Cleaning up spills in the workplace needs the right combination of absorbent materials and people trained in their correct and effective use. Without those two vital elements spills can go on to cause significant damage through environmental issues, injuries, extra management burdens and cripplingly high costs.
Numerous types of specialised spill cleanup equipment are available to every section of today’s business community, but none are effective without another vital ingredient – you and your employees.
Just buying equipment to clean up spills in the workplace isn’t enough, because it’s impossible to spend your way to an effective spill clean up response. To make it effective, there has to be thorough training and commitment to use the equipment provided effectively and responsibly.
By their very nature spills can happen at any time. They can be slow and steady, like a faulty valve that lets a tyre deflate slowly over a number of days, or sudden and significant, like a tyre bursting.
The first is in danger of going unnoticed, because it’s little more than ‘business as usual’, and whatever’s on the floor is just part of the scenery. Once there, it can be the cause of slips, trips and falls in the workplace, which can add significantly to the burden of the management, and to the costs of the business. A sudden spill is far more noticeable, and will draw a response from those around it – or at least you’d hope that it would.
Spillages in the workplace: The human response
In both cases effective response to spillages in the workplace hinges on the employees who are there at the time. They’re the ones who will be the first to react, as an ‘emergency service’ on behalf of your company. Make no mistake, it is an emergency. Chemicals, oils and hazardous substances escaping the premises can have severe consequences.
When chemicals are sluicing around the floor it is no time to be reading the directions on absorbent material, for example, or looking for the nitrile gloves that ought to be with the spill kit, but have been pilfered because someone needed them at home.
The three most effective response to spills in the workplace are preparation, preparation, and preparation. To do that you need to make a decision at the most senior management level that your business will make a commitment to effectively clean up spills in the workplace. Full marks if you already have; if you haven’t, we’d suggest you start now. Here’s what we advocate.
1. Make sure you have enough equipment. Even if you’ve bought spill control equipment in the past, your business may have outgrown it. Also, it may have been used and not replaced. You’ll need protective clothing for the cleaning contractors too.
2. Make sure it’s in the right place. Having spill control ready for chemical spills in the workplace, for instance, should mean it’s readly portable. That can be a disadvantage if it gets moved to the wrong place, even if the move is done in all innocence. Put it back where it belongs.
3. Make sure everyone knows where it is. That’s when ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’ comes into its own. There may not be time to hunt for missing absorbents, or the tools needed to clean up and dispose of spills.
4. Show employees how to use it. Depending on the nature of the spill, the response to it may well involve things done in the correct sequence. For instance, spilled liquids might need to be contained by the use of drain covers – and that will need doing first before any attempt at cleaning up (Believe it or not, we’ve heard of cases where spilled chemicals were hosed into the drain…)
5. Use the equipment as a means to reinforce the dangers of spills. Showing employees and contractors the commitment you’ve made to spill containment and clean-up indicates the seriousness with which you take it, and that you expect them to take it equally seriously.
6. Explain the consequences of spills. Employees may genuinely be unaware of the cost of materials to a business, and will almost certainly not have thought through the consequences in terms of financial implications and even job security caused by a relaxed attitude to spills. Once that’s been highlighted, they’re more likely to use correctly the equipment you’ve invested in.