Cleaning up on spillage costs

Accidents will happen but Richard Proctor, sales director with Darcy Products, explains how a properly conducted risk assessment can pay dividends when fate or carelessness strikes

Current government legislation relating to the storage of pollutants, if properly

enforced, could impact significantly on risks of oil and chemical pollution.

Experience over three decades shows that a high proportion of pollution incidents

are associated directly with loading or unloading, filling or emptying. Wider

adoption of well designed and properly maintained bunding and other protective

measures for tanks, drums and areas where liquids are stored will do much to

reduce environmental damage from handling accidents.

Financial directors and others primarily concerned with costs have a tendency

to believe, or at least to hope, that proper risk assessments and environmental

audits can be carried out in-house. Sometimes they can but, given the possible

financial penalties and other adverse consequences, it can often be a false

economy. In these days of reduced staff levels and short-term contracts, people

with the necessary level of experience and technical expertise as well as the

time to carry out proper assessment are fairly rare, at least in small to medium-sized

organisations. Hence the widespread use of companies able to offer specialised

pollution risk assessment.

In assessing risk a properly drawn-up site plan identifying vulnerable areas

with particular reference to the drainage system, outfalls and the direction

of flow of runoff from the site is a primary requirement. Local knowledge can

be a great help, especially in pinpointing areas vulnerable to flooding. Spillages

have a perverse tendency to occur in wet weather and the possible effect on

apparently secure bunds, sumps and interceptors of abnormal rainfall and/or

inflow from nearby rivers, streams, canals or even run-off from flooded fields

must never be overlooked.

Another important part of the survey will be the identification of any risk

to groundwater. If undetected and allowed to continue for long periods even

very minor leakage, particularly from underground pipes or tanks, can cause

serious groundwater pollution.

In most cases it is necessary to consider not just the likely consequences of

a pollution incident within the confines of the site but also the possible effect

on other commercial, industrial or residential premises in the vicinity and

on any leisure/recreational activities in nearby rivers, lakes and parks – and

of course damage to wildlife. Claims for damage to equipment, fish stocks, loss

of income or amenities can be substantial and at very best will result in greatly

increased insurance premiums.

Once the initial survey has been completed, a detailed study is carried out

covering each individual location, with an itemised breakdown of all hazard

elements and the consequences of a spill or leak for the surrounding area. While

special attention will obviously be given to areas where oils or other liquid

pollutants are stored, risks at point-of-use and the possible consequences of

leakage from interconnecting pipework or during transit on vehicles are equally


An overall environmental safety plan is drawn up, individually tailored to

the needs of the site and the level of perceived risk. As an integral part,

close attention is given to established working practices at each location.

With a suitable background of extensive field experience, a specialist risk

assessment consultant is well placed to locate potential faults and recommend

empirically based changes where appropriate. It is surprising how often quite

minor alterations to long established routine can significantly reduce incidence

of pollution risks especially in minor spills and leaks.

Recommendations will normally include maintaining stocks of adsorbents, booms,

etc in quantities sufficient for dealing with small to medium-size incidents

entirely from on-site resources and for containing larger spills or leaks until

outside help can arrive. Emergency spill kits permanently located at vulnerable

sites and/or carried on-board vehicles and fork lifts are usually an important

feature of the overall plan. Other proposals will almost certainly include easily

and rapidly deployed protection for drains in high-risk areas and booms placed

permanently at any outlets from the site into rivers and watercourses.

Knowledge is key

Risk assessment will only bring practical benefits if the people at the sharp

end of any spillage know not just what to do but why they are doing it. On-site

training in the deployment of adsorbents, booms and related equipment should

be an integral component of the environmental protection plan. Time and money

spent on structured training with periodic refresher courses will be more than

repaid should a major spillage occur.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie