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They say, “don’t cry over spilled milk”, but should you cry over a spilled drum of chemicals or oil? The answer is still no. There’s no time for crying, you’ve got a spill to clean up. Cry later, if you want.
As much as we try to prevent them, spills happen. We aren’t talking about the type of spill that you can clean up with a mop and a bucket. Depending on the type of liquid and quantity, some spills require an emergency procedure. This is where spill kits come in. A spill kit is a container that has everything you need to contain and clean up spreading liquid. The idea behind spill kits is to avoid employees having to search everywhere to gather supplies to clean up an emergency spill. They can just go and grab the spill kit and contain the liquid quickly.
You might be surprised to learn that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. government doesn't specifically require spill kits. However, OSHA says you must be prepared to handle spills while protecting workers, especially if hazardous materials are involved. To that end, spill kits help facilities manage spills of any type.
What Do the Regulations Say?
OSHA's general requirement is to keep all walkways free of hazards, including spills. The agency also states that all places of employment must have an emergency preparedness plan, including one governing spill clean-up.
Managing spills is critically important with Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) in the event hazardous materials spill and lead to an emergency. Incidental spills may also require special handling.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has regulations regarding clean-up of non-hazardous waste spills. Of particular note are requirements for oil spill prevention within the petroleum industry, and although these types of spills are on the end, they still require spill kits.
Types of Spill Kits
The type of spills we focus on in this article can be controlled by a 55-gallon kit or less.
There are many different types of spill kits available, but you will mainly see four popular options, each designed to clean up various types of liquids.
- Universal spill kits are effective for oil, coolants, non-corrosive liquids, and water-based solvents.
- Oil spill kits only clean up oil-based liquids, including oil on water or snow. These kits can clean up petroleum-based liquids, including cooking oils and grease.
- Chemical spill kits clean up corrosive liquids or liquids of unknown types when crews respond to a spill.
- Specialty spill kits are less common and are generally created to clean up specific fluids. You'll find kits to clean up oil, chemicals, mercury, and biohazards like blood, animal waste, and urine.
What Kinds of Facilities or Situations Need Spill Kits?
Although not required by law, you might be surprised how many facilities or situations need spill kits to ensure worker and customer safety.
Spill kits are common in manufacturing facilities with spill risks. For example, a factory that stores hazardous chemicals at specific temperatures and transports them with specialized machinery is at risk for spills.
Another issue in manufacturing facilities is storing lubricants for machinery. If these lubricants leak, staff needs to go into spill protocol.
Another example is food processing plants with large containers filled with cooking oils, honey, liquid flavorings, and extracts that go into large batch mixers. Although these liquids are stored properly, it takes just one errant forklift to puncture or spill a container.
Construction sites may store various liquids until they're ready for use, or contractors may bring liquids on site. Some of these include:
- Sealants for concrete and wood
- Adhesive for tiles and flooring
- Gasoline to run machinery and pumps
- Hydraulic fluid for heavy equipment
Smaller spill kits, often found in a 5-gallon bucket or a plastic bag, are ideal for the transportation industry. Some truckers and drivers keep a small spill kit on hand for several reasons. Depending on what the trucker is transporting, spills in the trailer may occur. Trucks that transport drums of liquid typically have spill kits for relatively minor spills.
During routine maintenance, oil or fluid spills from the truck's engine may require spill kits.
Even drivers making in-town deliveries may carry small spill kits if they transport liquids from one location to another.
Auto Shops, Auto Dealers, and Quick Lubes
Any facility selling, repairing, or maintaining a vehicle will have spill kits nearby if oil, coolant, lubricant, or cleaning fluid leaks from any source.
If you look around retail stores that carry any liquid, you might find spill kits visible.
Employees use spill kits to clean up. The more liquids a retail establishment offers, particularly those that pose hazards to humans, the more likely the store will have handy spill kits.
- Stores with health and beauty products, including perfume, shampoos, lotions, and liquid soaps
- Hardware stores that sell household paint or cleaning chemicals
- Automotive stores that offer motor oil, windshield wiper fluid, antifreeze/coolant, fuel additives, and grease
How Should My Facility Handle Spills?
