People who run their own business and store oil or chemicals know how difficult it can be when it comes to understanding the regulations surrounding the industry. The rules are different within the United Kingdom. In this interview, Mike Claridge, MD of Forth Systems Limited tackles the burning issues around the safe storage of the materials. He also sits on a committee within the British Safety Industry Federation.
Mike, we’re discussing the regulations relating to storing chemicals or oil outside. Why is it seen as very difficult for people involved in these industries to understand?
We have one country and effectively four sets of regulations. The England regulations came out first in 2001 and they cover oil stored in 200 litre drums or above outside and the Scottish regulations came in four years after that and they also cover 200 litre drums but the difference is that they cover the drums when they’re inside the building as well. In a lot of instances the Scottish regulations cover waste oil whereas the English regulations specifically exclude waste oil unless it’s waste cooking oil. Last year the Northern Ireland regulations came in and they are slightly different again to the England and the Scotland regulations and there’s a Welsh set that are due to come in either early next year or the end of this year and the full details on those hasn’t been released yet. It does seem to be that the devolution authorities want to be different from everybody else just to stamp their own footprint on it.
That must make it very difficult for the companies involved in this line of work?
It also makes it difficult for industrial catalogues for example who are selling throughout the UK. If their customers have offices in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland they are having to deal with three different sets of regulations. Part of the reason the spill containment group was set up within the BSIF was to help the industry harmonise those regulations. We’re at the moment having discussions with Defra and the Environment Agency to see how that might come about.
It’s very easy to see how companies could fall foul of the law, in terms of how to store safely oil or chemicals.
Yes, the Environment Agency’s official attitude is that the regulations are a last resort. What they would rather companies do is pay attention to the PPG guidelines – the Pollution Prevention Guidelines that they have issued. The relevant ones in our industry are PPG 2 and PPG 26 and if you conform with those regulations you will not fall foul of the law.
So where can people turn to for advice?
Companies such as ourselves or the Spill Control Centre as well because I believe that they will have details on their website as to what you need to do to comply with the various regulations. In essence, if you are in England you have to keep your oil – if it’s outside and in a drum of 200 litres or above – on a spill containment product which will contain 110% of the volume of the largest container or 25% of the total volume stored at that one particular point. If it’s inside it’s regarded as a housekeeping product and in England if you’re container unit has more than 25% capacity that’s fine. In Scotland it’s different. It must be bounded to the tune of 110% whether it’s inside or outside the building.
It sounds very confusing.
It is to somebody who doesn’t have any experience of the oil storage regulations. For example, a safety officer, newly employed by a company with no experience of dealing with that, yes, it would be confusing. There are places you can go to get advice and the Environment Agency’s website is a good starting point.
The weather also changes things within this industry. Why do we need to be mindful of it?
Funnily enough, in this country it rains a fair bit and there are certain parts of this country where it rains more than others. One of the things the guidelines don’t specify is when you’re storing your drums outside on a spill containment unit and thus complying, that if it’s not covered then it’s going to fill up with rain water. One thing you have to do is have a documented maintenance programme so that any rainwater dropping where your plant is is supervised so that anything filling up with rainwater is dealt with straight away. The easy way of course is to cover it and have your spill containment unit either covered with a hard shelter or a tarpaulin cover or some other device. There are various different products available which are going to stop your unit filling up with water.
So you can buy products which would enable you to keep products more safely and appropriately contained?
Yes and the legislation obviously doesn’t detail that. It’s fairly obvious that if you’re living in very wet areas of the country a unit that’s sitting outside needs to be covered so that rainwater doesn’t fill up. There’s no point having some sort of unit if it’s got a small leak in – say a couple of litres of oil but then you have a downpour and the unit will overflow because it’s designed to cope with the 200 litres in the drum not 700 litres which might fall in a massive downpour overnight. Your oil would then flow out of your spill containment unit.
How would the oil or chemicals be affected if there was a downpour and these products weren’t covered adequately?
The simple thing to deal with is oil. Oil floats on water, if there’s even a litre at the bottom of a spill containment unit and it rains the unit will fill up with water and the oil sits on the top so the first thing that goes over the edge of the bund would be the oil which is what you’re trying to prevent in the first place.
Does the cold weather cause a hassle for people as well?
Not so much the cold weather but obviously if it snows and the snow melts you’re going to have the same problem if your spill containment unit isn’t covered and it’s sitting outside.
If companies found themselves falling foul of regulations what could happen to them?
They would get a fine but also what would probably be far greater than the fine would be if they had a spill incident, the cleanup costs. That could be 10 or 15 times more than any fine that you might get for creating the incident in the first place.
Further advice or access to spill containment products can be found by visiting https://www.spillcontrolcentre.co.uk/