Petroleum Spill Control:
Training Staff for Emergencies

by: John Espley


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    TORONTO, Ont. - We have turned the corner on harsh winter weather, and spring is here.

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It’s happened. A vehicle has damaged their oil pan and is leaking all over your lot. Someone has overflowed their car in a big way or tipped over a gasoline container. A staff member tripped and dropped a container of oil or antifreeze.


What happens now? Does your staff know what to do? What are the concerns? These types of problems (and more) are common but often may be overlooked as the hazard they are.

Spills such as the above are real dangers to your staff, your customers, your property and the environment. Imagine someone slipping and falling on the remnants of an oil spill either on your lot or in your store. Perhaps someone’s pet not only gets the contaminant on their paws and fur but then licks themselves to clean it leading to real sickness or even death. Can vehicles navigate around the spill or will they end up slipping, sliding or spreading the substance? If you are dealing with a gas spill then the hazards are even more serious. Look to the accident in the middle east recently where someone lighting a cigarette a distance away, caused a huge explosion near a rolled over and leaking fuel truck. Imagine a customer or passers-by not understanding there are gas fumes in the air (perhaps they are on the sidewalk) and lighting up. Not at all what we want.

Training is the first part of spill control and a proper spill kit and supplies are the second. Do you have the right kit for the risks at your business? What chemicals do you have on the site besides oil and gas? Is your kit, supply cupboard/container, sized appropriately for the risk level? Are there appropriate supplies to mitigate damage to the environment? We’ve often seen a business try to deal with a spill with incorrect equipment. For example, if you try to use the wrong socks or pad and it’s raining or near water (like a carwash), the oil will come right off the pad back into the environment. Spend a few dollars more and buy the correct spill pads and socks.


The correct pads or socks will hold the oil no matter if water is present or not. Know what you are buying and what’s in your spill supplies. All too often we see oil/gas/coolant spills just dumped on with kitty litter or some other absorbent material. This is then left to soak up the spill and never touched again.


So what happens to the oil in this situation? First off, the area can still be incredibly slick and remains a risk for your staff and customers. The second thing, so often forgotten, is that the kitty litter will eventually be washed down the storm sewer into the natural water environment, releasing the deadly oil into the water supply or ocean. Besides being against fisheries laws, it’s just not appropriate.

Note: The pads we use at BCHAZMAT Management, once soaked with oil are shipped by us to a facility that is able to release and recycle the oil from the pads and then recycle the pads themselves for another use (they are made of plastic). How great is that for the environment!

Proper training will first show when an employee should deal with a spill or immediately call for emergency help. They’ll know what to do to keep themselves, your customers and people in the area safe. They know what type of equipment to use. For example, if the spill has a chance to make it into a storm drain they can use a catch basin insert or proper storm drain cover. Another tool we use and is great to stock, is a portable spill collection pad or mini-berm. These are basically fold-up drip trays that can easily be deployed in the case of a large vehicle leak and hopefully catch and contain most of the spill before it becomes a real clean-up or safety issue.

For anyone with gas pumps or propane at their facility, the danger of a major leak is that much more real. Often we read about drivers hitting a pump, valves failing on tanks and tanker refueling trucks leaking themselves. In a serious situation such as this, training will provide your staff with the confidence of knowing how to react, how to stay calm and report it to the authorities and take care of the safety of your staff and customers. When do you call in a Hazmat or remediation company and when do you call 911 for the fire department? Whenever you are dealing with flammables the fire department should always be the first call.

Your takeaways from this article should be:

  • Have you and your staff trained by a professional in the spill training industry.
  • Make sure training renewals (training does expire) are kept up to date
  • Have an appropriate spill kit or container on site that will meet or exceed your risks.
  • Have a connection with a reliable and certified spill response company and have their 24 hour emergency number visible in several locations.
  • Consider paying for a risk and supply assessment. A few dollars now can save you a lot of hassles later (work safety inspectors, staff or customer injuries, clean-up costs, property damage, public relations).

BCHAZMAT is certified by the ECRC and has a full contingent of emergency response of trucks and trained staff. Many of the response staff are also the trainers for the company including the founder, David Rogers. Based in Sidney, BC, they operate anywhere in BC and the Yukon. Both the company and the founder have received many awards for their business focusing on safety and environmental protection.