The Dangers of Chemical Spillages and How to Contain Them
Updated: May 4
Chemical spills are a fairly common incident and they can happen at any time. They usually happen due to a failed or improperly closed container, or during transport via a dropped or damaged load.
Fortunately, they're one of the easier hazards to contain and clean up but there are chemicals that are more dangerous than others and they require a more careful approach to control.
It's very important to be able to quickly identify the chemical that is spilled as it may contain highly flammable ingredients, acids, highly corrosive or toxic chemicals, oxidizing agents or a number of other hazardous substances and all of these, when spilled out of their usual containers, constitute a hazard to you or your workers.
How dangerous is this particular spillage?
The level of danger obviously depends on which chemical was spilled and how it reacts to the things around it.
Is there a heat source nearby a flammable chemical spill? Highly flammable chemicals are very easily ignited by many different kinds of heat sources and in a factory there are plenty.
Is the area properly ventilated or did the spillage happen in an enclosed space? The fumes that rise off of the chemicals may be flammable or highly dangerous to humans when inhaled. Having proper ventilation will help to reduce exposure enormously.
Was there an accidental environmental contamination? The substance from spillages can go anywhere and everywhere, and when they initially happen there is very little you can do to control the flow of the chemicals. Did the spillage enter the wrong kind of drainage system, or is it contamination the local soil, water or air?
Did the chemical splash on workers skin, face or eyes? Most industrial chemicals have some sort of detrimental effect on human health and it's important that the area is cleared of anyone who is not there to control the hazard.
Did the spillage come into contact with some other hazardous substance? Mixing chemicals is a dangerous game, and is usually done very carefully in controlled instances. However, when a chemical spillage occurs there is the chance that the chemical will come into contact and cause an uncontrolled reaction. This could create new and altogether different chemicals that pose even greater dangers to us.
How do I contain the spillage?
All hazardous substances are delivered with a safety data sheet which should contain the information you need to properly contain and clean up any spillage.
And while chemical spillages are usually the easiest hazard to contain they are also potentially the worst for our health and that of the environment, so it's important to contain and clean them quickly and efficiently.
Fortunately you're able to make use of a chemical spill kit, which is a collection of materials and tools you will need to successfully contain and clean a hazardous chemical spillage.
There are different types of chemical spill kits, however, and you should match up the spilled chemical to the correct spill kit before trying to contain or clean the spillage.
All business who use hazardous substances should have several of these different spill kits in easily accessible locations around the work site. These spill kits are basically a container on wheels. They come in many varieties and may include (but are not limited to);
Instructions - Every spill kit should contain clear and up-to-date instructions and procedures for safe containment and removal of the spillage,
Personal Protective Equipment - This will be a variety of items to protect the whole body from the spilled substance and should include a respirator to deal with the fumes,
Signage - A chemical spillage is a hazard so it's important to make sure everybody in the vicinity knows it. Your spill kit will contain spillage signs and a no-cross safety line to cordon off the area,
Dustpan and brush - This is for removing the majority of the chemical spillage to plastic bags prior to disposal,
Seal-able plastic bags - these bags are meant to contain the spilled chemical ready for proper disposal at a later time,
Absorbents - absorbents will vary with the spill kit used but can be anything from saw dust to absorbent pillows and, unsurprisingly, they're used for absorbing any part of the spillage that cannot be easily removed,
Shovel - When you use the absorbent material to soak up the spillage, that material is then a hazard in itself. It must not be removed by hand but through the use of a shovel or spade,
Neutralisers - This will vary with each specific spill kit and may include vermiculite for use with non-corrosive liquids, sodium hydrogen carbonate for corrosive liquid spills or a variety of different acid or solvent neutralisers.
Each chemical spill kit should be visible, clearly labelled and be subjected to a regular inventory check. Each spill kit must be replenished upon use to ensure that there are sufficient materials within them to tackle future spillages.
If you would like to learn more about chemical spillages and how to deal with them you can take the new COSHH Risk Assessor Certification™ I will teach you how to identify each hazard and implement the proper control measures.