Spill Risks: How to Manage Spills in the Workplace

In January 2014, a chemical spill at the Australian Post International mail centre in Sydney lead to the hospitalisation of one person. The spill was due to a leakage of more than a litre of corrosive solvent. In February of this year, acid leaking from a jar stored in a laboratory prompted 200 people to evacuate the Australian Catholic University. This June, another chemical spill occurred in an industrial estate at Tomago.

These incidents could have been disastrous if not for the quick response of emergency teams. Chemical spills in workplaces come with serious risks if staff are not familiar with emergency response kits. Even in small amounts, chemical and industrial leaks can be dangerous. In some cases, these could even be harder to manage when occurring outside of contained areas or when leaking into the ocean. Let’s discuss incident management inside workplaces.

Workplace Spills: Statistics


Back in 2014, the US state of West Virginia warned 300, 000 people against drinking tap water after a foaming agent from a coal preparation process leaked from the Freedom Industries factory into the river. This incident is one example of a chemical leak getting out of control. This kind of event could prove disastrous to a business and may cause panic among many.

In the US, 9% of fatal injuries are due to exposure to harmful substances or environments. From the same source of data, respiratory protection ranked at 4th for the most violated standards among industries. Respiratory protection as well as protective clothing during leak emergencies are often overlooked resulting in a much higher risk factor.

In occurrences like this, the lack of disaster recovery plans can affect businesses and not only endanger the health of workers, but also those people living near the facility as well. One in ten businesses says they have experienced business loss because of the lack of a disaster recovery plan. To add to this, an employee claim can range up to $82, 382 (USD) while taking the worker away from work for more than a month. This expenditure from spill incidents may even change or increase based on different industry standards.

With disaster and emergency recovery plans, health risks can be spared and businesses can also be spared from high claims and employee service loss. The American Red Cross recommends three ways to be prepared for chemical leaks and other accidents taking place in the workplace:

  1. get a spill kit
  2. make a plan
  3. be informed

These pointers will help you to manage workplace risks in the case of an accidents. For more specific management tips, read on below.

Managing spill risks

Ireland’s Health and Safety Authority outlines the best possible way to address chemical spills and leaks in the workplace. It was summed up into 6 steps: Identify, Prevent, Contain, Detect, Cordon and Remove.

Screenshot Credits: Health and Safety Authority

Identify Spill Risks

Within a workplace there will be departments that are more prone to chemical or other liquid spills, including laboratories or storage areas. Workplaces should analyse these areas to ensure there is no danger of spills happening.

Chemical spills often occur at a higher rate in places where slips and falls also happen. These trip-prone places may contain liquids and chemicals that can cause the floor or area to be slippery if they were to fall over.

Emergency management should consider a thorough survey of problem areas. Not only the workers but the equipment should be checked to localise the possible spill risks. Some spill risks may be more hazardous than others and so different areas may need different emergency plans.

Prevent Spills

After the survey of spill-prone places and equipment, there are plenty of things management can do to help minimise – if not completely stop – incidents. Modifying liquid containers can help prevent spills as well as storing these hazardous liquids away from walkways and places where people frequently pass. Other suggestions include the use of mats or cushions surrounding the cabinet or shelves containing chemicals to cushion a fall and reduce the risk of breakage.

Contain Spills

If a spill was not prevented despite efforts in the previous step, the next stage in the management and control cycle includes the containment of the hazardous spill.

Provide storage to contain the spills like floor mats or buckets. Drains in areas where spills often occur are one best ways to manage the problem.

Detect Spills

Monitor spills in any way you can. When spills can’t be avoided in workplaces that cater to mostly liquid products, make sure a regular monitoring routine is put into place. Monitors should be armed with a checklist of safety regulations as well as knowledge of emergency procedures and ‘what-to-do’s in case a spill gets out of hand.

Cordon Spills

If a spill happens in a place where people frequent, cordoning to avoid further contact is the best solution. The spill should be removed using absorbent materials provided in spill kits. In the case of large spills, the best way to control it is to cordon it off and place danger signs around the area to deter people from getting too close or passing through the affected area.

Remove Spills

Removing spills means to ensure there is nothing left of the liquid substance in the area. Surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned and dried and the source of the spill should be addressed right away. One should first identify the location of the spill, pinpoint the area where cordoning is needed and use a spill kit as soon as possible. Spills should be dealt with right away. In case of an emergency, absorbent materials should be used to soak up the spill. Spill kits should always be kept in stock and cleaners should wear slip-resistant footwear to avoid further accidents.

Cleaning Spills: Considerations

Not all spills can be cleaned right away. If the spilled material is a very small amount or is a non-harmful liquid like water a squeegee vacuum and absorbent materials can work right away. For harmful liquids the best method for cleaning is the use of a spill kit or multiple spill kits and a good emergency management plan.

Spill Reporting

Spill reporting is the next thing a company should do. Reporting a spill to authorities may mean you can get proper first aid and containment if your workplace needs some extra help.

Spill reporting should include the following:

  1. Substance involved. Different substances require different cleaning methods and first aid. Authorities may need to know the substance involved in the spill to provide the best emergency response. The more hazardous the substance, the more precautions need to be implemented.
  2. Location of the spill. Give the location of the spill as accurately as possible while cordoning it off if safe to do so.
  3. Size of the spill. Make sure you give an estimate of the spill size. The bigger the spill, the more equipment and workers needed to subdue it.
  4. Rate of flow. The rate of flow can give a lot of detail about the dangers presented by the spill. It will give emergency teams a sense of the level of emergency.
  5. Known exposures. Known exposures should be reported right away to provide proper first aid. Together with the disaster response team, medics will be present to help contain the problem.


Small scale workplace spills can be managed by an on-site emergency response team. However, if a large spill involving harmful chemicals occurs, emergency services should be contacted right away. Even if your industry is at a low risk of spills, it’s still important to ensure spill kits are at hand.

Image credit: Gemplers


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