Dealing With Oil Spills In The Workplace

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oil spills at work

When the average person hears the words “oil spill” they often think about major oil spills that affected communities or major sections of water or mainlands. But for American industrial workers and a range of other professionals, “oil spill” can also refer to a smaller oil spill or leak at their place of work.

Oil spills qualify as one of the most common workplace spills thanks to oil’s popularity as a fuel and substance for machines. Forklifts, trucks, industrial equipment, and workplace vehicles are just a few examples of things on the job that require oil for proper use. With this popularity comes a range of common questions about oil, oil spills and how to deal with them.

Why are oil spills in the workplace such a big deal?

News outlets often highlight how oil spills harm oceans and other natural areas after a spill but rarely talk about the dangers of oil spills at work. While oil isn’t considered as toxic as some chemicals, it can still be a serious risk to people.

  • Oil creates a slick surface that can cause serious falls and injuries.
  • Oil is a highly flammable substance that can ignite under the right circumstances, especially if it begins to vaporize.
  • Longer or repeated exposure to oil vapors can affect a person’s ability to smell and taste. High levels of exposure can also cause headaches, nausea, and lightheadedness, as well as lead to poor coordination, increased blood pressure and difficulty concentrating.
  • Oil that touches the skin can cause painful reactions such as itchiness, redness, pain, blisters, and peeling.
  • Other chemicals in the oil vapor can potentially increase an individual’s risk of developing certain cancers and may even affect several organ systems.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has summarized the risks from oil spills as such: “Oil spill cleanup workers can face potential hazards from oil byproducts, dispersants, detergents, and degreasers.”

How can companies prepare for oil spill clean-up?

Ask any safety expert about how to address a spill at work and they’ll most likely tell you to do two things – to proactively try to prevent spills, and to protect yourself and your workers first should they happen. Not only do safety experts agree that this is the best approach – it’s the law. According to the, “Creating and implementing a spill prevention control and countermeasure plan is required by the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent the discharge of oil and spills. An SPCC plan should identify proactive measures to prevent a spill from occurring or reaching the environment. In addition to meeting EPA regulations, an SPCC plan can help prevent slips, trips and falls from occurring within your work environment.”

This means that the first thing a company needs to do is develop a proactive preventative approach, complete with a prevention, control and countermeasure plan. Historically too many businesses that worked near oil assumed that they’d never deal with a spill. Businesses working under this mindset often found – and still find – themselves dealing with serious oil spills and paying the costs of employee injuries, environmental damages and more when they happen. Rather than assuming a spill won’t happen, businesses should work to prevent them and prepare for when they do happen. This means:

  • Situating and storing oil drums and containers safely – and ideally in a Secondary Containment System.
  • Developing a proper spill prevention plan that helps contain oil spills at their source thereby helping cut down on possible fines and reduce the chances of employees tripping or slipping.
  • Providing and stocking enough of the correct response equipment – including spill kits, spill containment items, absorbent products, and other spill response tools –  at your worksite so you can address every possible situation as it happens.

The second thing a company needs to do is ensure that it protects its employees. Sometimes spills happen despite the best and most thorough preventative measures. Should this happen it’s not enough to have a spill prevention plan developed. Workers need to know what to do: how to respond and to keep themselves safe. This means that all employees should receive safety and spill clean-up training on a regular basis. Proper training will ensure that spills are promptly cleaned and little to no injuries occur as a result of them.

I’ve cleaned up the oil spill at my workplace – the danger’s passed, right?

Not necessarily. Depending on the type of absorbent product you used to clean up that oil spill you’ll need to consider your disposal options very carefully to avoid polluting your local dump and even community. Many absorbent product options don’t hold on to absorbed substances for long, which can cause oil leaks and spills later on after the product has been disposed of. EPA guidelines require absorbent products, rags and other materials be properly disposed of separately from main trash bins. Fortunately there are decent absorbent product options like SpillFix available today that will ensure that a cleaned oil spill remains clean – and will help save you time and money during the cleanup process itself! Always check local laws before disposing of used absorbent product and cleaning materials after an oil spill.

Oil spills aren’t to be taken lightly and require proper preparation on a company’s behalf. Fortunately following these basic safety steps will ensure that no one is hurt and your company can continue operating on a normal schedule, and there are lots of resources available today to help companies develop a proper spill prevention plan and strategy.

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