Once you have assessed the liquid spill, including potential hazards to staff and equipment, your next step should be to select the appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) for your responders addressing the spill.
It’s the responsibility of the employer to provide responders with the correct PPE equipment (and training) to protect themselves from hazards as outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, section 19: General provisions relating to occupational safety and health.
If not properly addressed employers may face penalties.
Types of PPE Equipment
PPE Equipment comes in a variety of forms, when addressing liquid spills this would normally include:
- Respiratory protection: respirators
Respirators protect the responder from breathing in dangerous fumes or vapors. Respirators come in a variety of levels including disposable, cartridge, full and half face options.
- Eye Protection: face masks, goggles, eye showers
These protect the responder from splashes of liquid on the skin or protection the eyes from hazardous fumes and liquids.
- Hand Protection: gloves
Protects the hands from burns or absorption of hazardous liquids.
- Foot Protection: boots
Protect responders feet from exposure to hazardous materials
- Skin Protection: protective suits, long sleeved clothing
Different levels of protective suits are available depending on the level of risk to the responder and offer protection from vapors and hazardous material splashes on the skin.
Additional PPE equipment may include protection for hearing (ear muffs) and head protection (safety helmets) and a range of specialised equipment for specific industries e.g. fire retardant clothes for dealing with flammables.
Safety Data Sheets
Safety data sheets (material safety data sheets, product safety data sheets) provide occupational health and safety information for hazardous products and are the responsibility of the manufacturer to provide and must be provided to the workplace when a hazardous material is supplied or in the event that the SDS has been updated or amended.
They must include the following:
- The identity and ingredients of the product
- Potential hazards
- Correct handling procedures
- Disposal procedures
- Emergency procedures
SDS are important for cataloging information on liquid chemicals and compounds, and help form the basis of any spill response and selection of PPE equipment for managing spills. They are not required if the product is not hazardous in any capacity.
While it’s beyond the scope of this guide to list the correct PPE equipment for each type of liquid spill you may experience, employers should be aware of their responsibility to their staff with regard to PPE equipment and should also be familiar with the SDS for any hazardous liquid material stored within the workplace.
It’s also important to remember that some spills, depending on the contaminant and scale of the spill are best left to emergency responders such as fire brigade or other emergency services.
It should be recognised that in some cases it won’t be safe to send personal into a spill area. Sites that hold high volumes of potential contaminants should have shut down systems in place such as spill response systems, holding tanks and bunds to contain the spill and stop it spreading while the emergency responders mobilise to the site. For example a 10000L fuel spill close to a major river should not be handled in house. In this instance the fire brigade, council or emergency responders within council should be called.