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Operation spill control

  • Douglas Freer, CSP
- Posted: August 18, 2016
What’s your game plan for cleaning up an oil spill when a hydraulic line on your plow fails? Worse yet, what if your salt truck blows a pressurized hydraulic line while lifting the bed or spreading salt and there is a potential for dumping gallons of fluid on your client’s property? Are you equipped to manage the leak and clean up the resulting hazard? While you can’t prevent all spills or leaks from occurring, the best way to manage through the incident is to be prepared. 

The benefits of being proactive go beyond mitigating the environmental impact from a spill. Spill kits and proper training are important to protect your drivers, equipment operators and crew from coming into contact with potentially dangerous spills. Further, while a client may be disappointed that you experienced a spill on their property, they will be more willing to forgive the incident if you manage it effectively and demonstrate care and concern for their property by being prepared. 

Introducing spill kits into your equipment fleet and shop is neither difficult nor does it need to be expensive. You can buy premade spill kits or build your own to suit your needs. After looking at the options available through multiple sources, we chose to build our own to save cost and to better create kits that met our specific needs. 

Selecting a spill kit
To be effective the spill kit needs to be at or near the location of the spill at the time it occurs. Having a spill kit back at the shop when you need it on a job site does you no good. Consider the following factors when designing or selecting a premade spill kit to make sure it fits your specific needs and application: 

What is the spill risk that you intend to cover?

Determine the type of spill you need to clean up so you buy the right type of spill kit and materials. Some absorbents are de-signed for oil or petroleum-type spills while others are more general purpose or designed to clean up acids or other hazardous materials. If you have a mechanics shop you may have various acids, oils and other vehicle fluids that are more likely to spill or leak while working on equipment.

How much capacity do you need? 
Once you determine the type of liquid, estimate the volume and potential risk. Absorbents are sold based on the gallons of liquid they can retain. For example, a 12-gallon capacity box with 50 pads will clean up 12 gallons of fluid (each pad will clean up approximately 1 quart of fluid). If you want 5 gallons of cleanup capacity, you will need to have a minimum of 20 pads. Do you have the storage capacity to fit this many pads (along with the other items in the kit) into your planned storage area? 
You will need to balance the size or capacity of the spill kit with the potential risk you’re managing as well as the storage space that is available. It is likely not feasible to carry a 50-gallon spill kit, particularly where space is at a premium. It is better to have some protection via a smaller kit than to forego protection all together because you couldn’t store the larger kit. Buy products that provide you with sufficient capacity for your risk and consider options for how you will clean up the kits between socks, pads, dry absorbents and other options. 

Where will you need the spill kit? 
Spill kits need to be accessible; therefore, locating them nearest the possible threat is ideal. For example, a shop spill kit can be in an accessible area near vehicles or stored liquids and can be as large as you feel necessary to manage potential spills and clean up in your shop. However, a dump truck with central hydraulics may require a portable kit that is small enough to be placed behind the truck seat for easy access.  We opted to not use the 5-gallon buckets in the dump trucks to avoid taking up valuable storage space in the underbody tool boxes. Instead, we use a soft sided bag. We use the 5-gallon buckets in box trucks, trailers, off-site job trailers and shop locations. In addition to storing behind the vehicle seat, you can use truck storage boxes, if available; mount free standing kits to the exterior of trailers or truck cabs; or place them in or on a trailer.   

Outfitting your business with appropriate spill kits will be an investment. You can purchase new spill kits or bulk supplies from safety supply sources, industrial vendors or vendors that specialize in spill kits, like New Pig (

Before you buy, determine how many spill kits you will need, where they will be placed and how large they need to be. You may not need to buy or build very large kits for your trucks or equipment as long as you have something smaller to get started with for containment and clean up. Locating larger spill kits for backup in satellite locations or remote shipping containers where crews may warehouse some equipment and materials will provide you with the ability to right size your fleet setup while ensuring you’re not sacrificing overall field effectiveness. Time is of the essence, so keep in mind that downsizing capacity at the truck or equipment is more likely to add labor and delay as you bring in additional resources to clean up your spill. This factors into your cost calculations. 

A truck spill kit may cost as little as $40 if you make your own to as much as $300 or more depending on the size and storage container. A shop spill kit that adds more capacity may run from $75 to $750. (see below).

Choosing to build your own spill kits means that you will need to purchase items in larger quantities than you may need. For example, when buying yellow trash liners, the 150-unit roll cost $57, or $0.39 per bag. The cost per kit for disposal bags was $0.78; however, our actual company cost was significantly more since we had to buy and carry inventory for the specialty bag that we chose to incorporate into our spill kits. 

