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OHIO Safe and Secure: Responding to hazardous spills

For Ohio University departments that use potentially hazardous chemicals and materials, coming in contact with danger can be as simple as dropping a bottle or tipping over a beaker. Cliff Hamilton, an environmental engineer in OHIO’s Risk Management and Safety department, says the University is lucky to have students and faculty who are careful in their work and prevent those sort of incidents from happening.

Hamilton says while there haven’t been any recent reports of chemical spills, spills do occur on occasion and the University is prepared to respond when they do happen.

Hamilton explains training is instrumental in preventing spills. Those who work with the materials, such as cleaning chemicals, are trained in how to do so. Officers with the Ohio University Police Department are also trained in how to respond to chemical spills.

Compass sat down with Hamilton to discuss what you need to know to prevent the dangers of spills and how to respond to them when they happen.

Compass: How does the University respond to chemical spills if they do happen?

Hamilton: It depends on what the material is, where it is and how much there is. If we have a spill or a release, it’s usually something small—someone drops a bottle—so we have people that are trained in emergency response procedures and we have clean up supplies and spill control materials capable of responding to small spills, like a gallon jug of bleach or something like that. So most of our chemical incidents are spills of something of that nature.

When we get a call that somebody has done something, like drop the bottle, dumped a beaker of something over, we go, we clean it up, we make sure everybody’s safe.

Compass: What should students and faculty do if they come in contact with hazardous materials?

Hamilton: If there’s any doubt about whether it’s safe to be an in area, then evacuate the area. We always err on the side of protecting people. We can clean up spills, we can do a lot of things, but we always try to protect people’s health and safety.

In addition, if a spill should occur, Hamilton advises that people call Environmental Health and Safety at 740-593-1666.

Compass: What precautions should people take in preventing spills?

Hamilton suggests:

  • Taking your time.
  • Don’t be in a hurry.
  • Don’t try to cut corners.
  • If you’re not sure what you’re working with or what you’re supposed to do, find out before you do it.

Anyone with questions about the chemicals they are using can call Hamilton, Laboratory Safety Coordinator Dave Schleter, or Radiation Safety Coordinator Alan Watts. Environmental Health and Safety can be reached at (740) 593-1666.

“If anybody has any questions or concerns, we’ll be happy to talk to them,” Hamilton said. “We love to talk to them before there’s a problem.”