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It’s no secret that major oil spills wreak havoc on ecosystems and communities. Major oil disasters such as the Exxon Valdez tanker spillage in 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon drilling catastrophe in 2010 have become bywords for ecological devastation, but it is important to remember that not all oil spills make the headlines.

For example, 2020 was considered to be a very good year for oil tankers — the joint best, in fact, along with 2012 and 2019, in five decades. The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) recorded no major oil spills throughout the year and only three “medium” spills. However, the total amount of oil spilled from tankers in 2020 is still estimated to be a hefty 1,000 tons.

Here on land, fuel, oil and other hazardous waste materials continue to cause concern. In the State of New Jersey alone, there are 114 hazardous waste sites, while California, Pennsylvania and New York State boast 97, 91 and 85 respectively. Meanwhile, the hazardous waste treatment and processing industry reached an estimated worth of $8.7 billion in 2019, the highest level in history.

Increased understanding of the severity of oil and fuel spills

Across the country, lawmakers, politicians and industry figures are debating and legislating on the safe handling of oil and fuel. In New Mexico, the Senate has agreed to vote on a bill that will increase regulation on the wastewater produced by companies in the oil and gas industries. In Michigan, Rep. William Sowerby has introduced a bill that will impose fines of $500,000 per day on oil spilled into the Great Lakes, alongside penalties of $50,000 for failure to report a spill.

California has shown itself to be ahead of the curve and has already implemented increased penalties for oil spill-related offenses. As of 2021, violations of oil spill regulations will carry penalties of between $10,000 and $1,000,000, double the previous rate. New legislation also approves the application of special conditions for spills of more than 1,000 gallons, which could equal $1,000 per gallon.

Making sure your business stays compliant

Even if you do not operate in one of the states mentioned above, it is still crucial that you do your part to prevent oil and fuel spills at your place of business. We are seeing a pattern emerging — a pattern of zero tolerance regarding the mismanagement of hazardous waste.

So, if your business handles oil or other hazardous substances, how can you make sure that your business stays safe, eco-friendly, and compliant with all regulations?

  • Educate and support all staff

Bringing everyone on board is crucial when it comes to handling oil and fuel. Provide education to your staff members on the best practices they need to be aware of, and offer support to them as they target responsible action. It only takes one team — or even one staff member — to make a mistake, and a costly oil spill can result. Make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them.

This is not about punishing or disciplining your teams. Instead, it is about making sure that everyone understands how important this issue is and that everyone has the tools required to stay vigilant and protected.

  • Make hazardous waste management a key part of your corporate identity

Education and support are important, but your business can do even more than this. By drafting training plans, carrying out regular appraisals, and offering rewards and incentives, you can begin to make the responsible management of hazardous waste a key part of your identity as a company.

This has a profound effect elsewhere, too. Your clients and potential customers will be far more likely to want to deal with you if they see that you are a responsible and conscientious organization, and your commitment to sustainability will make your local community a better and more pleasant place for all.

  • Deploy spill containment berms and secondary containment solutions

Spill containment berms are among the best practical solutions to deploy in the fight against oil and fuel spillages. Even with a responsible attitude to handling hazardous materials, accidents can still occur, and it’s important to stay protected.

These spill berms will catch minor spills and prevent them from becoming a serious problem. With this extra line of defense, your teams are protected from harm, and the local environment is kept safe from potentially devastating contamination. Certain states may also have regulations regarding spill berms and containment measures that will need to be complied with if you are to stay on the right side of the law.

  • Carry out diligent water waste treatment and handling

Heavy penalties are imposed on businesses that let hazardous materials flow into the local water table. By adopting a policy of treating wastewater effectively, and then testing the wastewater to make sure there are no residual traces, you are achieving protection.

  • Reporting an oil spill without delay

If an oil spill event does occur, it’s critical that this event is reported immediately. Any delay could worsen the danger to the local environment and increase the fine imposed on your business. The swift reporting of oil spills is a key part of some of the legislation currently being proposed.

  • Stay on top of changing regulations in your area

Be aware that regulations are subject to change. This means that just because you were compliant with regulations and requirements last year, the same might not be true next year or the following year. Staying on top of the situation requires a proactive approach.

Make time to keep informed about your industry and about regulation. Read industry publications and regularly check news sources. This will help you to stay informed and to make sure your business stays on the right side of compliance.

The Right Attitude to Oil Spills

Thanks to solutions such as spill berms and water treatment products, businesses have the tools they need to stay protected against oil and fuel spills. All that’s required is a positive approach and company-wide engagement in the task of keeping the environment and the local community safe from harm.