Recent figures from Ecospill reveal that over 70% of businesses are not fully prepared for a spill, while the Environment Agency reported that, in 2017, there were 1,827 pollution incidents in the waste and water industry alone – over five incidents each day.
Spills pose a real risk to businesses. Not only could they cause significant damage to premises, wildlife and the surrounding environment, they can pose a threat to the safety and health of employees and nearby residents.
Most health and safety managers think they are doing everything they can to properly control their spill risk, and believe they have the correct plan in place to address spills if they occur. But, what many don’t know is that spill kits and plans may not be comprehensive enough to provide adequate protection.
In many cases, when auditing sites for their spill risk, issues have become apparent, such as:
- Faulty assumptions have been made: this can be as simple as thinking small spills aren’t significant, when even a small amount of everyday substance such as milk or orange juice can be toxic to the environment
- Spill kit is in the incorrect location: even if spill kits have been supplied there’s a possibility they might not be located in the correct areas, where risk is highest
- Spill plan isn’t right for the business and risk: using a ‘one size fits all’ approach can give false confidence in preparedness and be a waste of resources. Different kits are available for dealing with different types of spills
- Lack of training: spills can happen suddenly and be extremely disruptive. If staff aren’t adequately trained it can lead to confusion, panic or spill kits being used incorrectly
- Spill kit is poorly maintained: if spill kits have been exposed to the environment, or have drawn in too much moisture, they may be unusable
Without adequate spill control and prevention measures, the effect of a spill on a company’s reputation, including environmental, can be momentous. Companies can lose business as a result of bad publicity or because environmental permits have been revoked. A major oil company saw a 40% drop in sales due to a large-scale offshore spill.
Furthermore, the cost to clean a spill, the loss of material and damage to the environment can all be detrimental. Substantial fines can be issued and payments will be required for legal costs and to restore the environment back to its original state before the spill. Civil claims from residents and/or businesses in the affected area can also incur added costs. In 2017, a major water company was fined a record £20,361,140 for polluting fresh water, while a well-known supermarket was faced with costs of over £16 million in fines, health and safety charges, and environmental costs as a result of a petrol spill.
As such, businesses must do more to protect from the impact of spills and prevent damage to reputation, environment and life. Plus, if working towards ISO14001, businesses must be able to demonstrate commitment to continual improvement in their environmental performance, an area where spill plans can be of benefit.
Niall Robinson, Product and Procurement Manager at Arco, said “It is critical that all businesses ensure they have an appropriate and effective spill plan to prevent this serious risk from occurring. The effects of a spill can not only damage a company’s finances and reputation, but can have an overwhelming impact on employees, local peoples and on wildlife, so should not be taken lightly.”
For more information on how your business can address its spill risk and prevent future spill incidents, please visit https://campaigns.arco.co.uk/preventspills
 Environment Agency – Water and sewerage companies performance summary: