the difference.
Remember, using the preventive measures listed above is always better than dealing with the aftermath of a spill, so take all the steps necessary to ensure your environment is as safe as possible. Only as a last resort do you want to be reaching for the spill control supplies.
 Treehugger [Link]
 EPA.gov [Link]
 EPA.gov [Link]
Spill Control - What You Need to Know.
Spills happen. For some companies, it’s an inconvenience. For others, well let’s just say all hell can break loose when chemicals and hazardous waste are out of control. You only have to look at incidents like Deepwater Horizon and the Exxon Valdez to see what kind of lasting damage spills can have. But what about your company? Do you handle dangerous liquids and chemicals? Do you have adequate storage and spill containment procedures on hand? Do you even know what your next move would be if a spill should happen right now? Let’s take a look at what spill control is, what you can do to prevent spills, and how to react and successfully contain and clean-up a spill.
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