Category Archives: Spill Control

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

Why cleaning up oil spills is vital

Cleaning up oil spills in environments such as rivers or waterways is vitally important. This article raises the awareness of the dangers that oil spills can cause and discusses how oil spill kits and specific products such as marine oil spill kits can help you.

Last weekend, we came across a very interesting article discussing the likelihood of another clean-up operation for a major oil spill. The location is the Amazonian regions of Peru, and this news article provides further detail. In short, an oil spill from a major pipeline has been identified and urgent steps are being taken to try and fix the ruptured pipeline and clean up the oil spill. Details are rather sketchy but it is widely accepted that the Amazon is one of our planet’s most fragile ecosystems and the tension between oil companies and indigenous people in the area shows that feelings are running high.

Oil spills are never good; but when they take place in a fragile and vulnerable environment then the ramifications can be far reaching. The Amazon is one such area. Another area is rivers and waterways. The tiniest amount of oil spilled into a river can spread and stifle life, food and habitat for a number of different animals. To prevent these issues, this is why cleaning up oil spills – and knowing how to do so – is vitally important. This article goes on to explore the products that you will need.

Oil Spill Kits and Marine Oil Spill Kits

The first key thing to remember when thinking about products needed to tackle an oil spill is to think of their colour. Oil only absorbent products are white so this is the colour that you should be looking out for. The key feature of these oil only absorbent products is that they are hydrophobic. This means that they only absorb oil and they resist water. This is why these products are perfect for waterways spillages for things like canal boats.

Take our marine oil spill kit for instance. This contains absorbent pads, socks and cushions as well as some leak sealing putty to try and stop the leak at source. In an environment where any oil spill will be mixing with lots of water, the hydrophobic properties of the products in this spill kit make it the perfect choice. One kit absorbs up to 22 litres of oil which makes it ideal for smaller boat spills. At a time of year when people are thinking about their holidays and with vessels such as narrowboats becoming more and more popular, this is a must-have product.

For a larger oil spill, we have products that go all the way up to catering for a 900 litre oil spill. These larger products are more aimed at industrial settings where leaks on large machines can cause a high volume of oil spillage. An example would be our premium range 360 litre oil only spill kit.  This kit comes in a mobile 2 wheeled bin and contains a huge array of absorbent pads, socks and pillows as well as disposal bags and a floor sign. If your workplace runs the risk of oil spillage then you should think about one of these products to allow your company to comply with the law and be environmentally friendly.

Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Photo by Ingrid Taylar / Flickr

Oil Spills: The key point

We are not saying that the spill kits mentioned in this article would be suitable for an oil spill on the potential scale of the one mentioned in the news article above. However, we are saying that the basic and fundamental point about the dangers of oil spills on the environment applies equally to both scenarios.

Regardless of their size, smaller oil spills still need to be treated carefully to avoid irreparable damage to the environment and all of us handling oil or operating machinery using oil have a duty to take special care. The products mentioned in this article will help you to do that.

At Spill Control Centre, our product experts would be happy to discuss any questions arising from this article – just give us a call on 01724 281044 / 277479.

Think like a scout and be prepared for spills in the workplace

Instant reaction to a spill in the workplace can make the outcome very different indeed – because if you’ve failed to avoid a spill, then lightning-fast reactions, coupled with having the right absorbents immediately to hand, will put you in control of an effective damage limitation exercise.

The best way to deal with a workplace spill is adopt the scout movement motto of ‘be prepared’, and avoid having one in the first place.

It’s not too hard to do; just a question of using the right storage and training people how to behave at work – not just when someone’s looking, but all the time. The effort is worth it; the consequences of a spill can be extensive and unexpected, perhaps causing environmental damage with significant fines to follow, loss of materials, interruptions to production causing customer dissatisfaction and loss of business, employee slips and falls bringing with them the risk of injury, long periods off work, and the involvement of the HSE.

Even small but regular spills can add a business cost burden you could well do without. Things like oil dripping from machinery or solvent bottles knocked over through careless handling and someone forgetting to put the top back on securely all cost money, and small sums add up to big ones over time.

But training alone is not enough, for in spite of the best-laid plans, things will go wrong. And when they do, you’ll find that expecting the worst, and planning for it, will pay dividends.

Spill Control Centre top tips for dealing with workplace spills

1. Start by doing some maintenance.

Don’t put up with tiny leaks of anything. Make yourself a promise to fit new gaskets or new taps, or whatever it takes, and to do it sooner rather than later. When did you last see a dirty F1 garage? They’re clean because the people working there take a pride in what the do, and that results in things being kept clean. (The opposite is also true: if the workplace is clean, people are more likely to be conscious of the need to avoid spills.)

As a temporary measure, fit absorbent material like these plant nappies under the leak – but make sure it is temporary, don’t use it as an excuse to procrastinate.

