Hunt and Gather
By Jason Contant
Leaving worker safety to chance in environments where spills are possible is not an option. For those tasked with clean-up and containment -- whether a spill is as simple as an oil drip from a machine...
Leaving worker safety to chance in environments where spills are possible is not an option. For those tasked with clean-up and containment — whether a spill is as simple as an oil drip from a machine or as complex as clearing all remnants of a corrosive and toxic chemical — a well-thought-out spill response plan is in order.
But a plan only takes safety so far; it must be complemented by work procedures and gear appropriate to help contain, clean up and dispose of spills.
For companies in the market for spill response products, a good starting point is to analyze the work environment and identify any tasks that may end in spills. From there, experts suggest that other considerations include the following: flammability of the spilled product (if applicable); if a chemical can be neutralized; secondary containment issues (such as spill pallets or berms that can be used to help prevent a substance from spreading); type, characteristics and chemical-resistance capabilities of protective equipment (such as gloves) included in spill kits; methods to minimize the environmental impact of a spill; and a review of procedures to prevent releases and improve spill response.
The staggering number of workplace chemicals and the breadth of consequences that industrial spills can produce make choosing the right combination of equipment and products a tall order. So how do employers go about making the right decision?
Mike Dodd, customer service supervisor for Can-Ross Environmental Services Ltd. in Oakville, Ontario, recommends narrowing the options by reviewing which needs must be met. Will the product be used for oils? Will the product be used for chemicals? If so, which chemicals? Are the chemicals flammable or combustible?
Once the substance has been identified, resources necessary for an effective response will change in step with the size of the spill. Advice is a little light on specific procedures, but a basic caution is as follows: “If you have a spill, it’s your duty to react to it and mitigate,” says Rick Beecham, an inside sales specialist at Pacesetter Sales & Associates in Sharon, Ontario.
Beecham offers the following pointers:
-remove unauthorized personnel and ensure that no one enters or comes into contact with the spill;
-if outdoors, considerthepossibleimpactof theelements, such as rain and wind;
-if the substance is flammable, ignition sources must be controlled and the area ventilated;
-when dealing with an acid or caustic, determine if the spill will be neutralized first (only practical for smaller spills);
-work from the perimeter to contain the spill and ensure its source is blocked (for example, by plugging a tank or turning off a valve); and,
-if required, reportthespilltotheappropriateauthorities.
KIT AND KABOODLE
Spill kits are meant to help contain spills within the first few minutes, and come in various forms and sizes. Gator International in Penticton, British Columbia offers both vehicular spill kits, which are compact enough to fit behind or under a seat, and kits more suited to industrial environments.
Vehicle kits provide users with containers for spilled substances, pads to absorb most hydrocarbons, a sock made of a 100 per cent cellulose material for all types of liquid, a chemical-resistant dust mask, chemical-resistant safety goggles, neoprene on latex gloves, disposal bags with tie wraps, a whist broom and dust pan, and assorted wooden plugs.
The bigger and more potentially complicated the spill, the more enhanced the kit’s contents. Gator’s “national guard” kit, for example, includes among its contents: a poly drum with a lid and lock ring, a box of latex chemical gloves, coveralls, eyewash, goggles, a broom, an alarm horn, duct tape, a first aid kit, and a bag of assorted wooden plugs.
IN THE FLOW
With regard to liquids, depending on the type spilled, it may be possible to neutralize or absorb the liquid. One option is to sprinkle a granular absorbent onto the spill and sweep it up; another is to soak up the spill using a different type of absorbent, such as a pad that captures and contains the material within its fibres.
The latter option works like a sponge and is available in many grades, with fibres ranging from fine to coarse. Dodd likens this method to a spider web. “The fibres are twined together and the coarser that twine is, the less it’s going to hold because [oil, for instance] will kind of wick through,” he says. A more tightly knit fine fibre will hold more.
When selecting an absorbent, however, Beecham advises that care must be taken if the work environment contains flammable or combustible liquids. “You probably don’t want to use any of the organic materials like sawdust or peat moss because they may add to the flammability issue,” he cautions.
Bill Robins, president of Cartier Chemicals Ltd. in Montreal, says there’s a downside to using absorbents to clean up flammable or other spills as opposed to neutralizing them. Typically, acids and bases (the latter known as alkaline substances) can be neutralized, but not flammable materials, Robins reports.
Absorbents — one option being polymeric-type sheets — may be applied to the spill, he says. But since they may work like sponges and fail to fully absorb the liquid, when “you lift them up, they drip all over the place,” says Robins.
The sheets are then placed in a bag, in which the liquid may leak and collect, opening the door to contamination spreading. “Every bit of handling has a risk involved with spillage,” he warns.
Then there are neutralizers. The rule of thumb is “if you have an acid spill, you use something that is alkaline; if you have an alkaline spill, you use something that is acid.”
