Fleet Maintenance Supply Experts

The Hero’s Guide to Spill Containment at the Shop


As serious as chemical or fuel spills are, they get worse when action is delayed or ignored. Inaction or indecision raises the risk of spills harming people, spreading to the environment, damaging property and leading to fines for not reporting.

Chemicals and petroleum products keep fleets going. They’re essential—and they’re everywhere. That’s why it’s not a case of if they’ll leak and need containment, but when. New York State alone receives 16,000 spill reports to their hotline every year—and more potentially go unreported.

Save time and be prepared with these tips and insights.

Intention Is Not Enough—You Need Plans for Spill Containment

Everyone wants to take care of people and the environment. Good intentions are useless without a plan and preparation. Consider these consequences if your company still hasn’t formalized a spill response plan.

·         Chemical accidents can make employees sick which weakens your workforce

·         When contaminated areas get shut down, productivity and business suffer

·         Work environments, grounds and surrounding wetlands can be permanently polluted

·         Residual chemicals and fuels can create lasting fire hazards

·         Facilities and equipment can require costly renovation

·         Spilled material is wasted, adding to costs

·         Spills can necessitate costly clean up and decontamination expenses

·         Spills can lead to potential fines for not complying with regulations

Prepare for Spill Containment with Two Documents

Lay the groundwork for a safe and effective response with a spill response plan for spill containment and safety data sheets (SDSs) for the hazardous chemicals and petroleum-based fluids used at the shop. SDSs are meant to lay out details for proper storing and transporting of specific chemicals as well as safety precautions and instructions for handling spills.

With these documents, technicians can know the precise procedures, materials and personal protective equipment (PPE) for dealing with different spill types. Training will remove deliberation and enable a fast response. Anyone working with hazardous fluids should have easy access to the knowledge, equipment and supplies to deal with them when they spill.

What Are the Procedures to Respond to Spills?

Your organization’s spill response plan will be tailored for your operations and contain specific details regarding spill response supplies and equipment, where they should be kept, spill reporting protocols and designated team leaders. Our experts have outlined seven core steps of a spill response plan which you can use as a starting point.

Step 1 – Identify the Risks

Before attempting to clean up anything, take every aspect that might be affected by the spill into account. That includes dangers to people who might be exposed, potential environmental contamination and protection of property and equipment.

Identify the spilled material by referring to the product label or SDS for the substance and determine the dangers to people and the environment. Once you know the dangers and amount of liquid spilled, you can take steps to isolate the spill area and set up a safety perimeter.

Step 2 – Determine Appropriate Protective Equipment and Spill Kit

Choose the right PPE based on what is indicated in the SDS for the spill. If you don’t have an SDS to work with, consult the chemical manufacturer’s literature or PPE manufacturer’s literature for help. If the substance is unknown, the best practice is to opt for the highest protection level. Don’t assume that the PPE in a spill kit is appropriate for the spill substance. Always check that it has the specific ratings and protection needed.

The same goes for the spill kit. Make sure it has absorbent material specified for the liquid and that there is enough for the size of the spill. Some pads and loose absorbents used to soak up material are indicated for oil only and won’t work with water. Others will absorb most acids, caustics or unidentified fluids. Check before you apply them to the spill.

Step 3 – Quickly Confine the Spill

After you’ve chosen the appropriate spill kit and absorbents, use the elements in the kit to quickly limit the spill area using the kit’s blocking, diverting or confinement equipment and protect all drains. It is crucial to prevent the liquid from spreading through drains.

Spill kits should contain drain covers as well as non-absorbent containment booms and spill berms that can protect drains and minimize the spill area. Having a versatile selection of well-supplied spill kits facilitates a quick response to a wide variety of potential scenarios.

Step 4 – Stop the Source of the Spill

After the spill is confined and drains are protected, turn attention to stopping the flow of whatever caused the spill. That could mean righting a container that turned on its side. Or it could involve plugging a hole in a punctured drum or pipe using quick-drying epoxy putty or a cone-shaped wooden plug. If it is an easy fix, you may want to do it immediately rather than waiting until you’ve confined the spill. Make sure to completely stop the flow so it doesn’t reoccur and transfer any left-over liquid from the damaged container into an undamaged container.