2. Be prepared.

Think about what can be spilled, and in what sort of quantities. Then buy absorbents of the right type and store them close to the site of any potential spill. Savings seconds is worth the effort. Some absorbents are good for dealing with oil, others with water, and still others with combinations of them. Some work on water; others are better suited to dry land application.

They can be compared and contrasted on our product pages.

Dec 2015 spill spills in the workplace spill control centre
3. Protect employees.

No-one deserves to be put at risk in dealing with a spill. Employees need to have the right protective clothing for the spills they may be required to clean up. For example, cleaning up body fluid spills of any kind is a very unsavoury task, which is why we offer body fluid spill kits for just that eventuality.

Easily carried on large sites, they can instantly be deployed when the need arises. Similarly, a spill on the road requires its own specialist responses, given the dangers not only of the spill, but also of continuing traffic flow.

These ADR spill kits have it all covered.

4. Act fast.

When a spill happens there isn’t a moment to lose. Even a minute’s delay can multiply the impact of a spill, and, in the words of a 90s insurance company, turn a drama into a crisis.

5. Contain it.

Don’t even think about cleaning it up yet. The first action must be to stop whatever’s been spilled. Think first of the drains, and deploy drain covers to stop spilled material. Then, thinking about drains further away, put some form of barrier to stop the spilled liquids spreading.

We have heard of untrained employees ‘cleaning up’ spills by hosing the spillage into the drains. This is emphatically not cleaning up, but is exactly the opposite; it just pushes the spill elsewhere, allowing it to do considerably more damage as it goes.

6. Mop it.

Or soak it up with the most appropriate absorbent. Granules made from a range of materials are very good at this, and contain considerable volumes of liquid, so that they can be swept up with a brush and shovel.

7. Dispose of it.

Whatever has been used to mop a spill can’t just be dumped in a bin; it must be disposed of responsibly. As a general rule, this will mean in the same way that the spilled material would have to be disposed of.

Having a supply of appropriate bags handy – resistant to the spilled material, naturally – will mean you have the first step of disposal ‘in the bag’ as it were, and will have bought yourself more time to organise the most effective and safe disposal.

To find the right product to assist you should you have a spill in the workplace visit

Let the science of oil spill cleanup help you in a sticky situation

Accidents will happen, and when cleaning oil spills the right solution depends very much on the size of the spill and its location. Spill Control Centre guides you through the types of product available and where they can, and can’t, be used.

Anyone watching motorsport on television will be familiar with the sight of marshals in brightly-coloured suits dashing onto the circuit with sand or cement to cover oil spilled from cars or motorbikes.

What they’re doing is making the circuit safe by covering the spilled oil to keep it off tyres, and therefore preventing skids, crashes and injury. Crucially, they’re not actually cleaning oil spills on concrete or Tarmac; they’re just making them safer.

It’s a niche spill control method, developed for fast action, but because it doesn’t involve a cleanup after a spill, could be said to have done only half the job.
Doing the whole job requires consideration of how the oil can be picked up and disposed of so it’s kept from harming the environment. What’s more, although the application of cement is good on racing circuits, there are other places where it would be entirely inappropriate.

Oil spill products described

Although there are many effective oil spill cleanup products on the market, they fall into these categories:

1. Mechanical: Useful for large volumes of oil, allowing significant recovery. Containment booms or bunds prevent oil spread, and they can be deployed as a barrier to protect unpolluted areas. Think of the way drain covers work.

2. Sorbents: These can be oil absorbents or oil adsorbents – note the subtle difference in spelling. Both draw off oil using mechanical or chemical means, and allow the oil to be taken away. Some will allow recovery of the oil from them. Absorbents change the physical or chemical properties of the spill they’re cleaning; adsorbents don’t.

3. Bioremediation: These are spores of micro-organisms in a liquid or powder, and ‘digest’ oil spills to leave water and carbon dioxide. Sounds like a miracle cure? Beware; oil contains other additives which won’t be digested, but will be left behind as pollutants. Also, effectiveness of the organisms is governed by acidity, temperature, oxygen levels and the kind of oil spilled.

4. Dispersants: For use when oil is on water. They break it into droplets which disperse further through the water, allowing natural breakdown to happen faster.

5. Surface cleaners: Cleaners break down the oil to make it easier to lift away, and are applied as a powder or liquid. The resulting mixture of cleaner and oil is still a pollutant, so mustn’t be washed down a drain.

6. Miscellaneous: This category covers thinks like sinking agents (which move pollution from the surface of a body of water to the bottom, where it remains a pollutant) and polymerisation products, which transform oil into a rubbery compound – but have potentially detrimental effects on surface or groundwater.

Spill Control

Oil spill cleanup methods and situations

Prevention is always better than cure, which is why we offer a range of measures to prevent spills happening in the first place, like these oil drum storage solutions.

Sadly, spills will happen, for whatever reason so it’s a well to be prepared, by having spill kits appropriate to your particular hazard always to hand. The following five points show what can – and can’t – be used where.

