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April 22, 2014
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Advance Spill Preparation Makes Safety Sense

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Upfront planning for these events can also reduce downtime.

By Jane Alexander, Deputy Editor

When a spill occurs in a facility, the time needed to find absorbents, vacuums and other tools to contain and clean it up can consume a sizable—and valuable—chunk of time, not to mention how the spill might impact production. Unchecked, a spill could also hit drains and other sensitive areas.

While plant spills may seem rare, statistics from the U.S. government’s National Response Center show that more than 10,000 reportable spills occur in fixed facilities each year. This equates to more than one spill per hour. Just over half of these spills are caused by equipment failure; one in five is caused by operator error.

Because spills can happen anytime and anywhere, upfront preparation to mitigate them can help ensure safety and minimize downtime. This requires having the right tools for the job, in the right location, and training responders to use them properly.


Identify Your Site’s Leak- and Spill-Prone Areas

Spills are most likely to occur where fluids are transferred, used and stored. Fluid-filled equipment is another frequent, but often overlooked, source of leaks and spills. To properly determine your site’s potential spill profile, check the following:

Small leaks and drips from pumps, funnels, faucets and overfilled containers. These are common in both fluid-dispensing and waste-collection areas. While these spills tend to be less than five gallons, being prepared for their quick cleanup can help keep a site safer. Left on a floor, even a small spill presents a slip-and-fall hazard.

Busy loading docks. With materials constantly in motion in this area, spills are possible. A package might arrive that’s leaking or a forklift graze could damage a liquid-filled drum. Advanced spill preparation will minimize the amount of time a hectic dock area needs to be shut down to address a spill.

Overspray, dip tanks and leaky production machinery.  These factors can cause spills that get onto walkways and make floors slippery. Bulk storage tanks and pipelines that are not routinely maintained can also lead to leaks and spills in production areas.


Defining small and large spills
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) each require sites to be prepared for spills. Many of their regulations focus on contingency planning and preparation for “worst-case scenario” spills and catastrophic incidents. While preparing for such incidents is important, National Response Center data shows that the most common spill volume is less than 20 gallons. Thus, preparing for small spills is equally important.

To do so, it’s important to define “small” and “large” spills, but there is no one-size-fits-all definition. For example, a 100-gallon spill of lubricating oil that’s confined in a storage area with no drains could be deemed “small,” whereas a one-ounce spill of mercury would be “large.” It’s up to each facility to evaluate its particular hazards and set relevant parameters for responders. Other factors to consider include spill location, the employees’ level of knowledge, the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other response tools.

The EPA uses the following terms to describe spills:

Incidental spill — One that does not pose a significant safety or health risk to responders, and is typically a small quantity.

Emergency spill — One that is immediately dangerous to life and health (often designated as “IDLH”). Examples are spills triggered by explosions and fire, or those that exist in oxygen-deficient atmospheres.

Spill plans that include preparations for any spill size will be better positioned to provide an effective response. Walking through your entire plant will help to identify leak- and spill-prone areas (see Sidebar). This helps everyone know where to focus planning efforts and where response tools should be stored.


Training Issues

Anyone who will respond to emergency spills needs to be properly trained to meet the requirements of OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Standard (29 CFR 1910.120.). Employees who will only respond to incidental spills must also be trained, but the training may be done in-house and may be part of hazard communication or other safety training. Training should occur regularly and involve use of each of the response tools available at the site. Local firefighters and county hazmat teams are often excellent resources to help with training and routine drills.

Each employee should know his/her responsibility when a spill happens. Even if the employee is only expected to pull an alarm and evacuate, having this knowledge will help keep everyone safe.


Tools of the trade
The variety of spill types and spill-response factors means that the tools used to deal with them can be equally varied. Just as mechanics may use several different tools to fix various problems, spill responders often need different tools to respond to spills. A common facility response tool is a kit that contains absorbent mats, socks, booms and pillows to quickly contain and soak up spills. Spill kits are ideal for incidental spills because they can be placed throughout the facility and sized to address anticipated spills in each area. The absorbents in spill kits can also help contain large or emergency spills until additional resources arrive.

Non-absorbent spill-response dikes and drain covers augment spill kits and can be used to quickly contain or divert spills from sensitive areas such as drains or doorways. In some cases, it’s preferable to contain a spill so it can be vacuumed or pumped into a container for reuse or recycling. Vacuuming or pumping large spills can also help reduce spill-response costs by minimizing absorbent usage. When choosing a vacuum or pump, consider the properties of the liquids that may spill. Specialized vacuums and pumps are available for flammable, corrosive and other types of liquids.

To help responders address spill sources, response kits can also be stocked with patch and repair tools, quick-setting epoxies and plugs. Other additions to consider include PPE, disposal bags and overpacks.

Placing spill-response equipment
Store spill-response materials in locations where they would most likely be needed. This allows for quick responder access—a critical element in preventing a spill from spreading. Small plants may do well with one portable spill kit that can be quickly taken to any area of the facility. Larger sites will often need to establish several areas for spill-response equipment.

To remember where spill kits and response items are stored, keep them in brightly colored containers. Use signs or paint to identify locations and remind all personnel where to find these crucial items when needed. MT&AP

This article was prepared with information provided by New Pig Corp., Tipton, PA.

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