Curbing those spills

Curbing those spills

Economic development unfortunately has a major downside … a dependence on, and the influx of, certain chemicals and substances which, while necessary for industrialisation, can have a negative impact on many environments, especially if these should spill or leak. We dive into how potential hazardous spills should be handled.

The most important aspect of managing hazardous spills is prevention, rather than cure, says Kevin Murphy, owner of environmental, health and safety provider Spill Doctor. “Most spills can be avoided by properly assessing the risks and adopting the necessary precautions, such as safe storage,” he explains.

A number of chemicals, solvents, fuels and gases are both highly flammable and have the potential to evaporate upon exposure to the atmosphere. This can lead to the accumulation of dangerous vapours and risk ignition or explosion.

“Employers dealing with these types of substances have a legal obligation to tackle associated fire and explosion risks,” says Murphy. “This means preventing the release of dangerous substances; preventing or controlling ignition sources; ensuring correct storage; and establishing appropriate procedures for delivery, handling and usage.”

There are several mitigation measures that can reduce the risk of an accident, which should be applied in priority order, starting with minimising the quantity of the dangerous substance. Mitigation measures will include reducing the number of employees who are exposed to the substance and providing staff with appropriate personal protective equipment.

Three elements must be present in order for a fire to start: heat, oxygen and fuel. Safe storage is therefore crucial. “If one of these factors can be removed,” says Murphy, “it removes the risk of a fire.” He adds that it is crucial to follow regulations and best practice for the indoor storage of flammable substances.

The external storage of hazardous substances such as oils and chemicals could pollute nearby drains and/or waterways. Even if a spill is caused by vandals, companies can be prosecuted, so the proactive mitigation of potential consequences is essential. “Employers should be thinking about the amounts of products being stored and the types of storage containers, as well as the need for spill pallets or standalone stores with built-in sumps to capture spills and leaks. Bunds and spill pallets must be able to contain at least 110% of the volume of the largest container or 25% of the total volume stored, whichever is greater.”

Containers should obviously be made from materials compatible with the chemical being stored. Storage areas should also be located in suitable areas (for example, well away from any on-site drainage), while it is also essential to be proactive when it comes to dealing with any spills that occur.

“One of the most important aspects of spill response is that staff are properly trained how to deal with spills; a pollution incident response procedure should be drawn up and followed at all times,” notes Murphy. “Spill kits and absorbent materials should be placed where they are highly visible and can be easily accessed not only by staff, but also by any external spill responders or agencies.”

Following a spill, containment is crucial. “It is always better to try to keep any hazardous spill on the surface, so spill kits should be located next to storage areas, with sealing products positioned next to site drains,” he says. For rapid response, the location of spill containment equipment should also be marked on a readily available site plan, while an inventory of on-site chemicals will help responders to understand what they are dealing with.

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