Controlling leaks and spills requires preparedness

Before football teams play their first game of the season, coaches and players come together for an intensive training camp. Drills are conducted, strategies are rehearsed, game plans are discussed, and players are fitted with uniforms and protective equipment.


Key Concepts


  • It is important to identify areas where spills can occur and store supplies nearby.

  • Facility response plans must be "living documents" and contain up-to-date information.

  • Teamwork is essential for spill control efforts to be successful.

    Looking for trouble
    Before the game
    Equipment room
    Special teams
    Preseason scrimmage

    Before football teams play their first game of the season, coaches and players come together for an intensive training camp. Drills are conducted, strategies are rehearsed, game plans are discussed, and players are fitted with uniforms and protective equipment. By the end of camp, players should have the skills to play well, and the equipment to play safely.

    Just as professional sports teams don't enter the arena on game day without the proper knowledge and protective gear, workers need to be prepared to handle spills properly. Onsite spill teams also need to have regular drills to hone their skills and ensure that they are prepared to handle emergencies.

    Looking for trouble

    Not many organizations plan on having spills as a part of their daily routine, and yet spills occur every day at all types of facilities. Whether it is due to a system error, operator error, or an act of nature, when a spill happens, facilities need to be prepared. Workers need to know what to do to stay safe. In addition, if workers are trained to respond to spills, they need the proper materials and equipment to perform the response efforts safely and efficiently.

    Although spills can happen anywhere, taking the time to identify potential "trouble spots" in or around the facility can help spill coordinators and safety directors know where to concentrate their efforts and store supplies.

    Loading docks are one example of a common trouble area. Whether materials are received in bulk, in drums, or in one-pint bottles, the potential for spills at the dock is high. Transfer lines or fittings can leak during bulk transfer, a forklift can rupture drums, and a pallet load of bottles can get jarred during transport, causing leakage before the package is even unloaded.

    Fluid transfer areas, such as dispensing and waste collection stations, are another example. Pumps and faucets often leak during dispensing, and sometimes even metered dispensing equipment doesn't prevent overfills. Waste collection containers are often fitted with funnels, but once again, leaks and spills are almost inevitable.

    Before the game

    Football teams have playbooks that outline the strategies for both offense and defense. These documents provide an outline for coaches and players to follow. This helps ensure that everyone knows what to do so that plays will be executed properly. A facility's response plans are like these playbooks. They should provide the information needed for workers to perform their part of the spill response plan properly.

    Although regulations allow flexibility, plans should be — and in some cases are required to be — prepared in writing. Even the front-desk receptionist needs to know what to do and where to go when an alarm sounds.

    A valuable tool for response coordinators is a blueprint of the facility. Marked blueprints can be incorporated into the written plan, used as a visual aid during training, and posted throughout the facility as a reminder of the plan. Exit routes can be designated; liquid storage, dispensing, and waste collection stations can be highlighted; and locations of spill response supplies can be detailed.

    Spill response plans should be a "living document," meaning that they are subject to change and are referred to regularly. They are not to be placed on a high shelf to collect dust. When people change jobs, the facility layout changes, phone numbers change, etc., the response plan needs to be updated, and everyone needs to be made aware of the changes.

    Rehearsing the plan through regular drills will also help determine whether or not it will work in an actual emergency. If gaps are found, coordinators can change the plan to ensure that it will work better the next time. Just as a football team changes its strategy when a set of plays doesn't work, response plans are not set in stone. If something does not work well, it can be altered to create something better that will work.

    Equipment room

    When armies prepare for battle, they — among other things — prepare an arsenal of tools and equipment designed to "get the job done" quickly and effectively. In addition, they prepare and outfit their personnel, and, ideally, they can scout out and secure a position that gives them an advantage over their enemy.

    Likewise, as plans are being designed and teams are being trained, facilities can prepare for spills by stocking the resources that will be needed during a response, and putting them in spill-prone areas where they will be readily accessible and easy to find when a spill occurs (Fig. 1).

    Various federal regulations require facilities to be prepared to handle spills. The methods of handling a spill, however, are left up to facility coordinators. This allows coordinators the flexibility to create plans that are specific to their facility, and takes site-specific variables, such as manpower, the surrounding environment, available resources, etc., into consideration when planning.

