Developing a chemical spill response plan

Dec 22, 2020 Posted by Walter Ingles

When you use, store, or handle hazardous chemicals at your workplace (particularly if they are in liquid form) spillage is inevitable.  Do you have a chemical spill response plan that addresses ‘every day spills’ as well as a major leaks from from the largest tank of fuel in the workplace? How would your staff respond? Would the hazardous chemicals be contained within the workplace? What potential impact could escaping chemicals have on the environment? Do you have enough PPE and spill kits to keep your workers safe? This blog introduces some key considerations when developing a chemical spill response plan.

REMEMBER: It’s always best to prevent a chemical spill from happening in the first place and you have a legal obligation to ”ensure that containers of hazardous chemicals and any associated pipework or attachments are protected against damage caused by an impact or excessive loads“ (Section 358; WHS Regulations.)

Begin with a risk assessment

Any emergency plan that hopes to be effective should always begin with a risk assessment. You’ll be identifying chemical spill hazards by taking a closer look at the way each chemical is received, stored and handled. You’ll need to consider:

  • The nature and form of the chemicals (eg, combustible liquid/flammable solid).

  • What quantities of chemicals are kept onsite (eg, 50 x 15kg cylinders of LPG/1 x 9,000 litre tank of diesel).

  • Estimated size of the largest possible spill (eg, 80,000 litres of petrol stored in a bulk tank)/64 drums of corrosives in a 32 pallet outdoor corrosive store).

  • What incompatible materials, conditions, or substances could cause the chemicals to react dangerously (eg, hot weather/hot work and machinery).

  • How escaped chemicals could impact neighbouring properties or the environment (eg, seeping into agricultural lands/vapours affecting adjacent worksites).

REMEMBER: Your spill containment systems “must not create a hazard by bringing together different hazardous chemicals that are not compatible or that would react together to cause a fire, explosion, harmful reaction or evolution of flammable, toxic or corrosive vapour”. Safe Work Australia.

Containing minor spills

Minor spills involve smaller, manageable quantities of chemicals and are able to be contained or cleaned up by your own work crews and contractors. It could be a drum of oil getting knocked over while the lid is off; or the splashing that happens as cleaning chemicals are decanted into portable containers: wherever liquid chemicals are present make sure you have the equipment and procedures in place to deal with spillage.

Using spill cleanup kits

Work with chemical suppliers and Dangerous Goods specialists to ensure that compatible spill cleanup kits are available near chemical storage and handling areas — remembering you may need different kits for each class of hazardous chemicals.

Spill cleanup kits vary, but you can expect them to contain:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) to use while cleaning up the spill (eg, chemical resistant gloves, splash goggles, shoe covers).

  • Absorption materials for soaking up or absorbing the chemical (eg, pillows, spill pads, spill socks).

  • Neutralising agents to render acids and some other dangerous chemicals safe for cleanup (eg,  Liquid Acid Neutraliser, Dry Acid Neutraliser).

  • Tools and containers for cleaning up and holding the chemical waste (eg, brooms, scoops, shovels, plastic bins and bags, labels).

  • Laminated instructions for using the kit safely.

Operating procedures

Don’t just buy a spill kit and leave it next to the chemicals. Show your staff where it is, make it visible and easy to access, and (most importantly) make sure they know how to use it. Develop clear contingency plan with clear procedures for:

  • Notifying all workers and contractors in the general area of the spill.

  • Isolating the spill area and keeping people away from the contaminated site.

  • Taking necessary precautions if the chemicals are flammable or could react with other substances (turning off machinery, heat and ignition sources).

  • Assessing the amount of hazardous vapours and maximising ventilation (eg opening windows).

  • Putting on personal protective equipment (eg, breathing apparatus).

  • Stopping the spill at its source (eg, using plugging equipment and compounds).

  • Neutralising acids or other extremely dangerous chemicals (eg, mercury).

  • Containing the spill with spill socks, matting, brooms.

  • Taking away the waste materials and disposing of it safely.

  • Cleaning down the spill site with compatible materials (eg, water, detergents).

  • Completing the appropriate incident and notification reports.

It’s especially important to train your managers, supervisors, team leaders, workers and contractors  not to attempt to clean up a spill that is beyond the capacity of the containment facilities at the worksite. And never attempt to clean up a spill alone.

Dealing with a major spills

A truck flips on its side and releases 20,000 litres of diesel or industrial chemicals — this is beyond the capabilities of even the largest industrial worksite and requires intervention by the appropriate emergency services. If you worksite is carrying large quantities of hazardous chemicals or Dangerous Goods, your Chemical Spill Response Plan will need a set of procedures for dealing with a major spill.

A major chemical spill is any situation where the volume of chemicals is greater than the capacity of accessible spill containment kits. It could also involve smaller quantities of a highly toxic chemical where the available PPE would not ensure the safety of all workers — for example: an uncontrolled leak of highly toxic or corrosive gases.

Your spill response will focus on evacuating the site, sealing off affected areas, and immediately notifying emergency services. Major spills of Dangerous Goods pose an immediate threat to life and property so you may need to activate alarms and attend to people who have been exposed to the chemicals.

IMPORTANT: Your Chemical Spill Response Plan will probably form part of your Emergency Plan and may need to be developed in consultation with local emergency service responders. If your site is at risk of a major chemical spill, staff will require formal training and need to attend regular simulation exercises and evacuation drills.

Next steps

A chemical spill response plan is only one step in complying with Australian WHS legislation and Safety Standards. To learn how to implement a full risk management methodology that ensures you have identified, assessed and controlled every chemical hazard at your worksite, download our free eBook How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. It’s easy to read and contains all the tools and resources you need to get started. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below:

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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