Minor spills do not necessarily need the assistance of EH&S. Laboratory and facility workers who have had the proper training and possess the appropriate equipment can safely and effectively handle the majority of biological, chemical, oil and other types of spills that occur in laboratories, dormitories, maintenance facilities and other university buildings. However, many spills must still be reported, such as any release of a substance to the environment. Contact EH&S for details regarding proper incident and spill reporting.
Make sure you are prepared to respond to an emergency. Have spill control materials, personal protective equipment and other emergency response equipment nearby. Get training in first aid and fire extinguisher use. Practice emergency communications, evacuation procedures and spill response. Post hazard information and contact names on the door to your lab to help emergency responders.
No matter how carefully one works, laboratory accidents occur and necessitate emergency response. Spills of biological materials are potentially hazardous not only to the individual, but also to coworkers and people in surrounding areas.
Procedures must be developed and implemented, and each laboratory using biohazardous materials must possess appropriate equipment and supplies to effectively address a spill and/or exposure incident. The content of the procedures, equipment and supplies will vary for each lab and should include basic elements, such as: written procedure(s) for lab personnel to follow; injury response; specific clean-up, decontamination, containment and disposal instructions; spill kit list of contents availability and instructions for use; reporting procedures for incidents, injuries and/or exposures; and a training plan for staff to learn the procedures.
Campus biological lab policies for emergency plans, spills, decontamination, waste disposal and incident reporting are described in the UW–Madison Researchers’ Biosafety Manual and the guidance documents all linked below.
- UW–Madison Researchers’ Biosafety Manual (PDF)
- Biological Spill Protocols (web page, 3 PDF templates)
Chemical spills can result in chemical exposures as well as cause damage to surrounding areas. Whether a chemical spill can be safely managed by laboratory staff depends on multiple factors including the hazards of the chemicals spilled, the size of the spill, the presence of incompatible materials, and whether you have adequate training and supplies to safely clean up the spill. DO NOT enter the area if you cannot assess the conditions of the environment well enough to be sure of your own safety.
Laboratory specific spill plans should be included in the laboratory Chemical Hygiene Plan and SOPs—the best time to prepare for a spill is before the spill occurs!
Large chemical spills require emergency response. Large spills are volumes too large to contain or may be spills that release outside of containment highly toxic, volatile, or flammable chemicals. Immediately evacuate others in the area, close all doors and call 911.
If the nature of the spill presents a situation that may be immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) to building occupants or present significant fire risk, and you cannot safely or quickly alert all others to leave the area, then activate a fire alarm, evacuate the area, and wait for emergency response to arrive.
Small chemical spills can typically be managed by the lab if the chemical has low toxicity, does not present a significant inhalation hazard, and the lab has appropriate PPE and cleanup materials. A small spill should not present a significant fire or environmental hazard and is not in a public area such as a common hallway. If you have any questions about handling or preparing for a small spill, or you are unable to safety cleanup a small spill, contact chemical safety.
Any spills released into the environment must be immediately reported to Chemical Safety.
Choosing Spill Cleanup Materials
Labs must always have appropriate spill containment and cleanup materials for the chemicals in the lab. See the Chemical Spill Control Materials document to assist in putting together a spill kit.
Oil and Other Environmental Spills
Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans have been developed for bulk oil storage at UW–Madison. Spill response procedures for applicable facilities have been established in those plans. If an oil spill has been observed at a facility that is known to be covered by an SPCC plan, contact the Facility Emergency Coordinator to appropriately respond to the spill.
If you are not aware of an SPCC Plan, the proper clean up procedures, or are not trained in completing cleanup activities; the spill should be reported to EH&S.
Please see the Bulk Material Storage for additional information on the campus SPCC Program.
Emergencies: Call 911
- UW–Madison Researchers’ Biosafety Manual
- Biological Spill Protocols
- Template 1–Spill Not in BSC with Evacuation
- Template 2–Spill Not in BSC no evacuation
- Template 3–Spill IN BSC
- Spill Cleanup Stop Signs
- Chemical Spill Preparation
- Recommended Chemical Spill Control Materials
- Report an Incident or Concern