First and foremost, have a preparedness plan in place for when spills occur.
- Train employees on how to use spill kits. Employees should understand when a spill kit is needed vs. when normal cleaning methods can be used, such as mopping. They should know the parts of a spill kit and how to use the absorbent that picks up acids, bases, or solvents.
- Have regularly scheduled safety meetings, at least once a quarter or monthly, depending on your facility. If there are any updates to safety protocols, let employees know as soon as possible. This topic is much broader than spill kits; employees should regularly be reminded and refreshed on all relevant safety protocols.
- As soon as a spill occurs, warn others nearby not to get too close until someone can clean it up. Make management aware so that the proper procedure can be put in place. A section of a facility may need to be closed off until the spill can be cleaned up. You don’t want a forklift driving through an oil slick.
- Follow the spill kit instructions and ensure everything is cleaned up correctly.
- Fill out the proper documentation that reports on the spill and how it was handled. This documentation will be used to prove compliance, if that ever comes in question, and will also help indicate if additional spill kits are required.
How Do I Use a Spill Kit?
Now that you know what to do during a spill, you need to know how to use a spill kit.
- Assess the situation first. Safety is paramount. A large chemical spill of VOCs requires an immediate response at a hazardous chemical facility. The general rule is to stop, look, and listen to determine what kind of response is necessary for the spill.
- Protect yourself. Put on any required personal protective equipment (PPE). A well-equipped spill kit will have all the items needed to keep you safe. This usually includes gloves and eye protection.
- Keep the spill from spreading. Alright, we’ve assessed the situation, we’ve got our bearings, and everyone is safe. Now it's time to confine the spill as effectively as possible. This could include using absorbent pads, special powders, or an absorbent boom. What you use to confine the spill will depend on what is available in your spill kit. You don't want to open the kit for the first time, wondering what everything is while the spill spreads. That's why it's important to be trained on your kit beforehand.
- Stop the spill source, if necessary. This could be as simple as tipping a fallen drum back upright, but more complicated. A broken valve or any other complicated spill source is beyond the aid a spill kit can provide. This is one of the reasons why management needs to be notified of the spill as quickly as possible.
- Clean up the spill. Once you stop the source of the spill and contain the spread, it is time to clean it up thoroughly. Follow instructions on the spill kit for laying down granular absorbent, using a mop or sponge, shoveling any congealed or frozen liquid, or sweeping away any powders with a broom. If you use absorbent powders, follow the recommended time to let all the liquid seep into the desiccant before sweeping it away. Lastly, follow the spill kit instructions for proper disposal. Spill kits often include bags and labels for disposal.
- Decontaminate. If the spill involves a chemically reactive substance, you might have to decontaminate the area. Are any liquids acid or alkaline? What about flammable or inhalable? All of these factors need to be taken into consideration.
- Report. Even minor spills should be reported, especially in manufacturing facilities or facilities that routinely use oils and chemicals. Safety managers will review the reports to assess what happened and recommend improvements to protocols and procedures.
How Do I Dispose of a Spill Kit?
Depending on the type of spill and how you cleaned it up, discard any absorbent cloths in the spill kit disposal bag. Sweep up any granular materials with a broom and dustpan before emptying them into the spill kit disposal bag. The disposal of this waste will depend on federal, state, or local regulations.
Biohazards require special handling and must be put into specially marked bags before proper disposal. Again, federal, state, and local laws may dictate how to dispose of certain hazardous substances like lead, mercury, VOCs, pesticides, herbicides, petroleum, and fertilizers.
Who Can Supply My Facility with Spill Kits?
We take your safety seriously here at PowerPak. We primarily carry universal spill kits in varying sizes. From small and portable 5-gallon kits, to much larger 55-gallon barrel kits.
Depending on what you need, you can build your own kit or buy items piecemeal, including absorbent pads/socks, bags of granular absorbent powder, and large sorbent booms.
Our team is ready to assist you when you need a spill kit to meet your needs. Contact our team today. We'll help keep your employees safe from spills.