Home>Premises>Spill Prevention/Solutions>Cleaning up our act in leaky situations

Cleaning up our act in leaky situations

23 January 2013

Handling hazardous liquids can be a risky business, especially when spills occur, so it is essential that correct health & safety procedure is adhered to.The BSIF offers some advice...

Handling hazardous liquids can be a risky business, especially when spills occur, so it is essential that correct health & safety procedure is adhered to.The BSIF offers some advice.

The best way to protect employees is by carrying out a risk assessment. 'Reasonably practicable' steps should be taken to minimise identified hazards, ideally by engineering them out. When eliminating these hazards is not viable, it is necessary to deploy PPE and other safety equipment but in the case of liquids, there is an ever present need to deal with leaks, spills and other emergencies.

A risk assessment will not only identify the need for obvious equipment such as gloves and coveralls but also more specialist equipment such as face splash and respiratory protection for volatiles. A thorough risk assessment will also ensure that companies are encouraged to think ahead and plan for any possible accidents. By being aware of the chemicals and likely volumes present, the quantity and type of sorbent required can be calculated along with the appropriate PPE, which often differs from operational stock, and be kept on site as a precautionary measure.

However, selecting PPE including respiratory protection, can be complicated."Typically material safety data sheets (MSDS) simply state 'Wear suitable protective clothing'," explains Paul Bryce, Microgard product & technical manager. "The difficulty for a user in the selection of 'suitable' chemical protective clothing is in the interpretation and understanding of the numerous European Norms and protective clothing manufacturers related performance claims." It is also important to be aware that all products have their limitations such as sorbent and respiratory filter capacities and often due to their nature; even predicted spills identified through a risk assessment can be difficult to fully prepare for.

Miles Hillmann, Fosse Liquitrol and chairman of the BSIF's Sorbent Manufacturers Group comments: "Spills of hazardous liquids demand attention to operator safety and safe clean up and disposal. Existing recommendations and conventional spill kits on the market are not sufficient. There are also a number of problems with current guidance." The BSIF has been looking at relevant issues and creating initiatives to reduce the incidence of work related injury in the handling of liquid spills. Key areas for focus include; improving the quality of sorbent products and the reliability of performances being claimed; developing relevant standards to generate a level playing field in manufacturers claims on product performances and to assist user selection of products; promoting awareness (or stimulate regulatory motivation) of the need for adequate stocks of sorbents to be available close to the area where liquids are stored, handled and/or used.

Sorbent selection guide Different sorbents work most efficiently with different types of liquid depending on the type of sorbent material and its chemical properties. The information available on material datasheets is often inadequate and the type of protective equipment to use is not always clearly stated. Therefore the BSIF, in conjunction with a number of stakeholders including the Environment Agency, has developed a guidance document to assist Emergency Services and other industrial users of liquid chemicals select the most appropriate sorbent to deal with liquid spills.

As these products are not regulated selecting appropriate sorbents with just reference to manufacturer's claims can be confusing. Through ongoing work with other representatives such as the Environment Agency, the Fire Services and the MoD, the BSIF is working towards the development of a specialist performance standard for sorbents. By using part 4 of BS 7959 as drafted by the BSIF, sorbent performance will be judged on standardised criteria making it is easier for those needing to select products to evaluate the type and quantity they require.

Alan McArthur, technical specialist for 3M, comments: "It is essential for companies working with hazardous liquids to be prepared for the worst however it is also important for them to be realistic. The level of hazard varies significantly in different locations due to different liquids, handling and storage facilities nevertheless, unless in extraordinary circumstances it is very rare that all the chemicals on site will be spilt and therefore spills will be manageable and can be predicted to some extent.

Through accurate planning employers should ensure that there will be suitable PPE and sorbents onsite to handle emergency spills of liquid chemicals and an adequate quantity to deal with predicted spills." The BSIF aims to provide correct and easily understandable performance information to assist users to have adequate sorbent stock to deal with predicted emergency spills and ultimately speed up emergency responses and reduce injury. For any queries or further guidance regarding this article please do not hesitate to contact us.