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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Spill strategies

ARIE GRAAFHUIS says with spills you need to plan for the unexpected.

A week or two back a tanker full of ghee left a trail of slippery fat up one lane of the Kaimai Ranges. Although anhydrous milk fat is not a hazardous substance, the spill caused a severe hazard on the road. The lane was closed in the area affected for several days until the emergency services managed to clean it all up. Had the spill been of a hazardous nature, such as a significant diesel spill for example, the consequences to the natural environment and stream may have been serious, as well as creating a hazardous slippery road.

Like any other incident, spills can happen at unexpected times. It is important that an emergency response plan to manage a spill is in place and effective.

Imagine the surprise when the back end of a sewerage truck exploded, leaving an aftermath of effluent over the vehicles following it, and the road, and the footpath. Yes, this has happened when the operator of the truck topped up his load of methane generating effluent with some waste hypochlorite solution and drove through one of our major cities.


A spill of any hazardous substance on your site can pollute the environment if it is not dealt with properly. A spill outdoors may run into the storm water system and pollute soils, nearby streams, rivers, beaches or groundwater. Even seemingly harmless things like sugar or milk can be toxic to stream or sea life. Biodegradable substances like foodstuffs and some cleaning agents, as well as many other every day hazardous substances like petrol and diesel, can harm our environment.

If you use substances such as oil or solvents, acids, paints, cleaners, pesticides and other chemicals then you have the potential to pollute the environment. Good handling practices are the key to the prevention of spills occurring. Poor handling can lead to the loss of material, risks to health and safety and a waste of time and expense cleaning up after an incident.


Good storage is vital for preventing pollution and incidents. This is relevant for industries managing all sorts of raw materials, such as process chemicals, fuels, oils, paints, solvents, wastes, cleaners and even foodstuffs. Incompatible hazardous substances, such as oxidisers, need to be in separate containment areas, and beyond the required minimum separation distances from all flammable goods. Good storage practices start with having an inventory of all substances held on site, and secondary containment around all storage containers and areas where it is required.

Secondary containment means surrounding storage containers with a bund or barrier to protect the environment from spills and leaks from bulk vessels. The containment needs to be impervious to the materials stored within the containment areas. The type and size of secondary containment needed varies according to the volume of hazardous substance held, and the size of the containers. Good secondary containment practice includes the content of pumps and pipes, valves and flanges, and decanting vessels within the secondary containment area, to catch any leaks and overflows that may occur.


Many hazardous substances look harmless but they may still be dangerous to people, even in small amounts. All sites that use chemicals and hazardous substances should have personal protective equipment available, and ensure the use of PPE when handling those substances. The safety data sheets will detail the equipment that is required to handle the specific chemical. If a spill does occur, do personnel know what to do?

Spill kits are another type of safety equipment provided in hazardous substance storage facilities. As there are many different types and sizes on the market, it is important to ensure you are using the correct type and size for the likely spill on your site. There are many suppliers of spill kits, at varying cost. Staff should be trained in the correct use of spill kit contents before they need to use the kit in an emergency. The contaminated area should be kept as small as possible, and if it can be avoided, do not let anyone walk through the spill area. Do not hose the spill or tip wastes down the storm water drain. At all costs prevent any wash water or sweepings from getting in the storm water or contaminating the soil.

Stop the source of the spill, and protect the storm water, and notify management. Disposal of contaminated spill kit contents also needs to be assessed and correctly managed. While being transported, the contaminated kit material may require compliance with the transport legislation, including packaging, labelling and driver licencing.

ARIE GRAAFHUIS is an industrial consultant/trainer with Quality Environmental Consulting

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