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How prepared are your teams and facilities for chemical spills?

Chemical spills are a worst case scenario, but being prepared for them is a vital part of chemical safety. Even the most careful, seasoned operators can still spill chemicals. What’s more, a chemical spill isn’t always the direct result of human error or a violation of COSHH.

Chemical spills are more common than we realise. A 2023 report found that there were over 100 chemical and toxic waste leaks in NHS hospitals in just one year.

In this guide, we will walk you through the impact of chemical spills and provide a short checklist to compare to your current chemical risk management plan to ensure you’re prepared for a spill.

What are the Most Dangerous Chemicals to Spill?

If you store regulated chemicals and gases, then you understand that there’s no such thing as a “safe” chemical. There are degrees of risk involved in using every chemical that depend on the chemical’s properties, the volume of chemical spilled, the facility, and your team’s preparedness.

Is there a chemical that can be considered the most dangerous chemical to spill?

There is no one ‘most dangerous’ chemical. However, you must be particularly careful when you produce, store, or use chemicals with the following properties:

  • Carcinogenic
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • High toxicity upon contact
  • Corrosive

Additionally, these chemicals are often considered to be particularly high risk:

  • Aromatic Amines
  • Arsenic Trioxide
  • Bromines
  • Carbon Disulfide
  • Chlorine
  • Cyanides
  • Ethers
  • Hydrazine
  • Hydrogen Cyanide
  • Nitriles
  • Nitro-Compounds
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Organic Halides
  • Phosgene
  • Potassium Cyanide
  • Sodium Arsenate
  • Sodium Cyanide

All chemicals can cause damage without the appropriate precautions. However, the most common chemical injuries come from five common chemicals that are most likely to be spilled and cause injuries:

  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Ammonia
  • Chlorine
  • Hydrochloric Acid
  • Sulfuric Acid

Effectively managing and mitigating the risks of chemical spills is a requirement of anyone working with chemicals. Read our blog piece to learn more.

Chemical Spills: Understanding the Impact

Chemical spills are particularly risky because each chemical requires a tailored response. The impact of chemical spills can be broken down to three major groups:

  • Immediate injury to present parties: Chemical burns, illness, and even fatalities are possible depending on the type of hazard a chemical or gas presents.
  • Fires and explosions: A spill or leak of highly flammable chemicals can result in fire or explosions, which threatens everyone in the immediate area and can leave lasting impacts on the local environment. Additionally, a fire that reaches chemicals that aren’t stored appropriately can then cause the fire to spread quickly. Toxic black smoke and vapours are also a risk in the event of a fire or chemical spill.
  • Contamination: Spilled chemicals that enter the wrong drainage system can run-off into soil or waterways, which damage ecosystems and biodiversity. When this occurs, the same chemicals can return to the human food web, as food sources like cattle, sheep, wildfowl, and fish access these chemicals. These can be long-term issues for the environment, particularly if you are working with PFAS (poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances), also known as “forever chemicals”.

In a worst case scenario, the impact of a chemical spill can live on for generations.

How to Manage the Risk of a Chemical Spill

There is no safe chemical to spill, so it’s important that you mitigate the impact of a spill before it happens, so you can quickly manage the clean up process and minimise potential damage.

  1. Design and practice an evacuation plan: The best way to manage the risk of a chemical spill is to ensure as few people as possible are exposed. Know how to evacuate all non-essential persons from the area quickly.
  2. Know when to contact emergency response: Not all chemicals require emergency response, but a large spill or a spill of flammable, volatile, or highly toxic chemicals requires an emergency response team to not only clean the spill, but minimise the likelihood of fires, explosions, or contamination.
  3. Maintain a spill kit on site: For chemicals that can be handled by your team, ensure a spill kit is available and fully stocked with the materials for the hazardous substances in use on your premises.
  4. Training: Train staff to deal with small spills using appropriate Spill Kits and with the measures required to be taken for a large volume spill.
  5. Regularly test emergency equipment: Ensure emergency showers and eyewashes are accessible and functioning.
  6. Contain Spills: Chemical spills don’t just occur when in use or in transit. They can also spill in storage. All chemicals should be stored on bunds or in bunded chemical stores which will ensure that the spillage is contained, thereby reducing the risk to personnel and the environment.

Using safe chemical storage is vital for minimising the risk of a spill or leak while the chemicals are at rest.

At Safety Storage Systems, we have over 20 years of experience in designing safe chemical storage systems that meet and exceed COSHH requirements. We work with industries with the strictest compliance requirements, like the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. Contact us today to learn how we can help you source the best solution for your chemical storage needs.