Spill prevention versus cleanup

Think of the spill kit as an insurance policy for an accident or incident you hope never happens and work proactively to avoid. Your preventive maintenance program should include periodic visual inspections of hoses, fuel/oil lines, tanks and other areas of your vehicle and equipment particularly prior to winter season. Keeping your equipment clean and parked in areas where small leaks can be detected early can also help prevent larger leaks or spills from occurring.

Reporting spills
Internally, you should have a process where spills of a certain nature or size require reporting to supervisors or your office. Not only will this alert proper staff to the need for possible follow-up to ensure the cleanup was successful, but it also allows you to get in front of communications with your client if necessary to advise them of the incident and the steps you have taken. Additionally, knowing that the spill kit has been used should trigger a restocking of the kit to make sure it is ready for the next use. 

Check your city, county and state requirements for reporting spills. In our state, spills over 25 gallons of oil or other petroleum product require reporting to the proper authorities. 

Carry MSDS and label information, if applicable, in the truck transporting the liquid. Your liquid deicer trucks should have MSDS information readily available for first responders to know what type of product you are hauling, and the information should be accessible in case the driver is incapacitated and unable to speak with emergency crews.
Truck Spill Kit: Assemble your own
We found many premade spill kits run approximately $150 to $250 per kit, which are convenient and include many useful products. To get started, we decided to build our own spill kits omitting some items and adjusting quantities to better meet our needs and budget. 

spillkit1 (250x187)

The costs below show the “per-kit cost” to build based on products we purchased from multiple vendors. However, if you take this approach you will need to purchase certain items in larger quantities based on your supplier’s packaging (i.e., plastic liners, scrubbing towels, nitrile gloves, etc.). This additional inventory, while it does have value, adds project costs since you will inventory the excess until you build additional kits or find other uses for the items.  
  • 5-gal bucket with lid (1) = $6.00 
  • Instruction sheet (1) = $0.00 
  • Safety glasses (1) = $3.00 
  • Nitrile gloves (OK for oil/fuel, not acids) (2) = $1.00
  • Sock absorbents (96-oz sock) (NP: PIG238) (3) = $10.98
  • Pad absorbents (1-qt pad) (NP: BLU107) (10) = $8.80
  • Yellow plastic liners/bags (2) = $0.78
  • Gojo scrubbing towel (2) = $0.90
  • Total = $31.46
  • 3/4 lb. No Freeze Plug-n-Seal Patching Paste (NP: PTY 237) = $14.30
  • Yellow nylon duffle bag = $15 to $20
spillkit2 (250x132)

How to use a spill kit
Training your employees on spill kit use is critical to the success of your program. Generally, operators will need to follow four steps when using their spill kit. 

1. Protect: Evacuate non-essential personnel. Assess the spill and identify the liquid. Put on PPE (personal protective equipment) such as nitrile or rubber gloves that are resistant to the product being cleaned up, safety glasses and apron, if appropriate. 

2. Confine
: Set up absorbent socks (overlap ends) to contain the fluid and prevent it from flowing any farther or into waterways. Further, if available, set up a fluid collection container to collect dripping or running fluids. Next, if available, use a patch-and-plug product to stop the leaking/dripping at its source. 

3. Cleanup: Begin to use pads, mats, pillows and loose absorbents to clean up the spill, working outside of the spill inward to the center.

4. Dispose: Once the spill is confined, plugged and cleaned up, dispose of the cleanup materials in your specially identified cleanup bag and secure tightly with plastic ties. Special disposal of the contaminated pads and absorbents may be necessary based on local codes and restrictions. 

Build the kit based on need
Your spill kit should be set up and stacked according to the products that will be used first to last. The PPE should be at the top of the kit followed by absorbent socks and so forth followed last by the disposal bags. The instruction sheet can be placed on top as well to re-mind employees of the action steps. 

spillkit 3

Create your own instruction sheet
Be sure to add an easy-to-follow instruction sheet and place on top of spill kit contents. Download and customize an example sheet here.

Spill kits storage
Consider the locations of the spill kits and train your employees on the different uses and hazards. Soft-sided kits can be used when storage is at a premium. They also can be placed in cargo trailers or truck boxes. Shop spill kits can be stored along with other maintenance supplies.

0816_SpillKit_3 (135x175)  0816_SpillKit_4 (175x110)  0816_SpillKit_5 (175x108)

Douglas Freer, CSP, owns Blue Moose Snow in Cleveland. Contact him at
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