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Creating a Chemical Spill Response Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide

Creating a Chemical Spill Response Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide

Jan 30th 2024

Creating a Chemical Spill Response Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide

Chemical spills are inevitable in any organisation that handles hazardous waste or highly toxic chemicals. No matter how stringent the safety measures are, accidents happen, and preparing for them is crucial. The first line of defence against spills is having a well-crafted response plan.

The purpose of this blog is to provide comprehensive guidance to organisations on developing a chemical spill response plan from the ground up. A complete response plan is a regulatory requirement and a critical component of responsible business practices. Below are the essential steps to create it effectively.

Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Identify Potential Hazardous Areas

Start by identifying areas where chemicals are stored or used and could spill. You must identify all the areas within your facility where chemicals are stored, handled, or transported. It's essential to be thorough in this step, as overlooking an area could lead to inadequate preparation for a spill.

Potential Hazardous Areas

Check the following areas thoroughly for potential hazardous chemical spills:

  • Storage and handling areas: Identify where chemicals are stored and how they may be moved around.
  • Production areas: Include the entire site to cover all potential chemical spill risks.
  • Waste storage areas: Determine where hazardous waste is stored, such as drums or tanks.
  • Transport routes: Know the paths that transport vehicles take within your facility and assess any potential hazards along those routes.
  • Manufacturing or processing equipment: Identify any machinery that uses hazardous chemicals and their potential spill risks.
  • Laboratories: Include all lab spaces where chemicals are used or stored.

Types of Chemical Spills Infographic | SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture

Step 2: Assess the Risk

Risk assessment involves evaluating the potential risk each identified area poses in the event of a chemical spill. You should consider the type of chemicals used or stored, their volume, their hazardous properties (flammable, toxic, corrosive, etc.), and how they're stored and handled. The proximity of these areas to people and sensitive environments should also be considered.

Chemical spills can be classified in various ways, including the type of chemical spilled, the spill's location, and the spill's size.

By Type of Chemical

  • Acid Spills: These involve acids, which are corrosive and can cause burns and other injuries. Examples include sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, and nitric acid spills.
  • Base Spills: These involve bases (also known as alkalis), which are corrosive and can cause injuries similar to acid spills. Examples include sodium hydroxide and ammonia spills.
  • Organic Solvent Spills: These involve organic solvents, which can be flammable or combustible and may also have health effects, such as causing dizziness or unconsciousness. Examples include benzene, toluene, and acetone spills.
  • Oxidiser Spills: These involve oxidisers, which can cause or enhance combustion. Examples include hydrogen peroxide and chlorine spills.
  • Toxic Chemical Spills: These involve harmful or fatal chemicals if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. Examples include mercury, lead, and arsenic spills.

By Location of the Spill

  • Indoor Spills: These occur inside a building, such as in a laboratory or storage area.
  • Outdoor Spills: These occur outside, such as during transport or at an outdoor storage or use area.
  • Waterborne Spills: These occur in a water environment, such as a river, lake, or ocean. An example is an oil spill from a ship.

By Size of the Spill

  • Minor Chemical Spill: Training personnel can safely manage small spills using available resources,like absorbent materials and neutralising agents.
  • Major Chemical Spill: These are large spills that require professional assistance, such as from a hazmat team or fire department. They may also require evacuation of the area. Examples include an accidental release of a large volume of hazardous material or a large oil spill.

Knowing which is which is crucial in determining the appropriate response.

Two clean up crew workers in hazmat suits heading to the spill to begin the clean up

Step 3: Develop Preventive Measures

Based on your risk assessment, create measures to prevent chemical spills. These measures can include engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls are physical barriers or changes in the workplace designed to eliminate or minimise spill risks. Examples include:

  • Secondary containment systems: These are vessels or structures that prevent a spilled chemical from spreading.
  • Spill berms: These are raised structures around a containment area that contain spilled chemicals.
  • Chemical storage cabinets: These are enclosed and labelled areas specifically designed to store hazardous chemicals safely.

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls, also called work practice controls, are changes in your organisation's policies and procedures to reduce spill risks. Examples include:

  • Training: All personnel who may come into contact with hazardous chemicals must receive training on handling and storing them safely.
  • Safety procedures: Develop and implement specific safety procedures for handling, using, and storing different types of chemicals.
  • Regular inspections: Schedule regular inspections of all identified hazardous areas to ensure compliance with safety measures.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

When administrative and engineering controls are insufficient, personal protective equipment should be used to eliminate or minimise spill risks. This includes gloves, safety glasses, face shields, boots and other items.

