Think like a scout and be prepared for spills in the workplace

Instant reaction to a spill in the workplace can make the outcome very different indeed – because if you’ve failed to avoid a spill, then lightning-fast reactions, coupled with having the right absorbents immediately to hand, will put you in control of an effective damage limitation exercise.

The best way to deal with a workplace spill is adopt the scout movement motto of ‘be prepared’, and avoid having one in the first place.

It’s not too hard to do; just a question of using the right storage and training people how to behave at work – not just when someone’s looking, but all the time. The effort is worth it; the consequences of a spill can be extensive and unexpected, perhaps causing environmental damage with significant fines to follow, loss of materials, interruptions to production causing customer dissatisfaction and loss of business, employee slips and falls bringing with them the risk of injury, long periods off work, and the involvement of the HSE.

Even small but regular spills can add a business cost burden you could well do without. Things like oil dripping from machinery or solvent bottles knocked over through careless handling and someone forgetting to put the top back on securely all cost money, and small sums add up to big ones over time.

But training alone is not enough, for in spite of the best-laid plans, things will go wrong. And when they do, you’ll find that expecting the worst, and planning for it, will pay dividends.

Spill Control Centre top tips for dealing with workplace spills

1. Start by doing some maintenance.

Don’t put up with tiny leaks of anything. Make yourself a promise to fit new gaskets or new taps, or whatever it takes, and to do it sooner rather than later. When did you last see a dirty F1 garage? They’re clean because the people working there take a pride in what the do, and that results in things being kept clean. (The opposite is also true: if the workplace is clean, people are more likely to be conscious of the need to avoid spills.)

As a temporary measure, fit absorbent material like these plant nappies under the leak – but make sure it is temporary, don’t use it as an excuse to procrastinate.

2. Be prepared.

Think about what can be spilled, and in what sort of quantities. Then buy absorbents of the right type and store them close to the site of any potential spill. Savings seconds is worth the effort. Some absorbents are good for dealing with oil, others with water, and still others with combinations of them. Some work on water; others are better suited to dry land application.

They can be compared and contrasted on our product pages.


Dec 2015 spill spills in the workplace spill control centre

3. Protect employees.


No-one deserves to be put at risk in dealing with a spill. Employees need to have the right protective clothing for the spills they may be required to clean up. For example, cleaning up body fluid spills of any kind is a very unsavoury task, which is why we offer body fluid spill kits for just that eventuality.

Easily carried on large sites, they can instantly be deployed when the need arises. Similarly, a spill on the road requires its own specialist responses, given the dangers not only of the spill, but also of continuing traffic flow.

These ADR spill kits have it all covered.

4. Act fast.

When a spill happens there isn’t a moment to lose. Even a minute’s delay can multiply the impact of a spill, and, in the words of a 90s insurance company, turn a drama into a crisis.

5. Contain it.

Don’t even think about cleaning it up yet. The first action must be to stop whatever’s been spilled. Think first of the drains, and deploy drain covers to stop spilled material. Then, thinking about drains further away, put some form of barrier to stop the spilled liquids spreading.

We have heard of untrained employees ‘cleaning up’ spills by hosing the spillage into the drains. This is emphatically not cleaning up, but is exactly the opposite; it just pushes the spill elsewhere, allowing it to do considerably more damage as it goes.

6. Mop it.

Or soak it up with the most appropriate absorbent. Granules made from a range of materials are very good at this, and contain considerable volumes of liquid, so that they can be swept up with a brush and shovel.

7. Dispose of it.

Whatever has been used to mop a spill can’t just be dumped in a bin; it must be disposed of responsibly. As a general rule, this will mean in the same way that the spilled material would have to be disposed of.

Having a supply of appropriate bags handy – resistant to the spilled material, naturally – will mean you have the first step of disposal ‘in the bag’ as it were, and will have bought yourself more time to organise the most effective and safe disposal.