Plant & Works Engineering
How slick is your spill control procedure?
Published:  06 March, 2015

In the event of a hazardous liquid spill, failure to have the correct reactive procedures in place can have huge implications on a business’s operations. Clean-up bills, potential injury and plant downtime only scratch the surface of problems commonly associated. Neil Thorp, Spill Control expert from ERIKS UK, explains the steps you can take to mitigate the risk of liquid spills.

In most cases, spills and leaks involve small quantities of liquid and, if precautions are taken, present minimal hazards. However, if handled improperly, a spill can seriously disrupt your activities and the work of your colleagues. At worst, a spill can cause bodily harm, property damage or serious environmental issues.

Crucially, it is important to note that the owner of the hazardous material, or the facility it is housed in, is directly responsible and accountable for the clean-up of any spills as well as risk mitigation. By following these guidelines, you can implement an effective spill control procedure:

On-site emergency plan

Although unlikely, emergency spill situations can occur and it is important to be prepared for such events.

Drafting a written on-site emergency plan will ensure all necessary procedures are addressed and at all relevant staff members are full aware of the required actions.

The emergency plan should be simple and straightforward, flexible and achieve necessary compliance with legislative requirements. The following areas should be covered:

• The process of containing and controlling incidents and who is responsible to minimise the effects and to limit danger to persons, the environment and property

• The measures required to protect persons and the environment

• Description of the actions which should be taken to control the conditions at events and to limit their consequences, including a description of the safety equipment and resources available

• Arrangements for training staff in the duties they will be expected to perform

• Arrangements for informing local authorities and emergency services

Know your liquids

When it comes to the treatment of a liquid spill or leakage, it isn’t appropriate to adopt a ‘one solution fits all’ approach. Hazardous liquids have different properties so it is vitally important to identify what type of liquid needs absorbing so you can select the necessary treatment. These liquids are categorised into three main areas; oil-based liquids; oil and water-based liquids; and chemicals.

Only once you have established what type of liquid spill you are dealing with, can you then develop the appropriate response procedures.

Protective clothing

For any given situation, equipment and clothing should be selected that provide an adequate level of protection. The purpose of personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE) is to shield or isolate individuals from the chemical, physical, and biological hazards that may be encountered during a liquid spill or leakage.

Careful selection and use of adequate PPE for dealing with spills should protect the respiratory system, skin, eyes, face, hands, feet, head, and body. It’s important to remember that no single combination of protective equipment and clothing is capable of protecting against all hazards, therefore PPE should be used in conjunction with other protective methods.

Contain the spill

Some spills have the potential for escaping into the environment. Spills may be released into the atmosphere, discharged into the sewer system, or leak directly into soils or surface water. While few spills present environmental threats, it is necessary to notify the appropriate authorities if a spill has the potential to cause environmental damage. If you can do so safely, it is advised that you do this before the hazardous materials response team arrives and that measures such as blocking a spreading spill with absorbents, such as socks, are taken.

Appropriate sorbents

There are a number of sorbents which can be used as an effective treatment for liquid spills, although some have more advantages than others. Absorbent materials, such as Melt Blown Polypropylene (MBPP), are ideal for liquid spills, are relatively inexpensive and work well when compared with granules, which can be messy to apply and clean up. MBPP absorption rate is far greater than that of granules and can be used in a preventive and reactive way.

MBPP sorbents are the ideal choice for handling liquid spills as they are designed to absorb quickly and effectively, and prevent the flow of harmful liquids. Available in a variety of options e.g. Chemical spills, Oil only (for use on water, or in wet conditions), and Universal (for most liquids, including non-aggressive chemicals), and in a wide choice of formats – pads, rolls, Pillows, Socks etc. MBPP is the first choice for handling liquid spills in industry today.

Spill kits

MBPP sorbents are available in a wide choice of convenient kits for handling liquid spills. These should be located close to the potential source of a spill, and should be easily accessible.


In the event of a spill, promptly place the clean-up waste in an appropriately labelled waste bag and contact the relevant authority for collection and disposal as hazardous waste.

If you are unsure of the appropriate actions to take, we would recommend contacting your environmental health and safety officer for guidance.


One of the biggest issues industry faces is not so much the necessary actions to take to control a chemical spill, but actually having the right equipment needed, at the right time.

It is vitally important that stock takes of spill control materials occur on a regular basis to ensure businesses have the necessary tools to minimise spill risks, exactly when they need them. An effective kit management program will ensure that kits remain full, and ready to deploy to full effect.

Enforcing an effective spill control procedure requires personal ownership. By understanding our responsibilities regarding spills and leaks of hazardous liquids and knowing how to react when an incident occurs, we can minimise the required clean-up effort and the subsequent cost associated with the incident. While it is impossible to eliminate spills altogether, instances can be minimised and clean-ups can be simplified if the right steps are taken.

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