1. Sea, estuaries and tidal waters: Go for mechanical recovery, dispersants, sorbents and bioremediation. Containment booms should be used, where possible, to hold the pollution in one place Products must have approval from the Marine Management Organisation.

2. Beaches and rocky shores: Sorbents and mechanical removal are appropriate here, but be careful to pick those with Marine Management Organisation approval. In the case of protected habitats, you’ll need to consult Natural England (in England, naturally) of Commission Wales certainly before using anything, and also about the nature of what’s being protected.

3. Inland waterways: Mechanical recovery and sorbents can be used, but disposal of the sorbents must be done in line with your Duty of Care and the Hazardous Waste Regulations. Bioremediation may be an option, but it’s one you’d have to talk through with the Environment Officer, who would advise on possible effects on the environment. You may not use dispersants, and the use of surface cleaners is unlikely to be acceptable.

4. Impermeable surfaces like yards, forecourts or roads: Use sorbents and then sweep away the residue. Surface cleaners can be used, but you must be certain that any effluent will be washed into a foul water sewer. Bioremediation can be used, but only if it is subsequently swept up and not washed into drains. Dispersants are no good in this situation. There is nowhere for the oil to be dispersed to.

5. Bare ground: Free oil on the surface can be removed with sorbents, after which you’ll need to removed the contaminated soil. Neither surface cleaners nor dispersants have any value in this situation.

Disposal of oil spill products

This is a complex area, and the Environment Agency has produced a detailed advice document to help. It includes guidance not only about emergency spills but also ‘workday’ spills like ships’ bilges, harbour walls and motor vehicles, and we have included it in our advice centre, where much more information is to be found.

People: the most valuable spill clean up resource

Cleaning up spills in the workplace needs the right combination of absorbent materials and people trained in their correct and effective use. Without those two vital elements spills can go on to cause significant damage through environmental issues, injuries, extra management burdens and cripplingly high costs.

Numerous types of specialised spill cleanup equipment are available to every section of today’s business community, but none are effective without another vital ingredient – you and your employees.

Just buying equipment to clean up spills in the workplace isn’t enough, because it’s impossible to spend your way to an effective spill clean up response. To make it effective, there has to be thorough training and commitment to use the equipment provided effectively and responsibly.

By their very nature spills can happen at any time. They can be slow and steady, like a faulty valve that lets a tyre deflate slowly over a number of days, or sudden and significant, like a tyre bursting.

The first is in danger of going unnoticed, because it’s little more than ‘business as usual’, and whatever’s on the floor is just part of the scenery. Once there, it can be the cause of slips, trips and falls in the workplace, which can add significantly to the burden of the management, and to the costs of the business. A sudden spill is far more noticeable, and will draw a response from those around it – or at least you’d hope that it would.

Spillages in the workplace: The human response

In both cases effective response to spillages in the workplace hinges on the employees who are there at the time. They’re the ones who will be the first to react, as an ‘emergency service’ on behalf of your company. Make no mistake, it is an emergency. Chemicals, oils and hazardous substances escaping the premises can have severe consequences.

When chemicals are sluicing around the floor it is no time to be reading the directions on absorbent material, for example, or looking for the nitrile gloves that ought to be with the spill kit, but have been pilfered because someone needed them at home.

Spill ControlBest responses to spills in the workplace

The three most effective response to spills in the workplace are preparation, preparation, and preparation. To do that you need to make a decision at the most senior management level that your business will make a commitment to effectively clean up spills in the workplace. Full marks if you already have; if you haven’t, we’d suggest you start now. Here’s what we advocate.

1. Make sure you have enough equipment. Even if you’ve bought spill control equipment in the past, your business may have outgrown it. Also, it may have been used and not replaced. You’ll need protective clothing for the cleaning contractors too.

2. Make sure it’s in the right place. Having spill control ready for chemical spills in the workplace, for instance, should mean it’s readly portable. That can be a disadvantage if it gets moved to the wrong place, even if the move is done in all innocence. Put it back where it belongs.

3. Make sure everyone knows where it is. That’s when ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’ comes into its own. There may not be time to hunt for missing absorbents, or the tools needed to clean up and dispose of spills.

4. Show employees how to use it. Depending on the nature of the spill, the response to it may well involve things done in the correct sequence. For instance, spilled liquids might need to be contained by the use of drain covers – and that will need doing first before any attempt at cleaning up (Believe it or not, we’ve heard of cases where spilled chemicals were hosed into the drain…)

5. Use the equipment as a means to reinforce the dangers of spills. Showing employees and contractors the commitment you’ve made to spill containment and clean-up indicates the seriousness with which you take it, and that you expect them to take it equally seriously.

6. Explain the consequences of spills. Employees may genuinely be unaware of the cost of materials to a business, and will almost certainly not have thought through the consequences in terms of financial implications and even job security caused by a relaxed attitude to spills. Once that’s been highlighted, they’re more likely to use correctly the equipment you’ve invested in.