[Safety Issues] Spill Drill

Features - Vehicle Safety

If one of your trucks had an accident right now, would your technician know how to handle a chemical spill?

May 28, 2010

While preparing to write this article my mind wandered back to a day in 1995. I was working in Terminix’s Orlando branch, it was Saturday during swarm season (this was when we still had swarm seasons). I was just about to go home when the phone rang. I was informed one of my termite trucks was leaking chemical in a parking lot.

By the time I arrived to the location, there were two fire trucks with six firemen on the scene. Two firemen were rummaging through the back of our truck, two were putting up barriers at the entrance of the lot and two were staring at the milky spill. The technician was nowhere to be found. This was before Nextel, so I had no way to find out where he was. I approached the firemen and introduced myself and told them I would handle the spill. They all stepped back. I went over to the technician’s truck and turned the handle on the treating wand to stop the leak. Then I proceeded to go to my truck and took out E-Z- Sorb (ITB Company, www.itbcompany.com). At this point all the firemen’s eyes opened wide and one asked me how I was going to clean up the spill with that small container, to which I said, "Just watch." As I sprinkled it on the spill it started growing and after applying about 2 cups of E-Z-Sorb, the spill was soaked up. I proceeded to shovel the gel into a bucket, and that’s when the firemen got in their trucks and left.

This illustrates that you never know when your technicians are going to encounter a spill. Have they been trained to handle a spill properly? Every company should have spill drills at least twice a year, using different scenarios with different labels, so your technicians learn not all spills are handled the same.

4 Cs OF SPILL CONTROL. The four Cs of spill control are control, contain, call office and clean up. (Note that there is one step that precedes the four Cs: PPE. If you are not wearing personal protection equipment, put it on before attending to the spill.)

  1. Control: This can be as simple as righting a container of pesticide or, as in my example, closing the valve of a treating wand. For larger spills, stop the source immediately. Then, rope off the area to keep others from becoming contaminated. And whatever you do, do not leave the site of a spill until it is cleaned up and neutralized or decontaminated.
  2. Contain: There are a variety of ways you can accomplish containment. You could use absorbent snakes, but probably the easiest is to carry a shovel and dig soil from any nearby area to dike around the spill. If there is no area to get soil you can use kitty litter as a dike. Most labels have this environmental hazard warning: "Extremely toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates." In Florida especially, most roads drain into lakes or retention ponds. Be sure to protect any water source. You should follow the same procedures if you have a dry spill. Either right the container or if it is punctured, set it inside a larger container. Containing dry spills is best achieved by covering the spill with cardboard, plastic, weighted down paper or apply a gentle spray/mist of water to keep the dust from spreading by the wind.
  3. Call office: If you have a sizable spill and you are concerned about crowd control, or the spill is too large for one person to handle, call for help. Some companies have agreements with each other and will work together should one of them experience a spill. These are truly unique companies who understand the importance of quick response to a spill.
  4. Clean up: Depending on the surface of the spill area you may be able to use E-Z-Sorb. You may also use activated charcoal, kitty litter, saw dust or vermiculite (a natural mineral that expands with the application of heat).

For vehicles carrying large amounts of mixed chemical it should be noted that a 2½-pound container of E-Z-Sorb will only absorb 55 gallons of liquid. So, if you have a vehicle that carries 100 gallons or more you’ll need to prepare yourself adequately. Once you have absorbed the liquid you will need to put it into a container to transport to an appropriate disposal site. Be sure you have large heavy duty plastic bags or some other transportation container on all vehicles.


Spill Q&A

What is a spill?

Any accidental release of a pesticide

How do you handle it?

As safely, quickly and efficiently as possible

Who needs to know what to do?

All employees need to be aware, especially anyone working with or where chemicals/pesticides are used or stored

Where can spills happen?

In storage areas

At the time of mixing or loading

During transport to application site

At application site


After the spill is cleaned up, you will need to decontaminate the site with either bleach or strong soap. The MSDS should contain any special instructions that you need to follow. Label the container holding the spilled pesticide and transport or dispose as described on the label.


Pest Management University

Spill training is just one of the topics covered at Pest Management University.

Pest Management University was created as a cooperative effort between the University of Florida, the Florida pest management industry, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the regulators of the pest control industry in Florida.

The goal is to both teach and demonstrate all aspects of home and commercial pest control, providing trainees with both improved knowledge and practical experience. All classes are taught by faculty of UF/IFAS, DACS and leaders in the pest management industry. To learn more, visit http://pmu.ifas.ufl.edu.


DO THIS NOW. The first step to having your employees prepared for a spill is to inventory your vehicles. Be sure all vehicles have a spill kit of some kind, container to remove the absorbed chemical and a shovel. You can make your own spill kits or buy ready-made ones.

Every truck (even those doing solely GHP) should have, in addition to its spill kit, a shovel and containers to transport spilled pesticide. At your next training meeting, spill some water outside your building, tell your employees it’s a chemical spill and see if anyone has a clue of where to begin. This is when you will realize how important it is to train your employees on spill control regularly. Many service technicians are amazed at how much material (we used kitty litter) is needed to absorb a spill as small as 3 gallons. Demonstrate to your employees just what it will take to clean up even a minor spill.

The author is loss control manager at Capital Risk Underwriters, an insurance firm tailored for the pest control industry. E-mail him at vmorris@giemedia.com.