A layperson’s 10-point guide to spill control and absorbents

Being prepared for workplace spills by having the right absorbents is less than half the battle. The remainder is in where they’re placed and how they’re used. Our 10-point guide to spill control and absorbents will point you in the right direction.

When it comes to spill control, the secret of success lies in the 80:20 rule, with preparation representing the lion’s share.

The consequences of poor preparation have just been highlighted by pollution of a two-mile stretch of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, where seven swans have been harmed by spilled diesel from an unknown source. It’s a perfect illustration of what can happen miles away from the spill. The diesel has got into the canal from one of its tributaries, which these days run underground, leaving the Environment Agency scratching its head about how to find the source of the problem.

Of course, you could go one step further, and say the eliminating spills completely would be the better option, with an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. Until that happens, a strategy for cleaning up spills is as important as having the spill kits to clear them up with.

Spill kits and absorbents come in a range of types and sizes, each created to deal with specific kinds of spills. That variety of products should be the start point for developing your spill strategy.

10-point guide to spill control and absorbents

Spill control and absorbents: a 10-point guide

  1. Start by working out what can spill, and where. This might be drips of oil from machinery, the catastrophic failure of a tank or pipework, or loss of chemicals during loading, unloading or decanting, for example.
  1. Consider the quantities. Availability of a 1,000-litre berm would clearly be overkill in the event of body fluid spill. The products in spill kits and absorbents all indicate the volumes of liquid they can absorb for safe disposal later, and will guide buying decisions.
  1. Match absorbents and spill kits to what may be spilled. Absorbents have particular qualities suited to particular kinds of spills to make them as effective as possible in particular situations; others are effective against a number of spills. Some products can differentiate between the liquids they come into contact with. This type of oil absorbent won’t absorb water, making it ideal for limiting oil spills on watercourses.
  1. Choose multi-line defences. If oil is to be decanted regularly, for example, the first thing to consider is the way drums are stored, and keep them on bespoke pallets that have drip-containing sumps, like these. These trap small spills, and prevent them being spread, especially on workers’ footwear, making for a safer workplace. As such they form the first line of everyday defence against minor spills, and remove the need to deploy more substantial measures.
  1. Put absorbents in dedicated storage close to where they’re likely to be most urgently needed. This will save time in the event of a spill.
  1. Plan for collateral damage. Fines for environmental damage can be considerable, with the added burden of reputational damage further hurting your company’s bottom line. For this reason (and that it’s good practice too), having equipment such as drain protectors to hand will keep spilled liquids out of the wider environment.
  1. Train the staff. One of the most effective tools in spill control is prompt action in deploying the right spill control measures. Make sure that, as well as knowing how best to handle liquids to prevent spills in the first place, employees are aware of how they should use the spill kits and absorbents you have provided. You might even consider spill control exercises, allowing employees to work with the materials provided to sharpen awareness and improve readiness. Consider incorporating spill control into induction procedures.
  1. Provide protective clothing. Spill control is about damage limitation. Employees expected to clean up spills must be able to do so without personal risk, so the equipment you provide must have their welfare in mind, as well as providing necessary supporting equipment. The first is illustrated by the provision of latex gloves in body fluid spill kits; the second in the ancillary equipment that forms part of an ADR spill kit for spill control on the move.
  1. Clean up responsibly. Absorbents used on any kind of spill may not be disposed of with general waste. Their disposal is governed by the same rules as for the material they’ve been used to pick up, so they must be disposed of in the same way.
  1. Re-order. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, until it does. If you’ve been forced to use spill control products there’s now a chink in your spill control armour, so whatever you’ve used should be replaced without delay. Spill Control Centre offers same-day dispatch on a substantial part of the product range we hold in stock.

Picture: Curraheeshutter | Dreamstime

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