No one plans on a chemical spill but because accidents can occur, the time to figure out how to manage a chemical spill isn’t after a spill happens but before. Because different chemicals can have different harmful effects and must be handled in a unique way, contingency planning is the best way to minimize potential problems.
It goes without saying that our work around hazardous substances should always be designed to minimize the risk of their accidental release. Prior to working in a specific environment around specific chemicals, you should make sure you understand the physical, chemical and toxicological properties of the potentially hazardous substances and the appropriate emergency procedures including:
- How to report the emergency involved (ie. chemical spill, fire and/or injury).
- The location and use of emergency first aid equipment.
- The location and use of spill control equipment and fire extinguishers.
- Contact information for those responsible for the work site.
Handling a spill depends greatly on the scope of the chemical release, other hazardous conditions present and the type of chemical. Always adhere to the specifics of the safety program. Some general safety guidelines for small spills that are not immediately dangerous to the environment or individual’s health include:
- Notifying other personnel in the area about the spill and any appropriate evacuation needs.
- Attending to any individuals who have been injured or potentially exposed.
- Taking appropriate measures, without the risk of injury or contamination, to confine the spill.
- Cleaning up and disposing of the spill contents using appropriate procedure.
Remember that more widespread or dangerous spills or conditions require a different approach including:
- Notifying other personnel about the spill and to evacuate the area.
- Immediately attempting to remove or protect victims in a manner that doesn’t risk additional injury or contamination. Request help if necessary.
- Locating to a safe area and calling 911 to report the emergency.
- For dangers that extend beyond the immediate environment, activating any fire or safety alarms, evacuating the wider vicinity and securing any entrances into the area.
If hazardous or regulated materials are unintentionally released to the environment, special regulatory reporting might be required. Be sure to note as best you can the chemicals involved, the quantities released and the time of the incident so it can be reported accurately to the appropriate environmental agencies.
Although chemical spills are not intended, by taking safety measures, their scope and impact can often be limited.