Step 5 – Clean up the Liquid

Place absorbent pads or loose absorbents that are indicated for the chemical type onto the spill. When the absorbents are saturated with liquid, make sure you dispose of them as hazardous waste. Absorbents do not make chemicals non-flammable or less hazardous, so treat them in the same way you handle the original spill material.

Step 6 – Decontaminate the Site, People and Equipment

Remove or neutralize all hazardous materials created by the spill. That means removing soil that has been tainted as well as any rags, PPE or clothing that came into contact with the liquid. The goal is to restore health and safety to the site and equipment once the phase is complete. Be sure to safely dispose of spent materials according to local, state and federal rules and regulations.

Step 7 – Prepare Required Reports

There are different state, local and federal laws and regulations requiring spillers to report hazardous chemicals and petroleum spills. In New York State, anyone who knows of a spill or leak of petroleum must report the incident within two hours or risk penalties. And if a spiller fails to clean up that spill, they can be liable for civil penalties up to $10,000 or criminal penalties up to $25,000 per day for every day the spill is not cleaned up.

Internal reporting aimed at improving procedures and safety should also be completed while details are clear. These reports can be used as learning tools to fine tune spill containment in the future.

Stock the Supplies for Containment, Cleanup and Protection 

The goal of spill containment is to have the right spill control material in place so it can be quickly deployed to prevent hazardous liquids from contaminating land or water. To do that, you’ll need materials for containing and cleaning spills for any kind of chemical you work with and spills of all sizes and shapes. Here are the main materials you’ll need to have on hand.

·         Spill berms, dikes and barriers are used to encircle and contain spills of all sizes

·         Drain covers and seals protect drains, so chemical or oil spills don’t get into the water.

·         Absorbent pads and rolls. These come in multiple sizes and levels of absorbency. Some are just for oil and others absorb oil as well as a wide range of other chemicals.

·         Loose absorbent. Can be spread easily over a wide range of surfaces and spill shapes. Good for large areas as well as small spills.

·         Absorbent socks and booms. These are key containment tools common to spill kits. Booms can be linked across long distances to confine large spills.

·         Pillows are effective for sopping up small area spills like slow tank or machinery leaks.

·         Neutralizers work on different spill types. There are acid neutralizers and others for fuel, diesel and solvents.

·         Hazardous waste bags are constructed to safely contain hazardous materials and marked to alert others to potential danger.

·         Plugs and plug repair putty clog leaks quickly.

Make Sure You Have the Right Spill Kits

Spill kits should be kept near work areas where chemicals and fuels are being used and accidents causing spills could occur. It’s important for spill kits to have PPE and absorbents that are appropriate for the specific chemicals and petroleum products used in the immediate area. There are three main types of spill kits, but every shop should make sure that spill kits contain items ideal for their operations and any potential chemical spills that could occur.

1.    Universal spill kits are created to absorb fuel, coolant, hydraulic fluid and solvents. Appropriate for a shop, factory or loading dock where spills are less aggressive.

2.    Oil-specific spill kits are meant to absorb petroleum products like diesel, gasoline and motor oil. The absorbents in these kits are designed to soak up fuels and oil in dry conditions like a garage. Some of the products for this category repel water which makes them effective for absorbing petroleum products in wet or dry conditions.

3.    Chemical spill kits contain products that absorb acids, caustics, solvents and fuels. These kits have wide applications and are best for shops and yards working with a broad range of chemicals.

Train Your People for a Decisive Response

Spill containment starts with prevention and by developing a comprehensive spill response plan. But the best laid plans are just plans without swift execution and compliance to prescribed procedures.

A rapid response to spills hinges on immediate response and identification of the spilled substance. The person or people in the best position to do that are the ones who created the spill. Through ongoing training to ensure that employees understand what to do and are ready to respond, you’ll be able to minimize the potential danger posed by spills.

Imperial Supplies can help

The team at Imperial is here to help by providing the equipment, supplies and expert advice you need to anticipate spills and keep your people and property safe. Shop Imperial’s Spill Control supplies today or call us at 1-800-558-2808 to talk to your representative before the inevitable occurs.

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