Chemical Spill Response - Procedures

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1. Purpose and Objectives

These procedures instruct staff and students on what to do if they are involved in a chemical spill in the workplace.

2. Definitions, Terms, Acronyms

Major spill - involves the release of a type or quantity of a chemical that poses an immediate risk to health, or a high risk of fire or explosion.

Minor spill - the release of a type or quantity of a chemical which does not pose an immediate risk to health and does not involve chemical contamination to the body.

Spill kit - provides the equipment and reagents for cleaning up spills and is appropriate to the reagents which are hazardous in that work area.

SDS - Safety Data Sheet.

SOP - Standard Operating Procedure.

3. Procedure Scope/Coverage

This document is to be followed by all UQ workers and students who are present at a chemical spill of any kind in the workplace.

4. Procedure Statement

Despite the best efforts of researchers to practice safe science in the laboratory, incidents resulting in the unintentional release of chemicals will occur. For this reason it is essential that all laboratory personnel have a spill response plan that includes appropriate procedures and materials to adequately contain and clean up a chemical spill. The following procedures should be used to help laboratory personnel design an effective spill control plan for their laboratory.

5. Responding to Chemical Spills

The potential category of spill must be determined during the Risk Assessment process prior to ordering or handling the chemical taking into account the quantities in use and location of work.  The SDS should be reviewed, in particular Section 6, for information on spills managment. Practical training on spill procedures and first aid must be provided in dealing with the incident as well as documenting details in the SOP. Once the category of spill has been determined as major, the following procedure should be followed.

5.1 Spill response procedures - Major spill

If the spill involves the release of a type or quantity of a chemical that poses an immediate risk to health or could initiate an uncontrolled fire or explosion:

  1. Evacuate the building by activating the nearest fire alarm.

  2. Call either University Security (St Lucia and Gatton) on 3365 3333 or the number provided for your location from the Fire and Emergency Procedure Card and give details of the incident including location, types of hazardous materials involved, quantities, and whether there is personal injury.

  3. If the incident involves personal injury or chemical contamination:

  • Injury: Move the victim from the immediate area of fire, explosion, or spill (if this can be done without further injury to the victim or you).

  • Chemical contamination: Locate the nearest emergency eyewash or safety shower. Remove any contaminated clothing from the victim and if appropriate to first aid for the chemical type, flush all areas of the body contacted by the chemical with copious amounts of water for at least 15 minutes.

  • Administer first aid as appropriate to the injury and the chemical concerned and seek medical attention.

  • Report the incident through the UQ OHS Incident Reporting Database.

5.2 Spill response procedures - Minor spill

In the event of a spill involving the release of a type or quantity of a chemical which does not pose an immediate risk to health and does not involve direct chemical contamination to the body:

  1. Notify lab personnel and surrounding work areas of the incident and cordon off the affected area. Be aware that volatile chemical contaminates will likely be carried via the air-conditioning throughout the building.

  2. Isolate the area. Close lab doors and evacuate the immediate area if necessary.

  3. Electrically isolate (via the floor isolation point) if practical. If not then remove ignition sources and unplug nearby electrical equipment. 

  4. Assist the air-conditioning to dilute vapours by activating the boost button or opening the windows if available. If power is still connected to the fume cupboards open the sash or activate the extraction boost button and keep these running.

  5. Locate spill kit.

  6. Choose appropriate PPE (goggles, face shield, impervious gloves, lab coat, apron, respirator etc.).

  7. Confine and contain the spill using the appropriate spill kit absorbents.

  8. Acid and base spills should be neutralised prior to cleanup. Cover with appropriate absorbent material.

  9. Sweep solid material into a plastic dust pan and place in a sealed container.

  10. Wet mop spill area. Be sure to decontaminate broom, dustpan, etc.

  11. Put all contaminated items (gloves, clothing, etc.) into a sealed container or plastic bag. Obtain instruction for appropriate disposal from the UQ Science Store.

