Health and safety - dealing with spills

27th of April 2021
Health and safety - dealing with spills
Health and safety - dealing with spills

Work related accidents and injuries cost the EU €476 billion a year. With increased focus on safety and environmental performance even small changes can yield big health and safety benefits. Here Günes Yenen, MEWA UK country manager, looks at the options available to minimise risk to health and safety from slips and spillages.

Factories and plants are naturally a greasy environment with oils and coolants often dripping onto surfaces and floors; which in turn makes for further safety issues as workers tread in the spillage and spread the liquid into other areas of the factory.  Keeping such areas clean and safe can be a challenge.

Though manufacturing plants and industrial facilities are progressively becoming safer, cleaner and quieter, there are still opportunities to further reduce the risk of accidents and improve safety in the workplace. Every year there are thousands of accidents and cases of ill health reported from activities at industrial and commercial facilities.

According to the European Agency for Safety and Health At Work slips, trips and falls are the largest cause of accidents from heavy engineering through to office work, resulting in more than three days absence from work. Another significant source of ill health in industrial and manufacturing settings can arise from exposure to hazardous materials such as metalworking fluids, oils, solvents and degreasers, as well as additives and contaminants such as metal fines.

Occupational diseases

Common occupational diseases associated with hazardous materials include dermatitis and asthma, with around 200 cases of contact dermatitis reported to the European Prevention Initiative for Dermatological Malignancies every year as a result of exposure to cutting oils and coolants, for instance. Slips and trips sound relatively innocuous but can result in serious injuries like dislocations and broken bones and can mean long absences for employees affected.

Employers are typically required to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all employees. In the UK, for example, this is mandated by the Health and Safety at Work Act. Measures required under the act include taking steps to control slip and trip risks as well as exposure to hazardous materials such as metalworking cutting fluids.

Putting risk management first

Considering operator risk is not only a regulatory and legal requirement, companies which fail to prioritise workplace safety also face significant reputational and commercial risks. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for regulatory enforcement that can see substantial fines levied on companies and their directors. Given that breaching health and safety rules is a criminal offence in the UK, directors or responsible parties may even be jailed for major failings in risk management.

In any event, companies must assess any potential risks to health and safety of employees and others and take appropriate action to put effective control measures in place.

For example, HSE recommends cleaning up spills promptly to minimise the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals like metal working fluids and reduce the risk of slips and trips. HSE recommendations also include keeping absorbent materials to hand where there is a risk of a spillage, but this can potentially generate additional challenges.

Industrial companies typically use blue paper roll to absorb and mop up spilled material or clean parts. However, any blue roll or rags which are used for this application then potentially become classed as hazardous waste which requires suitable management and disposal.

Indeed, oily rags are classed as hazardous materials. The European Commission (EC) has confirmed that all waste oils (with the exception of edible oils), are “absolute hazardous” entries on the Waste Framework Directive’s List of Waste document.

Accredited contractor

To ensure that a business remains compliant with European Union (EU) regulations, all wastes contaminated with oil, including rags used to mop-up spillages, must be safely stored before being disposed of by an accredited hazardous wastes contractor. If a business opts to transfer its own waste to a disposal site, then it can only do so if it is a registered waste carrier.

The reusable solution to spills

With companies facing increased pressure to attain high standards of health and safety practice as well as improved environmental performance an alternative strategy to disposable paper towels has emerged. Today, full-service contract third-party suppliers are delivering high quality reusable absorbent wipes and mats to customers. Once used, the mats and towels are collected, washed and redistributed for reuse.

Able to rapidly soak up large volumes of liquids, these mats and wipes offer a number of key advantages over disposable materials. One such example is hazardous fluid trapping mats that are made from high-quality cotton and are designed to rapidly transport fluids to the inner fabric, leaving the outside relatively dry, even after absorbing up to three litres of fluid.

They can be used in sensitive areas such as around machinery and equipment, reducing the need for sand or absorbent granules that might otherwise be required. Highly absorbent industrial cleaning wipes are also suitable for a variety of needs within the workplace, often having different weaves of cloth for different surfaces and uses.

For safe disposal within engineering plants, some providers offer a collection service using safety containers where cloths, wipes and mats can be collected after use. Once full, the container is picked up at a convenient time and replaced with a clean container and all the towels or mats required.

Mats and wipes are taken away to be washed in an environmentally-friendly way too with oils from the process cleverly re-used to power the washing process itself. In addition, treatment of wastewater is assured and heat from the washing process is also recovered. The result is a sustainable approach that eliminates the need to manage the purchase, delivery, storage and disposal of single-use materials like blue roll.

Reusable mats, cloths and wipes are a cost-effective solution even for small businesses and with fresh absorbent cleaning cloths and mats always available and to hand, spills may be rapidly addressed to reduce the risks of exposure to chemicals and slipping causing injury. With the right supplier the reusable system can also remove the significant burden of hazardous waste disposal while benefitting the environment by reusing primary materials and recovering energy during the washing process.

With companies under pressure to improve health and safety and environmental performance, even small changes to a typical maintenance regime in production and engineering facilities can yield considerable benefits. Reusable mats and wipes can help to ensure workers in the heavy manufacturing industry are protected with a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable solution to spills.


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited