A Brief Look at the 7-Step Process of a Spill Response
As children, we’re told not to cry over spilled milk. Instead, start solving the problem and clean up the spill. Adults working with non-hazardous and hazardous materials know that crying or otherwise panicking over a spill isn’t an option either. However, there are far more steps to solving these spill problems. The following brief look at the seven-step process of a spill response outlines those important problem-solving steps.
Assess the Risks of the Spill
As soon as a spill occurs, a professional needs to assess it. The professional should have an intimate working knowledge of the spilled material and ideally also understand the area of the spill. Some companies appoint certain employees to act as assessment professionals since they know the area, materials, and personnel. Others allow whatever manager is on duty to oversee the initial assessment and call the proper authorities to help.
Whoever is in charge must perform the assessment as quickly but as thoroughly as possible. They should discern who and what the spill affects and its risks to property, people, and the surrounding environment.
Choose the Proper Personal Protective Equipment
Depending on company policy and professional spill responders, someone else may take over selecting personal protective equipment (PPE). Whoever oversees this step must learn about the spill assessment and risks to determine what PPE everyone in the vicinity should wear. They can consult with available PPE literature and authorities. Depending on the risk of the spill, only spill responders may have to wear PPE.
Professional spill responders may arrive in their own PPE based on their knowledge of the situation. They will often assume the worst and wear the highest level of protection to stay safe. If they or another professional reevaluates the spill, the professionals may remove some PPE or leave it all on as a precaution.
Stop the Spill Source
The third and fourth steps of the process can flip depending on the source of the spill and the affected area. Once the responders are wearing the proper personal protective equipment, they can decide which step to take first.
If the spill is small and it is easy to safely stop the spill source, such as righting an overturned container, then it’s best to stop the spill source before confining the spill. However, a large spill can make it difficult to safely stop the source. In those cases, it is often best to confine the spill first. Once the spill gets confined, professionals can discern the best way to stop the source.
Confine the Spill As Quickly as Possible
No matter the spill’s size, quick confinement is necessary to protect property, people, and the surrounding environment. There are different options for approaching confinement. In some cases, physical barriers such as drain covers are best. In others, professionals select the appropriate spill kit and absorbent.
Different absorbents can help contain different materials. Some are almost universal, helping to soak up and confine oils, coolants, solvents, and water. Others can soak up only one material, such as oil, so that unaffected water can stay in the area.
Whether using physical barriers or an absorbent, the most critical part of confinement is water protection. You or whoever oversees confinement should prioritize protecting waterways. Someone must alert the authorities and extend the spill cleanup if the spill contaminates local water.
Create a Cleanup Action Plan
Once someone has stopped the spill source and the spill itself gets contained, spill responders can start cleaning it up. They need an action plan for this step to ensure that they properly clean the affected area and stay safe.
Most of the time, the best way to start the cleanup plan is to continue the confinement process. Use more absorbents during confinement to fully clean up the spill. Store the absorbents and any affected materials safely so they are ready for proper disposal after the cleanup is over.
Decontaminate the Site, Personnel, and Equipment
While cleaning up the spill feels like crossing the finish line, there is still more to do. The spilled material probably contaminated part of the site, responding personnel, and equipment in the area. Create a decontaminated area so people and equipment can safely leave the contaminated area without spreading the hazardous material.
Remove or neutralize hazardous materials within the contaminated zone. The removal or neutralization process can vary depending on the type of hazardous material. For example, a weak base can help neutralize a toxic chemical spill but would not affect an ignitable material.
Sometimes, a large spill of a non-hazardous material can require a thorough cleanup process. While responders in these cases should still work hard to ensure that property, people, and the surrounding environment are clean and safe after the spill, they do not need to follow hazardous decontamination procedures.
Complete Spill Reports
The last step of the spill response process is one of the most arduous. Responders must complete the appropriate spill reports about the incident. Local, state, and federal guidelines may all require various types of paperwork following a spill, especially a hazardous one. You and any additional personnel that helped respond may need to offer medical reports, company incident reports, district reports, and more. Failure to provide properly completed reports can result in hefty fines.
While this is only a brief look at the seven-step process of a spill response, it can help you and others within your facility learn how to best respond to spills. Hazardous spills are dangerous, and following the provided steps can help keep you and others safe during the response process.
Clean Management Environmental Group can assist with spill response since we are one of many waste cleanup companies. However, we differ from our competition due to our comprehensive yet personalized service area. Although we work across the US, our professionals in your area understand local, state, and federal regulations. This means you can trust us to help with your spill response needs. We look forward to helping you!