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Lifting the Lid on Hazardous Spills

12 Aug 2008


A basic and effective spill kit

Motors and mechanical parts should always be covered and contained

Even small spills can contaminate local streams and kill wildlife


Hazardous spills cost the automotive industry thousands of dollars each year in fines, clean up costs and loss of earnings. When working with cars it is impossible to avoid some contact with potentially hazardous materials, but what is the best way to protect your business, employees and the environment? MPD talked to spill expert Peter Conway from Spill Response NZ to find out.

What constitutes a hazardous spill?

A discharge of anything that could harm staff, property or the environment. It could be solids, liquids or gasses. Many people think a spill is only liquids and requires a large volume - it isn't. A hazardous spill could actually be a very small amount but still cause major harm for example, imagine a cup or so of battery acid spilt on something and you sit in it. A spill does not have to be a one-off emergency either, a vessel that has been leaking slowly over time is just as much of concern.

For mechanics and panel beaters what are some of the specialised hazards to watch out for?

Untrained staff contribute vastly to causing and complicating spill situations - train your staff and know how to operate your business in an environmentally responsible manner.

Hydrocarbons (oil & fuel) and other vehicle fluids, solvents, paints, dusts, fumes, (battery) acids - look at how they are used and stored.
Look out for residues on containers and spills around lids and on top of vessels - these can be absorbed repeatedly through unprotected skin and can have a cumulative effect over time (you may not get ill immediately but maybe 1-2 years after handling). These spills are often considered minor but have potential to be very hazardous. Never ever leave stuff stored outside unprotected. A site inspection and report can indentify hazards and provide options to mitigate them - SRNZ can help with this.

What are some precautionary measures workshops can take for preventing spills?

Being prepared is about recognising risks and putting correct measures in place to deal with them. This is called risk management.
Have a Spill Response Plan, A PROPER Spill Kit, and Spill Training for all staff. Each individual situation is unique but often these are a legal requirement anyway.
Too often we see incidents that have turned into major issues because of very simple things. Just recently we have seen:
* Staff not knowing what to do and just watching a spill run down the drain.
* Or worse - staff hosing spills down the drain to “clean-up”
The cost of cleaning up spills that have entered waterways or the stormwater system can be very expensive. If you are prepared for a spill and have the right gear and training you can save a lot of money, hassle and downtime, not to mention a prosecution.

What is in a spill kit and how many should an average sized workshop have?

Every shop is different. Not all Spill kits are created equal! Some “off the rack” kits contain inappropriate items that may have been included to bulk up the kit and make it look value for money. Be wary of expensive kits loaded with “special” booms, pillows and socks, are they really going to help you? A spill kit should be able to contain a spill of substances in quantities that are foreseeable of being spilt on your premises.

For smaller spills can sawdust or sand be used as an effective absorbent?

If you are relying on sawdust, rags or sand you may be “disappointed” at their performance when it comes to the crunch. The proper equipment is not expensive so use it. It is a business cost and corners should not be cut. There is no excuse for not being prepared. Spending a few hundred dollars now can save thousands in the future.

If a spill contaminates local storm water, what steps should workshop operators take?

This is why you need a Spill Response Plan. If your spill has entered the stormwater you will probably need professional help (SRNZ 24hr Hotline 0800 U SPILL/0800 877 455) and you should also contact, in the first instance, your Regional/Local Council for advice/assistance. Depending of what has been spilt, emergency services may also be required e.g. a quantity of petrol in the stormwater system can be an explosive hazard and the Fire Service may need to attend.

What type of penalties can a workshop owner expect for an unreported hazardous spill?

Unauthorised discharges into the environment can incur penalties of up to $200,000 or 2 years in jail. People have gone to jail in NZ for discharging pollution.

What safety measures should be taken when dealing with hazardous spills?

Your Spill Response Plan deals with this:
PLAN RULE 1. Should always be “BE SAFE!”

When is a higher level of help required for a spill?

Never be afraid to ask for help.

Key Points:
Prevention is better than cure.
Don't skimp when it comes to safety.
Train your staff and have a proper spill kit.
Your business has the potential to cause a major environmental disaster.