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October 29, 2007
Chemical Spill Response: It's Got to Be Quick and Effective!

Despite the best precautions, chemical spills occasionally occur. When there's a spill--even a small one--your employees must be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to contain the spill and prevent further damage.

All spills should be reported immediately. Train employees to notify a supervisor or your emergency coordinator immediately whenever they notice a spill or leak--no matter how small. They should report:

  • What is leaking or spilled
  • Where the leak or spill is
  • The size of the spill or leak
  • The rate of flow

The supervisor or emergency coordinator will then tell the employee whether it is safe to clean it up (for very small spills) or whether employees should evacuate the area and leave the containment and cleanup to your specially trained and equipped spill response team.

Why It Matters ...
  • Chemical spills can kill or injure employees and cause extensive damage to your facility.
  • A major chemical spill could also threaten the surrounding community and natural environment.
  • The potential for fires and explosions creates additional deadly hazards.
  • Even minor spills and leaks can lead to harmful employee exposures and serious health problems.

In the event of a large spill that threatens the area outside your facility, the emergency coordinator will also notify state, federal, and local authorities as well as local fire and police departments and other spill containment specialists who might be needed.

Spill containment is a specialized task. Only employees who are specially trained and equipped should be allowed to respond to all but very minor chemical spills. The response team will quickly assess the situation and consult the MSDS for the chemical to be sure that they understand what they're working with, what its hazards are, and what they need to do to contain the spill. They will then gather required PPE and spill containment materials and get to work. The sooner containment starts, the better. Successful containment of a chemical spill involves several steps, which happen quickly and often overlap:

  • Stop the source of the leak. Close valves, pumps, or whatever may be allowing the material out.
  • Cover drains or other possible escape routes.
  • Patch holes with patch kits, valve pluggers, or whatever is needed.
  • Contain the spill by the best method. This might be:
    • Building a dike to keep spilled liquid from getting into water
    • Repairing the container or putting it into another container that won't leak
    • Channeling the spill to a place where it won't spread, by diking or pumping or opening a trench to a secure spot
    • Placing an empty container under the leak
    • Rotating or shifting the container's position to stop the leak.

Cleanup personnel must follow required decontamination procedures. It is vital to prevent contaminated materials from spreading hazardous chemicals into clean areas of your facility or into the surrounding community and employees' homes. With some chemicals, just the amount that sticks to the soles of the shoes could contaminate an entire water supply. That is why protective clothing, PPE, tools, and equipment used in the containment and cleanup effort--and any other materials that might have come into contact with hazardous chemicals--must be deposited into the appropriate container for decontamination or disposed of in an EPA-approved container. In addition, any member of the cleanup team (or any other employee, for that matter) who believes he or she has been exposed to a toxic chemical should have a medical examination as soon as possible after the exposure.

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