Eight steps to spill response

Eight steps to spill response

KEVIN MURPHY, MD of environment, health, and safety provider Spill Doctor, outlines the steps needed to safely and efficiently respond to a spill in the workplace.

Dealing with a spill can range from a straightforward and simple procedure to a complex and dangerous operation. Whatever sort of spill you encounter, however, it is essential that you always work to a “trained for” plan that minimises the risk to responders, involved personnel, and the surrounding environment.

No matter the types of liquids involved, or the scale of the incident, there are specific steps that need to be followed to better manage the risk. In simple terms, we want you to get from “oh dear” to debriefing over a “nice cup of tea”, SAFELY.

The following may, on the face of it, appear to be very basic instructions, but – if followed step by step each and every time you respond to a spill, no matter the size of that spill – they will help to reduce the risks of injury and the environmental impact of the spill.

Step 1 – Assess

As soon as you encounter a spill and until it has been successfully dealt with, you must constantly assess the risk it poses to personnel, the environment, and property. Safety always comes first. If it is safe to do so, try to determine what the liquid is, the quantity involved, and if there are any casualties. Never try to deal with a spill on your own; inform colleagues and wait until at least one other person is in attendance before dealing with the incident.

Step 2 – Protect

Always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to allow you to safely respond to the spill. Check the safety data sheet for any hazards associated with the liquid spilled and then dress accordingly. If in doubt, assume the worst and wear the highest level of PPE.

Step 3 – Contain

Containing the spill buys time and reduces the area of contamination, lessening the spill’s impact. Use absorbent socks and booms or physical barriers to provide fast, effective containment.

Step 4 – Stop the spill

Once the spill has been contained, you need to stop the source of the spill, whether that involves rolling a drum damaged side up, turning off a tap, or plugging the hole in a container. If appropriate, decant any remaining liquid into a secondary container. Remember, never step in the spill.

Step 5 – Reassess

After the spill has been contained and the source controlled, reassess the entire situation before starting clean-up. Ensure that the spill is fully under control.

Step 6 – Clean-up

This can be as simple as wiping up with sorbent pads, through to using additional sorbents and/or a compatible “wet vac”. Remember to treat contaminated material with the same caution as the spilled liquid itself and dispose of it accordingly.

Step 7 – Decontamination

Ensure all personnel involved with the spill are fully decontaminated. At the spill site, all PPE and equipment must also be fully decontaminated and checked. If items have been damaged or cannot be fully decontaminated, dispose of them accordingly and replace them with new ones.

Step 8 – Report and replenish

Debrief all personnel involved, compile a complete report of the incident, and fill out all associated paperwork. If need be, change your procedures and/or the location of some or all of your spill response equipment. Remember to replenish/re-stock all front-line equipment and backup stocks, such as PPE and drain covers. Learn from the experience; you will be better prepared should there be a next time.

Staff training is paramount: they need to be familiar with the layout of the site, the equipment they will be using, and how to use it safely and effectively.

Hopefully, any incident will be a rare occurrence and the only time your staff will need to respond to a spill is during regular refresher training. This training should be programmed in as a matter of course, just like any other training such as first aid or fire extinguisher use.

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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