Spill Kit Absorbents: What You Need To Know

Originally published May 12, 2022 11:21:36 PM, updated May 12, 2022

If you’re responsible for cleaning up minor chemical spills in your workplace, it’s important that the process can be completed safely and quickly. One of the key items in your spill kit will be absorbent materials to soak up the spilled liquid or hazardous chemical. However, your choice of absorbents will not only affect the efficiency of your spill clean-up, but it can also affect the safety of your operations. In this post, we’ll be looking at the various types of spill kit absorbents that you may use when you’re tending to a leak or spillage. We’ll also explain why the properties of the chemical substance, and the compatibility of the absorbent, must be considered when cleaning up a minor chemical spill in the workplace.

REMEMBER: A minor spill is an incident which can be successfully managed without the intervention of emergency services. If a chemical spill is too large or hazardous to be managed by your personnel, the incident will be regarded as a major spill.

Why Do You Need Absorbents In Spill Kits?

Once you’ve alerted trained staff of the leak or spill — and the area has been cordoned off from pedestrian traffic and vehicles — it’s time to assess the risk.

Your spill assessment will include various factors including:

Basic Spill Assessment

  • What product has spilled (accessing the Safety Data Sheets)?
  • What is the approximate volume of the spillage?
  • Can the spill be easily contained?
  • What areas/equipment have been affected?

Risk Identification

  • What hazards could the spill pose?
  • Is the chemical flammable, toxic, corrosive etc?
  • Could the spillage react dangerously with air or incompatible substances?
  • What other potential hazards should be removed from the spill site?
  • Could spillage reach additional work areas or travel to the outdoor environment?
  • Are harmful vapours at a dangerous level?
  • Is there an ignition or explosion risk?

Clean-up Logistics

  • How many staff members should perform the clean-up?
  • Which spill kit should be used?
  • Will an evacuation (of the work area or the larger organisation) be required?
  • Do emergency services have to be notified?
  • Are extra staff, equipment or spill kits required?

Once you have determined the level of risk that the leak of spill has created, trained staff must be called to start the clean-up process. This involves dressing in the appropriate PPE, stopping the leak, and containing the spillage.

After these initial steps have been taken, it’s then time for staff to access the spill kit absorbents to start the process of soaking up the spilled chemicals.

IMPORTANT: Spilled chemicals in the workplace can create a range of hazards, including asphyxiation, chemical burns, damage to property, environmental contamination, ignition, and dangerous chemical reactions with incompatible substances or materials. The risk level of the spill must be accurately determined so staff can actively reduce the hazards associated with the leak or spill. 

What Types Of Absorbents Are Available?

Your absorbents are the tools which will help you start the clean-up process. Absorbents are either a material or granulated substance capable of absorbing the spillage.

Without the appropriate absorbents in your spill kit, you won’t be able to quickly clean-up the leak or spill in your workplace.

Your choice of absorbent materials (and their quantities) will be determined by:

  • The chemical (or liquid) you’re cleaning up
  • Volume of spillage
  • Chemical compatibility of spill absorbents
  • Location of the spill (ie. Within a bunded cabinet; on a pourous floor; in a body of water etc)

Spill kit being used by worker

Before you re-fill your spill kit, consider if the absorbents are suitable for the substance that you’re cleaning up.

The main types of absorbents that are found in commercial spill kits include:

  • Booms – for the containment of spills
  • Wipes – ideal for wiping down surfaces affected by spill
  • Pads – a thicker absorbents for soaking up spillage and wiping down surfaces
  • Pillows – highly absorbent absorbents which can be also used for containment
  • Floor sweep – a granulated absorbent that can soak up spills which are too large for pads

REMEMBER: If a spilled liquid is not considered hazardous, then the spill response will include the containment and clean-up of the substance. However, if hazardous chemicals are involved, the properties and hazards associated with the spilled liquid can complicate the clean-up process. Your spill assessment will determine how the hazardous spill response will proceed.

Booms

While not technically used for the absorption of spillage, booms are an absorbent material used to prevent liquids from travelling further throughout a work area. Be mindful of ensuring that spillage does not enter any drains or sewer systems; redirecting the spill away from these areas.

Booms are available in various sizes to suit the requirements of the spillage. Both booms and mini booms are constructed from absorbent polypropylene, with oil-based spills requiring polypropylene booms with hydrophobic properties.

DID YOU KNOW? Oil & fuel absorbents and booms are hydrophobic, which means that they repel water. When hydrophobic absorbents are fully saturated with spilled chemicals, they can still float on water.

Wipes

Heavy duty wipes are available in rolls and can be used in the same way that you would use a household wipe. While they don’t have the absorbency of pads or pillows, spill wipes are ideal for wiping chemical residue from surfaces, equipment, chemical packages and storage facilities.

worker cleaning spill off truck with wipes

Wipes and spill pads are absorbents which can be used to wipe down equipment, vehicles and surfaces.

