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Hazardous materials spills occur in many workplaces throughout Canada. They can occur indoors or outdoors and often lead to harmful outcomes when the response is not executed properly. Human health is the most important concern when responding to a spill situation. After health risks have been assessed the environment becomes the next priority. In order to understand the proper response to a spill situation and to minimize risks to human health and the environment, personnel should be trained in spill prevention and response.

Responding to a workplace spill

Knowing How to Respond to a Spill Can Save Your Business Money

Spill response training does not only teach the techniques which should be used during the clean up of a spill. It also teaches the importance of assessing risks in spill situations in order to minimize hazards which could result from cleaning the spill. Human health should always be the first factor assessed in any emergency situation. In all spill scenarios the product must be identified before a response can be safely executed.

In some situations identification is easy, such as when a product is spilled during use. Workers should easily identify the product which they were using at the time of the spill. In other cases it is not so easy, such as if a unlabelled drum were leaking. If the identity of a product is not known, do not respond to the spill because the response in such situations may not be safe.

There are several identification systems which can be used to categorize hazardous materials depending on where they are being used, if they are in transport and how they are being stored. Knowing how to identify product properties by their WHMIS label, TDG placards or consumer labels will help to minimize risks to human health. After the product has been identified it is important to determine what the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is for the product which has spilled.

Not all hazardous materials require the same PPE, the proper equipment for each product can be found on the MSDS. There is no PPE which is adequate for all types of spills. Once the risks to human health have been assessed you can move on to assessing risks to the environment. Proper spill response can save employers from dealing with the costly repercussions which can result from spills. If spills do damage to the environment the costs to rehabilitate the area can be astronomical.  The fines which could follow can be extremely costly as the Canadian National Railroad discovered in March of 2011.

Ensuring your employees know and understand the proper procedures to follow when a spill occurs can make all of the difference. Carefully assessing the surrounding environment where a spill has occurred will enable responders to minimize the risk of causing environmental damage. Knowing the environmental features which are most sensitive to spills is a priority when trying to mitigate the effects of a spill. Does your company know how to minimize the risks to human health and the environment when cleaning up spills?

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