Responding to a flammable liquids spill 

Sep 17, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

This blog will help you develop a set of operating procedures for responding to a flammable liquids spill. We’ve divided your response actions into three areas: the initial response and focus on protecting the safety of workers; next, carrying out the actual cleanup and disposing of the chemicals; finally, reporting the incident to authorities. 

REMEMBER: You have a legal responsibility under the WHS Act and Regulations — as well as Australian Safety Standards — to have spill management and containment procedures. 

1. Keeping people safe

Your initial response to any chemical spill is the protection of human life, preventing the chemicals from igniting or exploding and containing the risk of environmental damage. In this first section we note your key considerations, but in no specific order of action. Every situation will be different and sometimes it is impossible to begin the clean-up until the area has been evacuated.

1. Protect life

Take physical action to protect life, this will mean ensuring first responders are not exposed to dangerous fumes or are at risk of being engulfed in flames if the chemicals were to ignite. What PPE, and fire equipment will you need to keep people safe? 

2. Notify key responders

Who needs to be notified of the spill? Supervisors? Adjacent departments? Emergency services? You’ll need a priority list of names with contact details, and each person should already have an understanding of their response role.

3. Fire safety

Spilled flammable liquids create an immediate fire and explosion hazard — once released, chemical vapours can travel long distances and remain in their flammable range. What potential ignition sources are in the immediate area? How will you prevent the chemicals from igniting or exploding? 

4. Isolate the area

You’ll need procedures for isolating the spill site and restricting access. It may be as simple as roping off a small area with high-vis tape, or you may need to shut down production as well as prevent delivering/loading vehicles from entering the site.

5. Evacuate

Will the entire job site need to be evacuated, or only the immediate area surrounding the spill? How will workers and other site visitors leave the area without putting themselves at risk?

6. Environmental considerations

Do the spilled chemicals pose an immediate risk to groundwater, neighbouring pastoral lands, or native forestry?  


2. Conducting the clean-up

The next part of the spill response procedures will focus on the actual clean-up of the chemicals.

1. Controlling the spread of liquid

How will you stop the spill, and control the spread of the flammable liquid? You may need to plug a punctured fuel drum or shut off an overflowing transfer line. How will you prevent the chemicals from contacting incompatible substances?

2. Absorbing the liquid

What materials and equipment will you need to absorb the liquid? You may need sorbent matting, pillows, socks, pads, floating skimmer bags and granular sorbent. What other utensils and tools will you need (eg, non-sparking shovels, brooms, dustpans)?

3. Collecting the waste

How will you safety collect the clean-up rags and sorbent materials that are now filled with flammable liquids? What containment facilities will you need? How will workers carry out this work without generating sparks or static discharge? What PPE will they need to wear?

4. Dispose of waste

Where will the flammable waste be held until it can be disposed of safely? Do you need to notify local authorities (eg, EPA, local Council)? Who will collect the waste and take it away?

5. Decontaminate the area

Has the soil, concrete, or other surfaces been permanently contaminated? Is there now an ongoing fire, chemical exposure, or environmental hazard?


3. Reporting the incident

Once the spill has been cleaned up you should also have reporting mechanisms to ensure that the WHS Regulator is notified, and the contributing factors to the incident are reviewed internally. 

 1. Complete a site incident report

Parties to the spill (including the workers involved, witnesses and responders) should complete a site incident report that documents their version of events. These incident reports will also be used as the basis for an incident investigation and follow-up risk assessment.

2. Notifying the WHS Regulator

You have a legal responsibility under the WHS Act to notify your WHS Regulator of any uncontrolled chemical escape, leak or spill that risks the health and safety of any person — whether onsite or on neighbouring properties.

3. Conduct an incident investigation

We recommend carrying out an incident investigation to identifying causal factors and system failures that contributed to the spill. An investigation can also evaluate spill response and clean-up efficiencies  as well as identify any ongoing hazards.

4. Carry out a risk assessment

A chemical spill may have been caused by a previously unknown hazard, or the spill itself may have created new hazards (eg, contaminated soil or damaged equipment). You’ll need to assess how these hazards will impact the future safety of the job site. 


Next steps 

Having a written procedure for dealing with chemical spills, then conducting spill response training and drills with your workers is essential if you carry Class 3 Flammable Liquids at the job site. But preventing the chemicals from spilling in the first place is equally important. Why not download our free eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors to learn how a liquid-tight Flammable Liquids cabinet can reduce your Dangerous Goods storage and spillage risk. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below:  

Essential Considerations when Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors download Free eBook

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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