When transporting, using or storing hazardous chemicals precautionary measures should always be taken to reduce or nullify the risk of spillage. Even when precautions are taken, unexpected events can still cause accidents to happen. By developing a chemical spill emergency response plan, organisations can minimise risk and impact of the spill.
The Dangers Posed by Chemical Spills:
Chemicals can affect the body through inhalation, ingestion or through direct contact with the skin or eyes. Damage caused can range from painful irritation and allergic reactions to lung damage and effects on the brain and nervous system.
Environment & Community:
The impact of a spill on the surrounding environment can lead to the closure of public water supplies and contamination of both ground and surface water. Habitats and the river ecosystem are also at risk, as are the surrounding land and air as the pollution spreads.
If a chemical spill occurs within a workplace it can cause severe implications if not handled correctly. Damage to equipment, fire and explosions are some of the immediate effects, particularly when using highly flammable liquids.
Chemical Spill Response Plan
Step 1: Assess
The focus of this step is to assess the level of danger posed by the spill. Factors such as the chemicals involved and the quantity are important here. When working with or transporting a hazardous chemical employees should always have access to and be familiar with the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets). If the spill poses a threat to the health and safety of people in the area then it’s necessary to progress to the next step. Speed and reaction time is extremely important, particularly when dealing with an emergency response to road spillages.
Step 2: Communicate
Firstly, people in close vicinity should be advised to stay clear of the spillage. The next step is to contact an established emergency response provider who can respond rapidly to the spill.
The actions taken in the first few minutes of a spillage generally determine the outcome, if you are unsure of the danger level or feel health and safety are at risk in any way it is imperative to make the call.
Next, you need to contact the emergency services to ensure the area is kept clear and people are aware of the threat posed. Open, clear and direct communication is vital during an incident like this.
Step 3: Prepare
Make sure spill kits are always available when transporting chemicals. Protective equipment should be used (goggles, gloves, respiratory device, shoes). When attending to chemical spills, if you are in doubt about the necessity of protective equipment, adopt a safety-first approach and use the equipment. The chemical MSDS will specify what protective equipment is necessary, and this should be strictly enforced.
Step 4: Contain
If possible and safe to do so, steps should be taken to contain the spill as much as possible. This can decrease the danger and damage caused. For example, if a container is damaged or punctured it can be moved to an upright position or the hole sealed. Placing absorbent pads and socks around the edges to stop the flow then neutralising acids and powders from the spill kit can then be applied to the chemical. Once all the material is covered and absorbed the scoop and brush in your spill kit can be used to collect the material.
Step 5: Clean-up
If it has been possible to clean the spill using a spill kit, the waste should be prepared for disposal. The container used needs to be marked with a hazardous waste label and disposed of through pre-determined channels established by your organisation. Next, the affected area needs to be cleaned using soap, water and substances detailed in the MSDS. This is to ensure no further contamination can happen. The safety gear used in the clean-up process also needs to be disposed of in a sealed container through the appropriate channels before the people involved clean their hands, hair, arms and any other area that may have been exposed.
If your spill has been attended to by emergency response experts, they will dispose of the chemical waste for you in a safe and compliant manner.
Step 6: Report
Once the situation is under control and the spillage has been cleaned sufficiently, the situation needs to be accurately documented. This will ensure a record is taken and the situation can be avoided in future. Most organisation have procedures for documenting and reporting hazardous spills. External agencies may need to be notified, again depending on the type of chemical and the amount involved. If the spill is attended to by an emergency response company, they should provide complete documentation of the incident that has occurred.
For a major or unmanageable hazardous spill situation, Enva provide 24/7 emergency response to chemical and oil spills call: 1850 504 504 (Republic of Ireland) or +44 (0) 289 756 1574 / +44 (0) 771 000 6053 (Northern Ireland).