There’s Been a Spill at the Job Site: Now What?

A prompt response and effective spill response plan will help you protect people and the environment when something goes wrong during a service call.

Jeff and Terri Wigley
Jeff and Terri Wigley

We have had several questions lately about the proper procedures for cleaning waste spills, as well as spills of other cleaning liquids on job sites. Due to public misconceptions about our industry, concern for our environment and the goal to constantly provide professional customer service, spills should be an important part of each company’s training and safety programs.

Question: What are the proper procedures for handling a waste spill on a customer’s job site?

Answer: Two principles must be kept in mind when dealing with spills of waste.

The first principle is that, per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Part 503 Biosolids Rule, “Pumpings from portable restrooms are defined as domestic septage.” Domestic septage contains mostly water, sewage and inorganic materials such as grit and organic fecal material. In other words, domestic septage is not hazardous waste. This is an important fact that every employee should know and be ready to convey to customers.

The second principle crucial in the proper handling of spills is immediate and thorough communication with both the customer and the portable restroom company. The route service technician needs to assume responsibility as the expert on the job site in these situations. By remaining calm, well prepared and communicative, serious customer issues such as calls to local officials or the EPA can be avoided.

The Portable Sanitation Association International advocates being mindful that, “No matter how large or how small the spill, the goal is to minimize impact on people and the environment.”

To begin with, be prepared for potential waste spills on job sites, at special events or at disposal sites:

• A 5-gallon container of absorbent material should be kept on every service vehicle. The most effective absorbent is silica gel, a crystallized form of silicon dioxide. Derived from sand, this product absorbs liquids and helps to eliminate odors. The most common and economical form of this product is cat litter. When you purchase one of these products, be sure silica gel is the primary ingredient as opposed to other varieties of cat litter that include only paper, pine or sawdust.  

• As suggested by the PSAI, create a spill containment procedure report for your company to use. As we will later describe, these suggested procedures and documentation demonstrate the proper care and concern for the seriousness of waste spills.

Suggested handling procedures rely on one common rule: Avoid using water on the spill since it will only further increase spread of the waste.

The first step is to stop the source of the spill or leak. If a valve is open, close it immediately. If the pumping wand will not close because debris is stuck in the handle, put this wand inside your 5-gallon bucket as you try to extract the clogged debris. This may be a good time to use your phone to take photos of the entire area for future reference.

The next step is to vacuum all liquid that can be pumped and then immediately apply the absorbent to the remaining area. Allow the absorbent to soak up the remainder of the spill.

While waiting for absorption, notify your manager or other responsible company representative for proper reporting. The company representative will either notify the customer or request that the route service technician notify the on-site job superintendent.

Use a broom or small shovel to collect the absorbed pieces of waste and put them into the 5-gallon absorbent bucket for return to the company yard. You may then want to use dirt, if available, to spread over the area to return the site to its original condition. This would be a good time to shoot more photos documenting the cleanup.

The final step is crucial. After the spill has been completely contained and the area cleaned, complete the spill containment procedure report as referenced earlier. This report should contain the following information:

• Truck number and name of service technician

• Service area address

• Name of customer and site supervisor

• Time and date of incident

• Spilled liquid vacuumed — yes or no

• Adequate absorbent applied — yes or no

• Dirt substituted or used with absorbent — yes or no

• Restroom company notified — time and to whom

• Time reported to site supervisor

• Photos taken both before the cleanup of the spill began and after the cleanup

• Used absorbent and waste disposed of at company location

• Verified by whom and date of verification

• Additional service technician comments

• Signature by service technician and company representative

The existence of such a report demonstrates the seriousness, as well as the expertise and professionalism, of the PRO in resolving this situation. Consider providing a copy of this report to the customer as a complete resolution of this issue.

In the event of a major spill, for example in a traffic accident where sewage may be leaking, contact emergency responders and then your office. If possible, stop the spill and contain the leak. Again, be the expert in conveying the fact that this is not hazardous waste.


Question: Our staff is well trained in the spillage of waste on a job site; however, what are the proper procedures for blue deodorizer spills or spills of other cleaning liquids? 

Answer: As with waste spills, the service technician needs to be trained, have the proper OSHA Safety Data Sheet for all liquids on the service truck, and communicate with both the customer and a restroom company representative.

Blue deodorizer is the most prevalent liquid involved in portable sanitation spills. Section 6 of the SDS is titled “Accidental Release Measures.” According to John Marcucci with Walex Products, the standard procedure is to apply a 10% bleach and water solution to the deodorizer, which will neutralize the blue color and clean the area. If the leak is on dirt, the wet area could be vacuumed as well. As Marcucci further states, any deodorizer manufacturer would be receptive to calls from PROs with any questions or concerns.


Training, preparation, communication and proper reporting are the key elements in dealing with spills. 


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