  12. Return spill kit to storage location and arrange for used contents to be replaced.

  13. Inform the Laboratory Manager and complete an incident report if appropriate. 

5.3 Special spills procedures

5.3.1 Bromine

  • Neutralise spill with a 5% sodium thiosulphate solution.

  • Absorb with inert absorbent material.

5.3.2 Acid and caustic spills (not hydrofluoric acid)

  • Ensure you are wearing appropriate protective clothing (goggles, gloves and shoes, respirator).

  • Ensure area is well ventilated.

  • Neutralise and absorb spill.

  • Scoop up waste in plastic waste bags.

  • Mop floors after clean-up.

5.3.3 Alkali metals (lithium, sodium, magnesium, potassium)

  • Smother with dry sand or cover with contents from a Class “D” fire extinguisher. Use of a Class “D” fire extinguisher is the preferred extinguishing method.

  • Avoid contact with water.

5.3.4 Mercury

  • Use a special mercury spill kit.

  • Use an aspirator bulb or suction device to collect mercury beads (DO NOT USE A VACUUM CLEANER).

  • Mop up with mercury decontaminating powder.

  • Label waste appropriately and arrange for disposal via the UQ Science Store.

6. Chemical Spill Kit Essentials

Every laboratory that uses chemicals must have access to a spill control kit. Spill kits should be strategically located around work areas in fixed locations so they will be easily accessible. Although most spill kit contents are common items which may be found throughout the lab, they must be consolidated for emergency use.

Spill kits can be purchased through most supply vendors that sell chemicals or safety supplies.

The following is a list of recommended items that should be contained in a chemical spill kit. However, it is important that spill kits be tailored to meet the specific spill control needs of each laboratory. Spill kits should be checked periodically, and restocked after each use.

6.1 Absorbents

  • Universal spill absorbent - 1:1:1 mixture of Flor-Dri (or unscented kitty litter), sodium bicarbonate, and sand. This all-purpose absorbent is good for most chemical spills including solvents, acids (except hydrofluoric acid) and bases.

  • Acid spill neutralizer - sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate, or calcium carbonate.

  • Alkali (base) neutralizer - sodium bisulfate.

  • Solvents/organic liquid absorbent - inert absorbents such as vermiculite, clay, sand, Flor-Dri, and Oil-Dri.

  • Bromine neutralizer - 5% solution of sodium thiosulphate and inert absorbent.

  • Hydrofluoric acid - HF compatible spill pillow or neutralize with lime and transfer to a polyethylene container.

6.2 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Goggles and face shield.

  • Heavy neoprene gloves.

  • Disposable lab coat and corrosive apron.

  • Plastic vinyl booties.

  • Respirator (all lab personnel must be properly fit-tested before using a respirator).

6.3 Clean-up material

  • Plastic dust pan and scoop.

  • Plastic bags (30 gallon, 3 mm thickness) for contaminated PPE.

  • One plastic bucket (5 gallon polyethylene) with lid for spill and absorbent residues.

6.4 Other

  • Hydrofluoric acid antidote gel - calcium gluconate.

  • Mercury spill kit - aspirator bulb and mercury decontaminating powder.

  • Alkali metals - dry sand or a Class “D” fire extinguisher.

  • Acid chlorides - Oil Dri, Zorb-All, or dry sand.

6.5 Training

Workers dealing with a chemical spill improperly can lead to significant chemical exposure and injury. Training is therefore an essential component of effective spill management. Staff must be competent and confident in the use and application of the spill kit. The Work Health and Safety Coordinator (WHSC) should include the location and use of the spill kits in the general induction for new laboratory workers, and either the WHSC, floor manager or team supervisor should ensure the contents and integrity of the spill kit is maintained and ensure refresher training is provided to staff as needed for spill kit use.

7. Additional Resources

For further information on specific chemicals please see other related topics in,

University of Queensland Science Store:

8. Contact for Further Information

UQ OHS Division
Phone: 3365 2365


Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael
Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael