What To Do In A Chemical Spill
Understanding what to do in a chemical spill is a vital part of many industries. Obvious examples include the fuel and oil industry or suppliers of paints or coatings. But many other industries use chemicals that are problematic if spilled, including the health and beauty industry, laboratories, laundry detergent manufacturers and leather processing plants to name just a small selection.
An uncontrolled chemical spill is a notifiable incident. This means that under the WHS Act, the relevant regulator must be notified as soon as possible. As well as notifying the authorities, there are several steps to ensure you deal with chemical spills safely and efficiently. If your workplace uses or stores any hazardous chemicals, this guide is for you.
Define The Spill: Is It Major or Minor?
Defining a chemical spill is important as the severity of the spill can determine what to do in a chemical spill. Major and minor spills need to be dealt with in different ways. You may need to consider the location of a chemical spill, how hazardous the chemical is and how much chemical has spilled.
You may also need to check any safety protocols associated with the chemical to see if there is a danger to health or life for either humans or animals. This includes assessing whether the chemical poses a risk to marine life if it enters waterways or the sewage system. Solid chemicals that produce dust may also cause an airborne risk, so there are many factors at work when defining your chemical spill.
What Is a Minor Chemical Spill?
You can classify a minor chemical spill as one that an individual worker or a work crew can clean up with minimal disruption to the workplace. Appropriate equipment should be on hand and external intervention should not be needed. Examples include:
- Spilled cleaning fluids
- A few drops of chemical spilt whilst moving from one container to the other
- Small volumes of more hazardous chemicals that employees can clean up using onsite equipment
What Is a Major Chemical Spill?
Major chemical spills involve spillages that indicate a danger to people in the surrounding area, or the environment of the surrounding area. Major chemical spills may require the evacuations of an area, the premises or even surrounding buildings if extremely severe. Chemicals that produce toxic fumes in unventilated areas might constitute a major chemical spill. Flammable liquids are often classed as a major chemical spills. Elements to consider include:
- The quantity of chemical spilled—over 100 millilitres or 10 grams of a hazardous substance, or a litre/100 grams of flammable or corrosive substance(s) can be considered a major spill
- The hazard the chemical represents—is the threat known? Is this an environmental hazard? Is there a danger to life?
- The location of the chemical spill—has the chemical spilt where it is generally handled, or is it in an area where clean up is a challenge? Are there any specially trained staff onsite to deal with the spill?
The volumes given above are guidelines only so always work to the regulations provided for the chemicals you work with.
Step-by-Step Chemical Spill Response
Learn what to do in a chemical spill with our step-by-step guide. This doesn’t replace your existing in-house procedures, but can help you maximize the effectiveness of your safety procedures or check your safety checklist is fit for your purpose.
Contain The Spill
Firstly, find out what substance has spilled and what the risk is to people, property and the environment. Check for any injuries and make sure workers are wearing the relevant PPE gear. Refer to any onsite safety-specific documentation regarding the chemicals.
Once you have these facts, it’s vital to contain the spill by confining it to the already contaminated area. You may have an emergency spill containment kit, or you may have specialist absorbent equipment to prevent the chemical from spreading. Ventilate an area if appropriate to release any potential fumes.
Make sure there are no sources of ignition, such as heat or a spark. Some chemicals or their fumes are highly flammable, so fire prevention is a part of what to do in a chemical spill. Solid chemicals may have broken up and moved under surfaces or objects or into vents, so assess what areas require clean-up and containment carefully.
Stop The Spill
It’s important to make sure the chemical spill does not worsen. This means taking every possible action to prevent further amounts of the chemical from leaking from its container. Actions may include tightening valves, replacing stoppers or lids or even simply picking up a tipped container. Sometimes, identifying the source of the leak may be the first step to stopping it. To assist in this, ensure you have a detailed plan of where all the chemical sources are in your workplace.
Clean Up The Spill
Cleaning up will be a different process depending upon the type of chemical spilled. Use the appropriate chemicals or absorbent materials, making sure to check with the safety protocols for that chemical.
Solid chemicals may need placing into appropriate containers that won’t react with the chemical. Make sure workers keep themselves clean too, and anyone contaminated before donning their PPE should wash their hands with an appropriate cleaning solution or remove contaminated clothing.
All contaminated waste needs appropriate disposal. This is to avoid further contamination or environmental damage.
Record The Spill Incident
Follow your in-house reporting procedures to ensure all spills are recorded accurately and in a timely manner. Check that all relevant personnel and authorities know about the spill. Make sure everyone involved knows their responsibilities in dealing with this chemical spill and preventing future instances from occurring.
It’s also critical to investigate the cause of the chemical spill. If you don’t understand what caused the hazardous chemicals to spill, there’s every chance a similar spill could happen again. Also, investigating what caused the spill can help improve or adjust current chemical storage procedures. Consider aspects like:
- Did workers know what to do when the spill occurred?
- Was the appropriate clean-up equipment located nearby?
- Was the spill response plan or procedure list sufficient?
- Could anything else be put in place to prevent future chemical spills?
- Do any workers need additional training on spill procedures or other safety aspects?
Preventing spills is as important as knowing what to do in a chemical spill situation. Proper storage of chemicals is the first step, followed by training workers in the proper use of chemicals, whether that’s moving them around, decanting them into other containers or using them as part of their role. When spills do occur, following the guide above can help minimize the risks to humans and animals, property and the environment.
Can you be sure you’re ready to deal with chemical spills in your workplace? Make sure you have the right kit on hand to deal with chemical spills, and that all members of your team know exactly what to do when accidents occur. Contact Ecospill for more information on keeping your workplace safe from spills.