Common workplace hazardous substances: What to do if there’s a spillage?

In the workplace, various industries rely on a range of substances to carry out their operations effectively. While many of these substances are essential for production processes or completing tasks, it is important to acknowledge that some can pose significant health and safety risks to workers. These hazardous substances are common on-site, but they can potentially cause harm if not handled, stored, or used correctly, especially in the event of a spillage. 

To help you ensure total safety compliancy on your site, we have put together a guide on the most common hazardous substances you could find on site. As well as what to do in the event of a spillage. 

What is a hazardous substance? 

But first, let’s define what we mean by hazardous substances and why they are so dangerous. 

A hazardous substance refers to any material or chemical with inherent properties or characteristics capable of causing harm to human health, the environment, or both. They could be gasses, solids or liquids, but for the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on liquid hazardous substances. 

These hazardous substances could include toxic chemicals, flammable materials, corrosive agents, radioactive elements, and biological hazards. Exposure to these substances through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact, can lead to acute or chronic health effects, ranging from respiratory issues, burns, and organ damage. 

Due to their potential risks, the handling, storing, and disposing of hazardous substances are subject to strict regulations and safety protocols to minimise their impact on human health and the environment.

8 Common Workplace Hazardous Substances 

Now you know what a hazardous substance is, let's look at the most common dangerous substances you may find in the workplace. As we have mentioned, hazardous substances are commonly found in the industrial, medical and agricultural sectors. These could include;

  1. Disinfectants
  2. Solvents 
  3. Acids 
  4. Pesticides
  5. Caustic Substances 
  6. Heavy Metals 
  7. Paint 
  8. Petroleum Products

The Dangers of Hazardous Substances 

The dangers associated with hazardous substances are significant and can pose serious threats to human health and the environment. They are aptly named as they can potentially cause immediate harm upon contact or exposure and long-term health effects. 

  • Toxic Chemicals: can lead to acute poisoning, respiratory problems, neurological disorders, or organ damage. 
  • Flammable Materials: can ignite easily, resulting in fires or explosions that can cause severe injuries or fatalities. 
  • Corrosive Agents: have the capacity to burn or dissolve human tissue upon contact. 
  • Radioactive Elements: can emit harmful radiation, leading to radiation sickness, genetic mutations, or even cancer. 
  • Hazardous Substances: can contaminate soil, water sources, and ecosystems, disrupting natural balance and causing long-lasting environmental damage. 

Handling, storing, and disposing of hazardous substances with utmost care and adhering to strict safety protocols to prevent accidents, protect human health, and preserve the environment is crucial. So, what happens if there is a spillage on site?

What to Do if There's a Spillage 

If there is a hazardous substance spillage on site, you must treat this serious incident with the appropriate care and attention. This means following site safety rules and guidelines as directed by the HSE. If you’re unsure if your safety measures are up to date, here is a breakdown of what should be included in your site’s emergency spill control procedure.

In the event of a hazardous substance spillage, you must attempt to contain the material if it is safe to do so. This will prevent the spread of the substance to other areas of the site. 

You can do this with the help of temporary dikes or spill socks, which can be used to create a dam or barrier around the spill. You should also ensure you have absorbent materials on-site purpose designed for these instances and most suitable to the substance types you have on site. 

For example, you should invest in spill control products, such as absorbent granules or oil, water and chemical absorbents, depending on what hazards are present on your site. 

If appropriate, you should also try stabilising the hazardous substance leak. Treating the spillage with appropriate chemicals could render the leak to dilute and become a safe condition. 

Spillage Prevention Measures

Although having an action plan on-site in case of a hazardous substance spillage is important, you should also have preventative measures in place. Having the appropriate equipment on site can minimise the disaster caused by a potential leak and make the clean-up even easier if it were to occur. 

We recommend having a spill kit on site, known to all team members, so it can be quickly accessed and used in an emergency. You should also have drain covers in any areas of the site where hazardous substances are used or stored. These can prevent leaks into the drainage system and aid in clean-up and containment. 

Finally, you should also ensure all members of staff working with hazardous substances have appropriate spill training so that they are well equipped with the knowledge and skillset to deal with this emergency situation. At Fire and Safety Centre, we offer a range of spill training courses to suit your team, delivered by our experts. 

Site Safety and Spillages 

So, it is clear that ensuring on-site safety in the event of a hazardous substance spillage is of paramount importance. The potential risks associated with such incidents are severe. They can have far-reaching consequences for both human health and the environment. By prioritising on-site safety measures, including proper training, use of personal protective equipment, and adherence to established protocols, the risks can be minimised and the impact mitigated. 

We can help with our extensive spill control centre at Fire and Safety Centre. We have spill kits and absorbents that can help with the cleanup of spillages, as well as drip trays and drain covers that can aid in containment. 

Plus, don’t forget you can come to us for comprehensive spill control training for your team! If you have any more questions, don’t hesitate to contact our team today for more advice and information. 

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