Safety Services


Responding to chemical spills

When working with hazardous chemicals, your risk assessment should consider the risk of spills and plan control measures to prevent AND clear up small and large spills carefully.

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Clean up spills as quickly as possible 

All spills should be cleaned up as quickly as possible, even if it is a non-hazardous substance as it will be a slip hazard.​
However​, if you do not know how to clean up a hazardous chemical you may make it worse. 

You should always : 

  1. Get your self safe​
  2. Stop anyone else from going near the spill ​(warning signs, lock the door etc)​
  3. Get help​

How to lower spill risks

Good housekeeping
  • Keep the walkways clear​.
  • Keep benches and other work spaces uncluttered​.
  • Keep lids.
  • Keep waste in suitable containers and empty at suitable intervals​.
Good storage
  • Keep items bunded, double contained as appropriate​.
  • Check containers and secondary containers regularly for deterioration and ageing​.
  • Follow good storage procedure to limited risky manual handling (heaviest and most used item to be kept at chest / waist height.​
Good preparation for the procedure
  • Minimise the amount of movement with uncovered / unbounded items.
  • Minimise the amount of substance that is moved in one go​.
  • Use manual handling aids, appropriate carriers for the items being moved​.
  • If a substance has to be moved, and diluted, if possible move the diluted solution rather than move the concentrated solution.​
Good people - competent (trained and experienced)
  • Local Induction should state what spill training is required​.
  • All training should be recorded both with the departmental records and in the individuals own records.​
  • If refresher training or taking part in drills is required this should also be recorded along with the dates that it occurs and who ran the training / drill ​

Planning for spills and ​having a spill procedure, means action can be taken quicker, lowering the consequences. 

How to plan for spills 

Ensure that the spill will be found as soon as possible​
  • Not all spill will be liquids - is a gas leak is possible, or the liquid could evaporate and causes a respiratory hazard, air monitoring or gas alarms may be appropriate.​
  • Other ways to note if a spill has occurred include temperature alarms, marking the level of substance left after each use.
  • Working on a surface /bund that will indicate if the spill has occurred or carrying out visual checks of the work area after suitable intervals as well as on entering and before leaving the area. 
Ensure the method to notify all required parties​

This will depend on the substance spilt and your departmental O&A. Larger or more hazardous spills will be planned for in your department and your department may have decided that a spill response team is necessary if so the O&A should cover;​

  • Who is on the team​
  • How to contact them​
  • How to quarantine the area until they arrive ​
  • How to keep yourself safe​
  • How to keep everyone else safe​
  • Who else to contact.​
Know where to find the right spill kit​

For larger soil and those that require a spill team, the spill kit should be:

  • Readily accessible​.
  • Does not require entering the area where the spill is most likely to have happened​.
  • Signposted​.

For smaller spills or specific substances, the spill kit should be: 

  • Readily accessible​.
  • Near the most likelihood of spill and at the very least the same floor​.
  • Signposted including if necessary the substance it should be used for​.
Protect yourself​
  • Training this could be departmental specific. spill kit specific or substance-specific.​
  • Like with fire do not deal with it yourself unless trained and you are confident in what you and doing.
  • Always get help before putting yourself in areas where there could be danger​.
  • Always wear the correct PPE. This needs to suitable for the type of substance you are dealing with and to fit you, so not to add the risk from slips / trips or manual handling while cleaning up the spill.​
Minimise the risk of a pollution incident​

In areas that spill are likely to happen. Routes that could affect, the air, water system or ground have to be prevented when a spill occurs​. 

For unbounded spills: 

  • Know where any floor drains are and check to see if the emergency shower has one​.
  • What is the ventilation? Will gas escape untreated, (through a window or through fume cupboards ducts) - most fume cupboards will dilute the gas but not neutralise the hazardous nature. ​
  • If the spill has gone down a sink, what is the correct procedure? Although the waterboard may be able to cope with some contamination, will the plastic pipework in the UCL’s system be able to cope?​
Deal with the waste in an appropriate manner​

Spill kits will produce waste, however, there will be a difference between gross contamination which will need to be treated in the same manner as the waste substance and minor contamination which may not. Consult both the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), the spill kit instruction and make it clear in the procedure what waste goes way including if and when double bagging of waste is required. ​

This may not be a department-wide procedure, it may be a lab-based procedure depending on the substances in the lab and the work carried out in the lab. Always consult the lab / area manager or relevant staff member before working in the area for the first time to check to see if such a procedure is in place. ​

If the spill procedure is specific to your work / project your risk assessment should cover these details and you should ensure that the lab / area manager is aware of the details and consult with them who else should be on the distribution list. ​ 

Identify a responsible person

Have a stated role/named person responsible for checking the kit is in date and replenished after use including drills​.

Know what is in the spill kit

Premade spill kits can be brought however which one is the most appropriate will depend on the substance, amount and location of the spill however the following items should be included;​

An absorbent material - could be granules, mats, sand or absorbent socks. The material will be placed over, in next the spill and soak it up prevent it spreading and making the clean up easier. If you are working with a rig and the spill or leak is likely to come from pipework you can get absorbent socks that can be tied around the leak / hole. ​

Neutralising substance – this is substance-specific, but for some spills, the substance will have to be neutralised or made less hazardous before it can enter any waste stream. This must be covered in the risk assessment and the necessary chemicals either kept with the spill kit or if the neutralising substance has a short life, the components and instruction on how to make it kept with the spill kit.​

Movable bunds – Can the leaking item be placed somewhere to hold the spill, bunds can be made from absorbent socks (placed around an open drain to prevent pollution) or there are specific bends that can be brought that be constructed around the item anything from a bottle to an intermediate bulk container (IMC) to an entire tanker.​

Specific PPE this could include, shoe covers, positive pressure RPE (negative pressure will require personal issue and face fitting)​

Additional items such as broom, dustpan and brush and the correct waste bags. Do not use the general-purpose items, they will become contaminated, brooms and mops with disposable heads are available and when dealing with most substances should be used and then treated as gross contaminated waste. ​​

Spill drills

Where a there are specific procedures, equipment for a spill or when action needs to taken quickly to ensure minimum exposure, the spill team, working group or individual should run drills at regular intervals (at least once during the duration of the work / once a year). This will ensure that the process is known and effective if it is ever needed.

Last updated: Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Further guidance

> Spills
> Risk Assessment​