Absorbent Spill Pads

Absorbent pads are a smaller absorbent material that can be quickly laid down on the spill to soak it up. They are usually used on smaller spills due to their size and absorbency.

However, spill pads are also a great absorbent for wiping over affected work areas and equipment.

REMEMBER: If you are soaking up fuel or oil, you will need an absorbent which is specifically made to absorb flammable liquids. This is due to the potential fire hazard that Class 3 liquids pose, as well as the thick, oily properties of the substances. Look for absorbents which are manufactured for oil-based spills.

Pillows

Just as the name suggests, absorbent pillows are a thick, malleable absorbent material which is best used as a containment measure for leaks. While absorbent pads are designed to be placed on top of the spill — or to wipe over affected areas — pillows can be placed in and under leaking equipment to absorb larger amounts of spilled liquids. However, if there is a large quantity of chemicals spilled over a floor area, a floor sweep is a more suitable absorbent to choose for the clean-up.

Floor Sweep

Floor sweeps may be made from a range of materials from natural wood and fibres to heat sterilized zeolite minerals. This granulated material can be spread over a chemical spill to quickly soak up the liquid. Floor sweeps are designed for fast absorption and complete encapsulation of spilled chemicals.

Once the floor sweep has absorbed the material, you can use a broom to move the floor sweep into a central position. The contaminated product can be shoveled into waste bags and removed from the spill site.

spill kit image - various absorbents for drum spill-1

Your kit may include a floor sweep, like this Natura-Sorb floor sweep, as part of your absorbent options.

Incompatibility

The compatibility of your spill kit absorbents with the properties and hazards of the spilled chemical is an important consideration when you’re attempting to compile or replenish a spill kit.

Certain absorbent materials must not be used with particular chemical products. For example, a natural floor sweep may not be compatible with corrosive substances.

When considering your spill kit absorbents, you should always confirm the suitability for the product with your chemical product.

Here are some general incompatibilities for some of our own absorbent products:

  • Zeolite floor sweep – not suitable with hydrofluoric acid, strong acids or strong oxidizing agents (caution with Class 7 substances)
  • Natura-Sorb floor sweep – not suitable with corrosive or highly oxidizing agents (caution with Class 3 and Class 7 substances; check incompatibility caution notes for further products)
  • Premium Plus floor sweep – not suitable with corrosive or highly oxidizing agents
  • Universal wipes – not suitable for corrosive or highly oxidizing agents

Oil & fuel polypropylene absorbents are compatible with a wide range of oil-based chemical including acetone, benzene, corn oil, hexane, kerosene and methyl ether. However, they must not be used with incompatible substances.

Some of the incompatible substances that are unsuitable for use with oil & fuel polypropylene absorbents include:

  • Acetic acid
  • Butylamine
  • Chlorine water
  • Citric acid
  • Clorox
  • Detergents
  • Hydrazine
  • Glycerol
  • Wilver nitrate
  • Sodium nitrate

IMPORTANT: Refer to the compatibility information provided by your supplier if you would like to check the compatibility of your spill kit absorbents. Alternatively, purchase a complete spill kit that is designed to be compatible with your chemicals, such as an oil & fuel kit, universal spill kit, or a chemical spill kit.

Correct Disposal Of Soiled Materials

Once you’ve absorbed the chemical spillage, regardless of whether you’re using a few wipes of several bags of floor sweep, it’s crucial that you secure the contaminated chemical waste. Spill kits will include garbage bags with ties, so staff can contain the chemical waste products and transfer them to the waste disposal site.

Chemical waste poses the same risks as the spilled chemicals. Whether the hazardous chemicals are in a liquid form on the floor — or the chemical waste is encapsulated in a floor sweep — it can still cause harm to humans, property and the surrounding environment.

Therefore, you should always refer to your Spill Response Plan (and check with your local government authority) to determine the correct way to dispose of your chemical waste. Never leave bagged chemical waste lying around where other staff may unknowingly encounter the hazardous substances. Always ensure that it’s directed to the appropriate waste management authority.

worker discarding wipes in waste bag after chemical spill clean up on truck

Always dispose of your spill absorbents in a safe and compliant manner, using the waste bags and ties provided in your kit.

How Are You Cleaning Up Minor Chemical Spills?

While it’s important to have the right equipment, training and procedures in place to deal with minor chemical spills in the workplace, it’s also essential that you aim to prevent leaks and spills from occurring in the first place. To find out more about reducing risks — such as hazardous chemical spills — you may download our free guide. Just click on the image below to access your own copy today. 

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Melissa is STOREMASTA’s Marketing Manager and Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. Focused on helping organisations reduce chemical risk and improve efficiencies, Melissa is dedicated to raising awareness about the safe storage and management of dangerous goods.

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