The neutralizer need not be complicated. If an acid spills, says Robins, “mild alkaline materials, even something like bicarbonate soda, could be used, but it’s messy.”
Lauri Solsberg, president of Counterspil Research Inc. in North Vancouver, reports that soda ash is often applied to acids, with spill kits containing colour-indicator systems to demonstrate when neutralization has reached a safe level.
By using dedicated neutralizers, as opposed to the “old system” of throwing a bag of material onto a spill, worker safety can be enhanced, Robins argues.
Neutralization is an effective and practical way to handle spills of 205 litres or less, he says. “Every agent you might spill has a neutralizer that is relatively optimal for dealing with it safely.”
NICE AND CONTAINED
Once a spill has been contained and cleaned up, it is then time to consider any secondary containment products — such as pallets or berms — designed to prevent hazardous materials from spreading during transport, storage or unloading.
Spill Killer Environmental Products Ltd., based in Calgary, offers a wide array of berms and absorbents. For instance, the company’s Mini-Berm spill trays are suitable for leaky vehicle or aircraft fittings during repair, and Insta-Berm can be used with containers of liquids such as fertilizers, pesticides, paints and solvents.
The company’s absorbents come in both indoor and outdoor versions, and are also available in granular socks and granular supersocks.
Consider a forklift hitting a 55-gallon (208-litre) drum of hazardous liquid. A spill pallet could be used to prevent liquid from entering the factory drain, for example, because it is contained within a sump inside the pallet, says Patricia Maruszak, manager of marketing and communications for Justrite Manufacturing Company in Des Plaines, Illinois.
The company notes the pallets are usually constructed of steel or polyethylene. The latter is capable of withstanding “the toughest environments,” making them “nearly impervious to chemical attack.”
Although steel pallets are sometimes preferred in workplaces like steel mills, railyards, naval stations, shipyards and the military, Maruszak points out that the “real” driving factor in th
e marketplace is price, with steel typically costing about two to two-and-a-half times more than polyethylene. “From a functional standpoint, they work the same and both are durable.”
Beecham, for his part, might be considered a steel man. Over the course of his career, he reports having conducted fire demonstrations where the containment “was steel and it was used many times without any particular failure.” There are customers who store flammable liquids on polyethylene, he says, but if “I were storing extremely flammable material, [like] drums of liquid, I would prefer steel.”
Another necessary check when storing, handling or cleaning up a spill is personal protective equipment. Knowing which classes of chemicals workers will handle — be they fuels, acids or caustics — will go a long way in helping employers understand the type of gloves and spill kits that are necessary to get the job done, says Joe Geng, vice-president of Superior Glove Works Ltd. in Acton, Ontario.
Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) can be a good starting point, says Michael Everett, general manager of Showa-Best Glove Inc. in Coaticook, Quebec, but he offers a caution: “Often MSDS sheets will just say, ‘use protective gloves,’ so that leaves people hanging sometimes.”
When dealing with solvents, Everett says if the solvent is a mixture of toluene, acetone and another chemical, one glove might work for two chemicals, but not the third. In that case, the user should go with gear designed to protect against the most dangerous chemical, he says.
“A lot of people just like to say, ‘Can you not give me one glove for everything and it will solve the problem?'” Everett says. That may not be possible, he notes, though if pressed to recommend one material, he would go with neoprene.
Chemical-resistant gloves are made from a variety of materials — natural rubber, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), nitrile, neoprene, butyl and butyl-viton, to name a few — and offer distinct advantages and disadvantages, Geng notes.
Rubber is flexible, comfortable and inexpensive “and it works fairly well with some types of acids,” says Everett, but not very well at all with hydrocarbons, oils or greases. For these, PVC serves as a better fit, as it offers a bit more chemical resistance.
Still, says Geng, PVC is not an ideal choice for spill kits. Nitrile, a synthetic rubber, provides a wide range of chemical resistance and is a safer bet for fuels like diesel and gasoline.
Neoprene, for its part, provides good chemical resistance for acids, caustics and hydrocarbons. It is chlorine-based, making it an option for workplaces dealing with flammable chemicals, Everett suggests. The downside may be that neoprene does not provide strong abrasion resistance.
Butyl and butyl-viton gloves are recommended for major “contaminations that are considered seriously harmful or potentially fatal,” Geng says. The option, albeit expensive and less comfortable, offers a broader range of chemical resistance than nitrile or neoprene.
The lifespan of gloves varies greatly depending on their type and the chemicals used. “In certain chemicals, some gloves will only last a few minutes; for another chemical, they can last for hours,” says Geng.
The good news, at least in the forestry industry and parts of the petroleum sector in British Columbia, is that small spills have been “increasingly declining” with worker awareness and training, says Solsberg. And less is often more, especially when worker safety is on the line.
Jason Contant is editor of CANADIAN OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH & SAFETY NEWS.