    One essential item that every facility needs to stock for spill response is the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). The amounts and types of PPE will, of course, vary according to the chemicals stored at the facility and the number of employees who need to be protected, among other factors. In large facilities, PPE may even vary in different areas of the facility.

    To determine what types of PPE are appropriate, review material safety data sheets (MSDS) for all chemicals stored at the facility. These documents list PPE that should be worn during use of the chemical, as well as in response to spills. In addition, MSDS can also detail spill response procedures and what conditions should be avoided during spill response, such as chemical reactions, any temperature limitations, explosion hazards, etc.

    Patch and repair equipment is also important. If responders don't have the tools to stop the source of a spill, it's going to take them longer to get it under control, thus prolonging clean up efforts. Plugs, patches, replacement caps and fittings, wrenches, hammers and epoxy sticks (Fig. 2) are all examples of items that will help spill responders stop the source of the spill. These items don't need to be costly. Simple items such as duct tape, racquet balls, wedges, and golf tees can be obtained for under $5 and are capable of stopping some small leaks long enough for repairs to be made or for materials to be transferred to another container.

    When spill potentials are large, or materials are stored in areas near storm drains, non-absorbent berms and drain covers are another aid to help responders battle a spill. Typically made of polyurethane or another flexible polymer, dikes and drain covers hug the floor or drain, creating nonpermanent barriers that hold back spilled liquids. Water-filled booms and covers are another option that has recently started to gain appeal with responders due to the ease of storage compared with more traditional alternatives.

    Special teams

    After a spill has been contained, and the source of the spill has been stopped, responders can actually begin cleaning up the spill. For some companies with onsite wastewater treatment facilities, clean up can be as simple as channeling the spilled liquids to the floor drains, provided the treatment facility is equipped to handle the chemical and the quantity spilled.

    For facilities that don't have this luxury, absorbent materials are a common method of combating spilled materials. Contained absorbents such as socks, mats, and pillows are convenient for responders because they are highly absorbent and require less effort than adsorbents such as cat litter or other loose materials, which must be swept and shoveled after they've been used to absorb a spill. Contained absorbents are also typically lighter than loose absorbents, adding an ergonomic advantage was well.

    Bags or disposal containers should also make the list of necessary supplies. Note that most absorbents do not neutralize or change the nature of spilled materials, and should be handed with the same precautions as the spilled liquids. If materials will be shipped out as hazardous wastes, consider using UN-certified shipping containers to hold spill kit contents so that the proper containers will be readily available to hold spent absorbents used during a response.

    When chemical purity is not critical to a process, responders may be able to vacuum spilled liquids to recover them for reuse. If this is an option, consider the hazards of any liquids stored onsite when purchasing a vacuum. Specialty vacuums are available to safely handle flammable, volatile, and other hazardous liquids.

    Preseason scrimmage

    Even the best-equipped, highest-paid football team with the most decisive playbook ever written will probably never become a Super Bowl contender if the players on the team don't learn to work together to make plays happen and record victories. Likewise, the "best" response plan and warehouse full of supplies will do nothing if responders are not trained to use them. Just like a game, if people aren't prepared, they can get hurt.

    Putting a spill response plan into action requires effort and often the support of upper management. It may be inconvenient to coordinate schedules and work around deadlines, but the efforts will be well rewarded in a team who is prepared to handle spills quickly and safely, minimizing downtime and ensuring the safety of nonresponders.

    As everyone at the facility becomes familiar with spill procedures, be sure to test various scenarios, such as blocked exits or responses involving victims, to make sure that planned contingencies will work if needed. And be sure to allow time for critiques afterward to make sure that the response plan did, indeed, work to everyone's expectations.

    Working through problems and reviewing plans regularly will ensure that all involved know their roles during an actual emergency. Maintaining proper supplies and checking them on a predetermined basis will give the team the tools needed to get the job done, delivering a victory for everyone.

    Author Information

    More Info: Karen D. Hamel is a Technical Specialist for New Pig Corp. and has over nine years of experience helping customers find solutions to environmental, health, and safety issues. She can be reached at 1-800-468-4647 or by e-mail at .Article edited by Jim Silvestri, Managing Editor, 630-288-8777, .

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