It is difficult to make blanket statements about clean-up procedures, in the school setting, due to the very broad range of hazardous materials present. All staff who use hazardous materials should be trained in their use, be aware of the hazards and implement strategies to control and manage the risks. Prevention is always better than cure.
Spill kits should be present in all work places that store and use hazardous materials. In the school setting, this includes hazards such as chemicals and biohazards. The type of spill kit used should reflect the type of hazards present in the laboratory, e.g. a chemical spill kit for a laboratory storing and using chemicals, and/or a biohazard spill kit for laboratory handling microbiological, human or animal fluids. They can be a commercial kit or a self-assembled kit.
All hazardous substance spills should be cleared up immediately, either by direct action or by contacting relevant authorities.
Ascertaining when a spill requires cleanup with a spill kit can be determined by the risk that the hazardous substance carries, the location and the size of the spill. An example of a minor spill may be 5mL of concentrated Sulfuric Acid. In this example, the risks associated with this concentrated acid are high, however it is only a small volume that could be easily neutralised and contained. A major spill may involve a substance that is an immediate fire hazard or a large volume of a hazardous chemical that is not contained and may represent a high risk to the health of staff or students.
Emergency response procedures of spills of hazardous substances should be in consultation with the specific and current Safety Data Sheet section 6 “Accidental Release Measures”. Risks to teachers, students and laboratory technicians should be considered before any action to clean up a spill is taken. Consider the safer option to evacuate the building and call the fire brigade for assistance, and/or if you are competent and confident to act in response to the hazard.
Major spills should be immediately referred to trained emergency personnel. Remove ignition sources and evacuate the building. It is helpful if the substance has been identified.
Minor spills, depending on the substances, may be treated as follows:
- Notify laboratory personnel and neighbours of the accident.
- Evacuate and isolate the immediate area.
- If flammable liquid has been spilt, remove ignition sources and isolate power to the laboratory with the emergency switch
- Establish ventilation – open windows and doors.
- If possible, positively identify the substance spilt. Check the labelling on the bottle identifying the chemical and its hazards. Look for hazard signal words and hazard statements and if possible, consult the safety data sheet.
- Locate the spill kit.
- Choose appropriate PPE (goggles, face shield, chemical resistant gloves, lab coat, apron.)
- Contain the spill using a spill absorbent material such as Vermiculite or sand as a barrier. Note: There are also commercial products available such as chemical absorbent pillows, either in pillow or long snake shapes, which can be used to contain spills.
- Acid and base spills should be neutralized prior to cleanup. Acids should be covered with Sodium carbonate or Sodium bicarbonate until the reaction ceases to fizz. Spilt bases should be neutralised with vinegar, boric acid or Sodium bisulphite. Liberally sprinkle the neutralizer over the spill starting at the perimeter and continue towards the centre. Leave for 1-5 minutes.
- Flammable spills should be covered with commercial spill absorbent material, chemical absorbent pads or paper towel to soak up the spill. These items should be then left to completely evaporate in a fume cupboard or a secure area outdoors away from all sources of ignition. Wash chemical absorbent pad or paper towel in water before disposal.
- Mercury spills: in the event of your school having mercury, including mercury thermometers, it is important to have a prepared strategy for dealing with a potential spill. There are a two approaches to this: Commercial Hg spill kits have absorbent sponges that pick up the globules and then stores the Hg in the collecting container when the sponge lid is screwed back on. There is also Hg decontaminant powder, supplied in the lists of chemicals, that reacts with the mercury to prevent the formation of vapour, which can then be collected for disposal.
- Biological spills should be covered with 1% Sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or hospital grade disinfectant for 20-30 minutes. Cover the spill with Vermiculite (or similar product) or sand to soak up liquid from the spill.
- Sweep solid material into a plastic dust pan and place in a sealed container.
- Wet mop spill area. Be sure to decontaminate broom, dustpan.
- Put all contaminated items (gloves, clothing, etc.) into a sealed container or plastic bag.
- Ensure that all materials are disposed of correctly and seek further advice if necessary. Disposal of toxic substances may need to be arranged through a commercial waste disposal company
- Return spill kit to storage location and arrange for used contents to be replaced.
- Report the spill to the head teacher and/or the school Work Health and Safety Officer.
- Staff and students should not be allowed into the area of the spillage, nor should the notice be removed until all of the spilt substance is cleaned up and odours dissipated.
Science ASSIST recommends the following strategies to prevent or minimise the severity of spills in school science laboratories:
- Complete risk assessments of all procedures beforehand to ensure risks are known and adequate emergency response mechanisms are in place
- Ensure that students to use only the lowest concentration possible of chemical solutions
- Minimise the volumes of chemical solutions and salts – aliquot minimal amounts for class room use.
- Ensure that students are provided with equipment to minimise the risk of spills e.g. funnels, dispensers
- Minimise unnecessary movement of students in laboratories while practical sessions are in progress
- Replace the lids of containers as soon as possible after use
- Use well fitting, viable lids on containers
- Use spill containment procedures and equipment such as bottle carriers.
- Do not store chemicals on the floor
After an incident, immediately replenish stock of spill kit, review procedures and effectiveness of the emergency plan, and document for WH&S reporting as per your school procedure. The references listed below have some very good guidance material.
For some school based resources see:
Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Guidance Sheet 4 Chemical Spill Management. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/school/principals/management/g... (Link Updated: 12 October 2017)
Western Australia Department of Education. Regional Technicians Group. Spill Kits https://web.archive.org/web/20170219043651/http://www.rtg.wa.edu.au/Spil...
(link changed to an archived copy on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine July 2017)
National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. (1994) Guidance Note for the Control Of Workplace Hazardous Substances in The Retail Sector https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/guidance-note-control-workplace... (Potentially outdated, link provided to archived copy for reference purposes, August 2017)
Safe Work Australia. Fact Sheet – Emergency Plans: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/emergency-plans-fact-sheet (August 2017)
University of Melbourne. (2013). OHS Requirements for the Provision of Spill Kits. http://safety.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/1705912/health-... (Updated broken link: May 2017)
University of Queensland. (2010). Chemical Spill Response Guidelines https://staff.uq.edu.au/information-and-services/health-safety-wellbeing... (Link updated: 18 June 2018)
University of Wollongong. (2012). Chemical Spill Management Guidelines https://www.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@ohs/documents/doc/uow136688.pdf
Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Guidance Sheet 4 Chemical Spill Management. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/school/principals/management/g... (Link updated: 12 October 2017)
Western Australia Department of Education. Regional Technicians Group. Spill Kits https://web.archive.org/web/20170219044547/http://www.rtg.wa.edu.au/Spil... (July 2017: Site no longer available. This copy made available through the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.)