Spill Control – Environmental Protection, Health and Safety in Mining

Sound Spill Control, Compliant Operations

Accidental releases of oils and chemicals make up a large number of pollution incidents that occur each year on mining sites. Fortunately, many spillages can be prevented. However, everyone on site must know how to control a spill to minimise its impact. Thus, bearing this in mind, Spill Doctor advises mining companies on the best practice in spill control.

An increase in the spillage of hazardous oils and chemicals on sites is inevitable as mining companies are pulling out all the stops in endeavouring to increase productivity. However, the biggest concern is whether or not they are well-equipped to manage the safety risks that this poses to both their employees and the environment. The reality is that sound spill control cannot be overlooked.

The obligation of legislation 

In all countries, various pieces of legislation obligate mining companies and other industries to ensure that they adopt and rigorously implement measures to mitigate the impact of their activities on their employees and the environment. And South Africa is no exception.

In particular, South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993, requires employers to bring about and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a work environment that is safe and without risk to the health of the workers. Specific to mining companies, the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) applies.

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Raising awareness 

Given the potential increase in spillage of flammable liquids, Spill Doctor has intensified its drive to raise awareness amongst mining companies about the best practice in spill control (the management of flammable liquids). In this way, the company aims to enable mining companies to achieve compliance with legislation.

Extensive experience and relevant products 

As environmental, health and safety specialists, Spill Doctor is eager to address the unique needs of clientele in the mining sector. This is based on extensive experience accumulated from years of effectively addressing complex spill management challenges for clientele drawn from diverse industries.  Spill Doctor’s team are thoroughly versed in the management of stubborn flammable chemicals. This is above and beyond the company’s wide range of relevant products.

What is most noteworthy for clientele about Spill Doctor’s range of internationally compliant products is that it is handy, Kelvin Murphy, Head of the Team at Spill Doctor, states. “Our flammable cabinets, safety cans, plunger cans, oily waste cans, drums and dispensing equipment offer FM-approved products along with an exclusive 10-year limited warranty.

The products support clients in the mining sector to reduce the risk of fire, employee injury and environmental damage caused by incorrect storage of flammable liquids. Generally, our products include “everything the client needs” to store, distribute and remove flammable liquids in a safe and legally-compliant manner. We have worked extensively to obtain exclusive distribution rights in Africa for internationally recognised brands in the health, safety and environmental fields. ”

To cater for the unique needs of clientele, Spill Doctor has products specific to occupational health and safety, as well as environmental management.

  • Occupational health and safety 

Spill Doctor’s extensive range of occupational health and safety products includes spill pallets, non-combustible flammable stores, flammable safety cabinets, eyewash stations and combination showers. Spill doctor’s range of environmental products for spill control, spill containment and spill kits offer compliance with local environmental regulations and a five-year guarantee on polyethene products.

  • Environmental management

Spill Doctor has tailor-made its environmental products cognisant of the importance of sound environmental impact mitigation practices in mining environments. “Although our main focus is on minimising risks and prevention of incidents, we understand that environmental spills do occur. That is why we are the distributors of a full bio-remedial range of products to repair damaged areas,“ Murphy says, guaranteeing that the products meet both local and international regulations regarding the safe storage, distribution and general usage of flammable and ignitable liquids.

Proactive Spill control

As a provider of storage solutions that assist clients in safely storing dangerous substances, Spill Doctor is unrelenting in urging mining companies to follow the best practice in spill control, as lapses can be very costly.“The incorrect storage of flammable and hazardous liquids can cause fire, injury and environmental damage. And so, mining companies must assume a proactive – not a reactive mindset – when it comes to spill control,“ Murphy explains, highlighting the following areas as vital in proactive spill control: Pollution Prevention Spill Control, Good Storage Practices, Flammable and Combustible Liquids and Flammable or Explosive Limits.

  •      Pollution prevention spill control – avoid environmental harm

Spills spread very quickly and can cause damage to the environment, and fines and clean-up costs can be expensive. Thus, to avoid damage at the site, it is important to know where all spill kits are and how to use them. This should be coupled with an annual spill response drill to ensure knowledge of plans and how to use clean-up equipment.

  •      Good storage practices

To ensure proper storage, mining sites should ensure that they have a spill kit on-site and train their staff on how to use it. The site should store liquids within secondary containment, store substances away from stormwater drains and waterways, ensure storage of substances away from high-traffic areas, and make sure all storage containers are labelled. Also, it is good practice to check regularly – before and after any rain for any spillages or any flooding and ensure that the containers are not damaged or have any leaks.

  •      Flammable and Combustible Liquids

Generally speaking, flammable liquids will ignite (catch on fire) and burn easily at normal working temperatures. Likewise, combustible liquids can burn at temperatures that are usually above working temperatures.

Under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), flammable liquids have a flashpoint below 37.8°C (100°F) and combustible liquids have a flashpoint at or above 37.8°C (100°F) and below 93.3°C (200°F). These may include thinners, cleaners, adhesives, paints, waxes and polishes which are present in almost every workplace.

However, sometimes more than one flashpoint is reported for a chemical since testing methods and purity of the liquid tested may vary. In some instances, flammable and combustible liquids such as gasoline, with a flashpoint of -40°C (-40°F); and phenol, with a flashpoint of 79°C (175°F) can mix their vapours and the air begins to burn.

  •      Flammable or Explosive Limits

The lower flammable limit or lower explosive limit (LFL or LEL) of gasoline is 1.4 per cent; the upper flammable limit or upper explosive limit (UFL or UEL) is 7.6 per cent. This makes gasoline flammable when it is in the air at levels between 1.4 and 7.6 percent. It should therefore be noted that a concentration of gasoline vapour in air below 1.4 percent is too “lean” to burn and gasoline vapour levels above 7.6 percent are too “rich” to burn. Flammable limits, like flashpoints, however, are intended as guides not as fine lines between safe and unsafe.

Most common flammable and combustible liquids have auto-ignition temperatures in the range of 300°C (572°F) to 550°C (1022°F), while some have very low auto-ignition temperatures. When solvent-evaporating ovens are heated to temperatures above the auto-ignition temperature of the solvents used, it results in serious fire hazards, as a flammable liquid can burn very fast and give off a lot of heat and often clouds of thick, black, toxic smoke. Also, spray mists of flammable and combustible liquids in the air may burn at any temperature if an ignition source is present.

The vapours of flammable and combustible liquids are usually invisible, which makes them difficult to detect unless special instruments are used. Most flammable and combustible liquids flow easily and a small spill can cover a large area of the workbench or floor.

Burning liquids can flow under doors, downstairs and even into neighbouring buildings, spreading fire widely. Materials like wood, cardboard and cloth can easily absorb flammable and combustible liquids; and even after a spill has been cleaned up, a dangerous amount of liquid could remain in surrounding materials or clothing, giving off hazardous vapours.

These can also cause health problems depending on the specific material and route of exposure, for instance through breathing the vapour, eye or skin contact, and swallowing. Some of these liquids are corrosive, and many undergo dangerous chemical reactions if they contact incompatible chemicals such as oxidizing materials when stored improperly. It is therefore important to check the Material Safety Data Sheet and the supplier’s labels on the containers.

On the whole, Spill Doctor assures mining companies that it is well-resourced to meet their needs in the health, safety and environmental fields.“As a leader in internationally compliant products, we will find the unsullied product for your storage, distribution and removal of flammable liquids in a safe and legally-compliant manner,“ Murphy wraps up.

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