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Your 10-point guide to spill kits: Part 1

Making a mess when you’re a kid is fun — mainly because you don't care about cleaning it up. As an adult in the workplace… not so much fun… There really is no grown-up version of making mud pies indoors, but in case you do, there’s always the spill kit.

Nobody means to spill things in the workplace, but distractions and mistakes occur, so having the right tools makes cleaning up far less stressful. And easier. And more effective – cost wise, time wise and resource wise.

So here are 10 things you need to know about spill kits.

1. Who needs a spill kit?

Safe Work Australia and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in each state and territory have regulations about spill clean ups. So it makes sense that every business, Australia wide, actually has a spill kit so they can follow the cleaning-up guidelines. As we all know, spills won’t “hang fire” while you run out and grab something from a shop up the street to clean up. Being prepared is halfway to the end.

Depending upon your type of business will depend on what type of spill kit you need — chemical-neutralising (or hazardous material) spill kits, oil spill kits or universal spill kits.

Some businesses may also be wise to have spill control materials on hand, such as drain covers, drain plus, containment barriers or containment bunding. Or spill containment may be what you need, such as a spill containment pool; these are perfect to quickly use to catch leaking liquids from blown hydraulic lines, punctured tanks or leaking containers, as well as in decontamination operations. (For heavy vehicles, it’s often a good idea to have a spill containment pool packed in each truck in case of punctured fuel tanks or drums on the road.)

There isn’t one correct answer that applies across the board to every business, but whatever your business is, it pays to be prepared.

2. So what’s a spill kit again?

A spill kit is an assortment of spill-response tools and personal protection equipment (PPE) that helps anyone trained to respond to messes to do it safety. And efficiently (we’re big on both safety and efficiency). Well-stocked, well-designed spill kits save time because every tool and supply to manage spills is all right there, in one place, ready to go.

Spill kits are also easily transportable, so you can take them right to the spill. As well as the different types mentioned above (hazmat, oil and universal), there are also different sizes, so you can truly pick the one that best fits your plant — it could be in a 240-litre wheelie bin, or it could be in a small box. Or it could be in between.

3. How big does your spill kit need to be?

Well, this depends on the size of the spill! While we get you won’t be actually planning to spill anything, here are a few things to think about for when the unfortunate happens:

  • Will one spill kit be enough for your whole plant? Or would several spill response kits be better placed in various spill-prone spots throughout?
  • What’s the biggest spill you can possibly make? In other words, what is your worst-case scenario?
  • Where are spills most likely to happen in your plant? And what type of spill are they likely to be? (Oil? Hazardous chemicals? Water? Fuel?)
  • Would you need any other spill control devices, such as drain covers or plugs or bunding?

If you only want one kit to serve your whole facility, then base your choice on the worse-case scenario. So choose the kit with the absorbency that will suit the largest tank or container on your site that doesn’t have the benefit of secondary containment.

To be safe, facilities often have kits in several spill-prone areas. These could be fluid-dispensing stations, loading docks, production lines or waste-collection areas. In this case, plants tend to go for smaller kits. Also, it may not be practical to absorb an entire spill. Say if you have half a million litres of XYZ, instead of going for enough spill kits that can absorb all that, typically such a facility has absorbents to control and contain a “most likely” spill (e.g.: during fuel transfer, which could be around 500-600 litres) but also have secondary containment for the entire facility in case a catastrophe strikes.

The way to choose your spill kit size is to know the potential spill volumes throughout your facility, and plan procedures to clean up those spills.

4. Spill kits are all the same, aren’t they?

No. Spill kits contain similar types of things (absorbents and PPE), but because

spill kits can be used to clean up many different types of liquids (hazardous materials, oil, water, chemicals and “universal liquids”), the specific absorbents, tools and PPE in each kit will be suited to the exact needs of the specific liquids that might be spilled near the spot where the spill kit is located.

So the kit you have in the office kitchen will be different to what’s in the laboratory or a mechanic workshop, or chemical facility handling corrosive liquids or loading dock or food-processing plant.

5. What should a ‘typical’ spill kit contain?

Given that we’ve just said above kits are not the same, spill kits do, however, contain similar types of items (which we also said) — that being absorbents and PPE. To go into more detail, a “typical” spill kit should contain whatever you could need to contain, control and clean up a spill.

Here are some of the more common items in a “typical” spill kit:

  • absorbents (mats, socks, and loose absorbents)
  • spill control (drain covers, drain plugs, spill containment barriers and bunding)
  • patch and repair tools and products, such as non-sparking wrenches, fast-setting epoxy repair putties, plugs and wraps
  • bags or containers to collect and hold spent spill clean-up materials
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as goggles, gloves, suits or aprons and footwear cover
  • Any tools that may be needed to clean up (such as dust pans, shovels, scoops, wrenches and hammers)

The absorbents in a spill kit will depend upon the types of chemicals used and stored in your plant:

  • corrosive or oxidizing chemicals need absorbents made of polypropylene or other inert materials
  • absorbents for oils, coolants and solvents can be made of cellulose or less expensive materials.
  • oil and petroleum spills outdoors need absorbents that repel water, while absorbing the oil (and these also won’t get saturated by rain)

Lastly, think about how much, and the level of, training that anyone who may use the kit to respond to a spill has. You can have the very, very best equipment (like ours!), but it’s useless if no one knows how to use it, or it’s awkward to use.

In Part 2 of the 10 things you need to know about spill kits, we’ll look at what PPE should be included in spill kits, how they should be packed, where spill kits should be located, how often you should check your spill kits and whether staff need training to use a spill kit.

In the meantime, for help in choosing the right spill kit for your factory or business, call us on 1800 HOT HOG (468 464). Or get in touch with us