October 10, 2017

Spills – a risk that cannot be ignored

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Nowadays it is more important than ever for companies to take their environmental responsibilities seriously and ensure that they take all necessary measures so that their site is compliant with regulations. Any hazardous spillage incident that occurs may not only lead to financial penalties but could also prove damaging for a company’s reputation.  Nicola Parkerpayne, spill response manager at leading waste management services provider, Biffa, gives her insights and tips on the issue of spill control in the UK.


Just one drop of oil can make up to 25 litres of water unfit for drinking. That’s the scale of impact that even small accidents can have on public health and the environment. With this in mind, it is clear that sites that store liquids must be vigilant at all times to avoid spills, leakages and any other kind of contamination. In order to minimise the risks of such hazards as much as possible there are a number of factors that must be taken into consideration.


Storage and drains

Any business that stores more than 205l of liquid needs to ensure it is stored correctly and has the right products on site to keep any spills contained, such as absorbents or spill kits. If the necessary equipment is not available to prevent spills and pollutants escaping into drains and waterways, you could face heavy fines and more serious punishments.


Ensuring that all staff are fully trained in properly maintaining all liquid containers, pipes and seals to prevent vulnerable areas from causing issues is one simple, yet vital step towards spill prevention.


A common misconception is that only hazardous chemicals cause harm, but you can’t let anything other than clean water run-off into drains and rivers or allow them to be absorbed in to soft ground. Many seemingly ordinary things, such as milk, can have a very negative impact on aquatic life if they leak.


Spill risks are everywhere. From leaks caused by manufacturing processes to overfilled tanks.  Because of this, it’s essential to have an up-to-date drainage plan of your site to verify which drains are for surface water and which are foul, as well as a process and products in place to protect them.  


What’s the plan?

In the unlikely event that a spill does occur it is imperative to be prepared and have a comprehensive plan in place to deal with the incident. All staff on site should be aware of what to do in the case of an emergency and be trained how to use the equipment and spill control products.

Companies can also bring in an external waste company, such as Biffa, to perform an on-site spill risk audit. This will help to identify where the specific spill risks could arise and training all staff on how to deal with them in the extreme case that a spill incident does take place.


A heavy price to pay

To cause or allow pollution is against the law and customers are increasingly turning their backs on businesses that don’t take their environmental responsibilities seriously. If the Environment Agency finds a business has caused pollution, they can prosecute or launch a civil sanction, which may result in heavy fines.


Magistrates’ courts can impose fines of up to £50,000 for pollution offences and, if a case goes to Crown Court, there’s no limit to the fine and there could also be a prison sentence.


A pollution incident costs an average of £30,000 for businesses in fines, clean-up charges and production losses and there may also be numerous remediation costs, such as removing contaminated land or cleaning up groundwater, which can cost tens of thousands, if not millions, of pounds. In most cases, standard liability insurance won’t cover this.


Businesses need to take spill control seriously or they risk throwing money and their reputation down the drain. By taking the necessary precaution and having a plan in place, the worst case scenario can be avoided.

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