Dealing with an On-Site Oil Spill: The Do’s & Don’ts

Thu, Jul 25, 2019

When you hear the words “oil spill”, you probably picture a disaster news headline where a cargo vessel has leaked thousands of litres of fuel into the sea, alongside pictures of seagulls with black, oil coated feathers.

In actual fact, wherever fuel is stored there is a risk of an oil spill, and even if you hold as little as a drum of oil in your workshop, you are responsible for the clean-up.

Whether you are a domestic heating oil tank owner, or a company with an onsite diesel tank, you need to be prepared to deal with an oil spill should one occur. From splits and punctures in the tank body, to failure or leaking of tank components, to fuel delivery and overfill accidents, there are numerous reasons why you may have an oil leak or spill. It is therefore essential that you and your employees understand what to do (and not to do!) to stop a spill quickly, clean it up properly and prevent any further environmental harm…

Oil Spill

The “Do’s” of dealing with an oil spill

1. Act QUICKLY and deal with the spill as soon as you notice it! If you fail to act immediately and your negligent behaviour results in a serious pollution incident, you may have enforcement action taken against you.

2. Protect yourself and warn others using signage, particularly if the spill has occurred in a workplace. Make sure you wear gloves and any other necessary PPE available to you, to prevent any harm or irritation to the skin. If there is a strong smell of fuel, ventilate the area by opening windows and doors.Oil Spill Kit

3. If the spill appears to be caused by a leak, stop the flow of oil by shutting off the isolation valve, identify the source of the leak and put a bucket under it to catch any remaining drips. Use sealing putty to temporarily block the leak, or a rag if that is all you have access to – but only as a temporary measure!

Oil Spill Kit

4. Stop the spill from spreading any further and running into neighbouring land or drains. If you store fuel on site you should always have an oil spill kit on hand, including spill socks to contain the fluid to an area, and absorbent granules or spill pads to soak up the contained fluid. If you don’t have a spill kit accessible, sand or cat litter should do the trick.

5. If the spill has occurred in an environmentally sensitive area i.e. near groundwater supplies, ring the 24-hour UK pollution incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60 for advice on what to do next. If the oil has already come into contact with streams, ponds or lakes, contact the Environment Agency immediately to get a professional clean-up into action.

6. Arrange for a qualified tank engineer to come out and inspect the tank. They will be able to inform you whether they can repair the leak by replacing components or whether a new tank needs to be purchased to prevent a repeat of the spill.

7. Contact your insurance company and inform them that a clean-up process may be required. You may be covered for this as well as the cost of your lost oil. It is important to try and establish how much oil has been lost by checking the tank level and how much you have used since your last delivery.

The definite “Don’ts” when it comes to a fuel spill

Environmental Agency logo

1. Don’t ignore a spill or leave the clean-up process until a later date. A minor spill may worsen rapidly and result in a much more serious incident. If you find a spill has spread or entered nearby water sources – own up immediately. The penalty will be far worse if you do not inform the authorities.

2. Don’t put yourself at risk to clean up an oil spill. If the situation looks hazardous or particularly unmanageable then it probably is! Instead call 24-hour UK pollution incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60 and they will be able to put you in touch with professionals or the Environment Agency.

3. Don’t leave your temporary leak stop as a permanent solution. It should only be used to prevent the spill from spreading any further whilst waiting for an engineer to come out, or a new tank to be delivered.

4. Avoid using chemicals or detergents to clean up the spill as they are likely to cause more pollution to the ground, and do not use a hose to wash the oil away as it may in fact spread it further, increasing the area of polluted ground.

5. Under no circumstances wash any spilt oil into the drains or gullies – most drains connect to the nearest watercourse and this will result in serious pollution.

6. Don’t dispose of any oil-soaked items or absorbents without bagging them up safely and considering local waste disposal regulations. Most items will not just be able to be thrown in the general waste.

Common sense is the key!

A lot of what you need to do when dealing with an oil spill is common sense. If you keep in mind that your aim is to stop the spill from spreading and causing more pollution now, and in the future, you should be able to think of what you should and shouldn't do. However, if there’s only one thing you remember from this guide, make sure it is to take immediate action the moment you notice a fuel spill! This is the key to saving yourself and the environment from a lot more problems down the line.