Step 4: Establish Emergency Contacts

During a chemical spill, prompt action is crucial. Ensure everyone in your workplace knows who to contact in case of a spill or emergency. Create a list of contacts who should be notified in case of a chemical spill. This list should include:

Internal Contacts

  • Emergency Response Team: Identify and train a spill response team that can respond quickly to a spill or emergency.
  • Supervisors: These are the first point of contact in case of an incident. They should be aware of the chemical hazards in their areas and how to handle them.

External Contacts

  • Emergency Services: Contact your local emergency services, such as the fire department, for assistance in case of a major spill.
  • Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) Team: Have the contact information for a professional hazmat team that can assist with larger or more complex spills.
  • Medical Facilities: Know where to go for medical assistance in case of injuries from a spill.
  • Chemical Suppliers: List your chemical suppliers and their emergency contact information.

Step 5: Create Spill Response Procedures

This involves developing a detailed action plan for responding to a chemical spill. The plan should outline steps for evacuating the area, containing the spill, cleaning it up, and disposing of contaminated materials safely. It must also include procedures for notifying relevant parties and reporting the incident.

The following five steps should be taken:

  1. Stop the spill: This involves taking immediate action to prevent the spread of the spill and reduce the risk of further exposure.
  2. Contain the spill: This step involves isolating the spill to prevent it from spreading to other areas and minimising its impact on the environment.
  3. Isolate the area concerned: This step involves restricting access to the area where the spill occurred to prevent further contamination and ensure the safety of personnel.
  4. Report the spill: This step involves notifying the appropriate authorities, such as Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) or environmental agencies, about the spill to ensure proper response and compliance with regulations.
  5. Clean up the spill: This step involves removing the spill and cleaning the affected area to restore it to its original condition.

Step 6: Train Employees

Employee training ensures everyone knows what to do during a spill. Training should inform the risks associated with the chemicals they work with, how to prevent spills, and the procedures to follow if a spill occurs. Regular drills help reinforce this training and ensure employees are prepared.

Training must be conducted by:

  • Qualified personnel: Only trained and qualified individuals, like members of the Emergency Response Team or Safety Coordinators, should handle hazardous chemicals or respond to a spill.
  • Experienced professionals: Seek assistance from experienced professionals, such as hazmat teams, for major spills or complex situations.

Step 7: Design Reporting Procedures

Clear reporting procedures should be established to report any spills promptly and accurately. This includes designating who the incident should be reported to, what details must be included in the report, and the timeframe within which the report needs to be made.

You can design an incident reporting form that includes the following information:

  • Date and time of the incident
  • Location of the spill
  • Substances involved
  • Quantity and extent of the spill
  • Hazards posed by the chemicals
  • Actions taken to control and clean up the spill

Two spill workers examining the spill to determine the type and severity

Step 8: Review and Update the Plan

Your Chemical Spill Response Plan should not be static. It's important to review it regularly (e.g., annually) or whenever significant changes occur in your operations, regulations, or when new chemicals are introduced.

Compliance Checklist

Ensure your Chemical Spill Response Plan complies with all relevant regulations and standards in Australia. Some key ones to consider include:

Step 9: Documentation

Documenting all aspects of your Chemical Spill Response Plan is essential. This includes keeping records of safety documents, training sessions, incident reports, and any updates or changes made to the plan. These records may be useful for future reference, audits, and continuous improvement.

Ensure Workplace Safety with Our Essential Chemical Spill Response Plan

Prioritise safety and compliance in your workplace with SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture.

Our premier offering, the Chemical Spill Response Plan template, is designed to meet stringent safety regulations and provide comprehensive guidance during chemical emergencies. This essential tool is your first step towards a safer, regulation-compliant workspace.

Complement Your Safety Toolkit

While the Chemical Spill Response Plan is fundamental, consider enhancing your safety protocols with our additional templates:

These resources are tailored to streamline processes and ensure thorough management of hazardous chemicals in any workplace setting.

Remember, an effective Chemical Spill Response Plan can prevent accidents, protect workers' health and the environment, and minimise disruptions to your operations. Be prepared for potential spills and ensure everyone knows what to do in an emergency. Contact SafetyDocs today and let us help you make your workplace safer for everyone.


Our team of experts is dedicated to providing accurate and informative content. Craig Cruickshank, our senior HSEQ advisor at SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture has reviewed this blog post to ensure the highest level of quality.

Learn more about Craig's work on LinkedIn for more industry insights.

Available for instant download and supplied in fully editable MS Word format for use in your business.

Please note that the above information is provided as a comment only and should not be relied on as professional, legal or financial advice.

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