Posted on 3rd December, 2013

How would you deal with a spill

Most industrial facilities use some form of liquid in their processes. Whether these be cutting fluid, oil and other petroleum products, coolants or plain water, one thing is for certain: if your facility uses these, a spill can and will occur.

As a workplace hazard, spills can be considered one of the more complex types to deal with. Spills can cause slips and falls which, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) account for 15% of all accidental deaths in the workplace.

Spills can also pose huge environmental risks, as shown by recent large scale disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Just like other workplace hazards, your facility should be ready to deal with any spill not only immediately but efficiently. In the event of a spill, two factors will determine the best spill control method: the size of the spill and the type of spilled chemical.

Spill Size
First things first: as anyone  who has had to clean up water from their home kitchen floor, the best way is to use some form of absorbent material. In an industrial setting, the best equipment for spill cleanup are sorbents. Spill size is a consideration that determines what form of sorbent to use, since there are more than one.

There are generally four forms of sorbents, each best for a particular sized spill: pads and rolls, pillows, socks and booms:

  • Pads and Rolls – pads and rolls are similar in appearance to paper towels, with pads being individually dispensed and rolls having a similar appearance to paper towel rolls.
  • Pillows – this type of absorbent is similar in appearance to a pillow, hence its name.  Being larger than a pad or an individual sheet from a roll, absorbent pillows can be used on larger spills. Pillows are usually placed underneath leaking equipment.
  • Socks – absorbent socks appear as long, cylindrical “logs”, filled with absorbent material. These are used on vats, troughs and larger containers.
  • Booms – absorbent booms are similar in form to socks but are much longer. Owing to its size, booms are used on larger bodies of water such as rivers, lakes and even along shorelines.

Chemical Type
If spill size determines the form of the sorbent needed, then chemical/material makeup determines the absorbent type. Generally speaking, there are four types of sorbents according to the kind of liquid these can absorb: universal, oil-only, haz-mat and specialty.

  • Universal Absorbents – as its name implies, universal absorbents can be used on both oil and petroleum products, as well as non-petroleum based liquids such as cutting fluid and coolants. Universal absorbents however, are not recommended for use on aggressive liquids such as acids.
  • Oil-Only Absorbents – oil-only absorbents are unique in that these absorb oil and reject water. While most oil-only absorbents should be disposed once saturated with fluid, there are some oil-only absorbents that allow you to recycle oil. Simply squeeze out the absorbed oil and re-process.
  • Haz-Mat – similar in form to universal or oil-only absorbents, but are used for more aggressive chemicals like acids.
  • Specialty – specialty absorbents include kits for dealing with more hazardous chemicals such as mercury. Other specialty absorbents include fuel solidifiers and neutralizing adsorbents.

Consider Prevention
Just as with other workplace hazards, there are also other equipment specially designed for spill prevention and containment. These include spill pallets, spill platforms, containment trays and spill berms. These equipment is designed to prevent spills from either occurring or spreading by acting as a catch basin (in the case of pallets and platforms) or by providing containment (as with spill berms.)
When you consider the dangers posed by spills to either your personnel or to the environment, having spill control equipment handy is certainly a wise thing to do. Keeping considerations such as spill size and chemical type in mind will help you better in choosing the right equipment for your purposes.

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