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Matthew Hawes National Chemical Emergency Centre
Matthew Hawes - Emergency Response Specialist

Don’t cry over spilled milk.....

04/09/2014

 

All of us working in the chemicals industry have had to deal with a spill at least once. Solids can mostly be swept up – no matter the scale, gases are normally allowed to dissipate, but liquids require the most forward planning. When a spill is small and in a controlled environment, such as a laboratory fume cupboard, it can be dealt with easily. Often, spills can be wiped up using an inert, non-combustible textile.
Those occurring on a larger scale, such as a leaking intermediate bulk container (IBC) or plant reactor, can pose a greater challenge. However, if the plant and its storage areas have been properly designed (for example, with appropriate bunding), the spill will be contained. Employees who are appropriately trained and equipped can then deal with the spilled material.
The spills that everyone dreads being informed about are those that happen when products are in transit. Being in an uncontrolled environment, even a small spill can quickly become a complex incident. Even assuming staff can get to the incident efficiently, would they have the correct equipment and would they know what to do? The challenge doesn’t finish when the spill has been cleaned up – consideration also needs to be given to how the material will be disposed of, how contaminated soil and/or water will be treated and the recovery of the vehicle. Getting staff to and from an incident, and disposing of any waste may be straightforward if the incident is near to your site. However, do you have plans for dealing with an incident that is hundreds of miles from your site or in a different country?
To overcome these difficulties, many large companies have specialist teams that can be mobilised when an incident occurs. However, the cost of training the teams, and buying and maintaining their equipment is very expensive. And, of course, when they do attend an incident, the costs of their travel and of waste disposal must also be met. 
So what can be done?
Using specialist contractors that provide services for key elements of incident resolution and remediation is a cost and resource efficient way for a company to ensure it meets its obligations as a responsible organisation in the supply chain of dangerous goods. These are known as Level 3 providers, based on the roles detailed in the Responsible Care guidance.
How do I locate the right person at the right time?
Trade associations may know of contractors that offer services to deal with incidents, but if a spill occurs outside of office hours, will they be available to provide the information you need. Some insurance companies hold lists of contractors, though frequently only for a specific country. More often, the responsibility for sourcing the contractor rests with you.
If you can locate a contractor, how would you determine if they are suitable? A number of Level 3 providers can handle transport incidents, but others only respond to laboratory decontamination. Some specialise in flammable liquids, while others have gas-tight suits. Even if they can deal with the type of material spilled, can they handle the quantity? Some have vacuum tanks and others overdrums. You should also determine how far away from the spill they are, how long it is before they can attend, if they possess appropriate insurance and what certification they hold.
In an emergency, it can be difficult to remember to ask all of these questions. Having a specialist in fuel spills use a vacuum tank to deal with a leaking drum of sulfuric acid is as awkward as having a specialist with an overdrum attend a leaking tanker. 
What is needed is a Level 3 service provider’s directory that clearly displays contractors’ details and capabilities. This will help to ensure you get the right people to assist with your incident in as short a timescale as possible.

All of us working in the chemicals industry have had to deal with a spill at least once. Solids can mostly be swept up – no matter the scale, gases are normally allowed to dissipate, but liquids require the most forward planning. When a spill is small and in a controlled environment, such as a laboratory fume cupboard, it can be dealt with easily. Often, spills can be wiped up using an inert, non-combustible textile.

Those occurring on a larger scale, such as a leaking intermediate bulk container (IBC) or plant reactor, can pose a greater challenge. However, if the plant and its storage areas have been properly designed (for example, with appropriate bunding), the spill will be contained. Employees who are appropriately trained and equipped can then deal with the spilled material.

The spills that everyone dreads being informed about are those that happen when products are in transit. Being in an uncontrolled environment, even a small spill can quickly become a complex incident. Even assuming staff can get to the incident efficiently, would they have the correct equipment and would they know what to do? The challenge doesn’t finish when the spill has been cleaned up – consideration also needs to be given to how the material will be disposed of, how contaminated soil and/or water will be treated and the recovery of the vehicle. Getting staff to and from an incident, and disposing of any waste may be straightforward if the incident is near to your site. However, do you have plans for dealing with an incident that is hundreds of miles from your site or in a different country?

To overcome these difficulties, many large companies have specialist teams that can be mobilised when an incident occurs. However, the cost of training the teams, and buying and maintaining their equipment is very expensive. And, of course, when they do attend an incident, the costs of their travel and of waste disposal must also be met. 

So what can be done?

Using specialist contractors that provide services for key elements of incident resolution and remediation is a cost and resource efficient way for a company to ensure it meets its obligations as a responsible organisation in the supply chain of dangerous goods. These are known as Level 3 providers, based on the roles detailed in the Responsible Care guidance.

How do I locate the right person at the right time?

Trade associations may know of contractors that offer services to deal with incidents, but if a spill occurs outside of office hours, will they be available to provide the information you need. Some insurance companies hold lists of contractors, though frequently only for a specific country. More often, the responsibility for sourcing the contractor rests with you.

If you can locate a contractor, how would you determine if they are suitable? A number of Level 3 providers can handle transport incidents, but others only respond to laboratory decontamination. Some specialise in flammable liquids, while others have gas-tight suits. Even if they can deal with the type of material spilled, can they handle the quantity? Some have vacuum tanks and others overdrums. You should also determine how far away from the spill they are, how long it is before they can attend, if they possess appropriate insurance and what certification they hold.

In an emergency, it can be difficult to remember to ask all of these questions. Having a specialist in fuel spills use a vacuum tank to deal with a leaking drum of sulfuric acid is as awkward as having a specialist with an overdrum attend a leaking tanker. 

What is needed is a Level 3 service provider’s directory that clearly displays contractors’ details and capabilities. This will help to ensure you get the right people to assist with your incident in as short a timescale as possible.

To view ChemRespond, a global chemical spill clean-up database, click here.

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