What is the difference between an incidental and an emergency spill?
An incidental release is a release of a hazardous substance which does not pose a significant safety or health hazard to employees in the immediate vicinity or to the employee cleaning it up, nor does it have the potential to become an emergency within a short time frame. Incidental releases are limited in quantity, exposure potential, or toxicity and present minor safety or health hazards to employees in the immediate work area or those assigned to clean them up. An incidental spill may be safely cleaned up by employees who are familiar with the hazards of the chemicals with which they are working.
The properties of hazardous substances, such as toxicity, volatility, flammability, explosiveness, corrosiveness, etc., as well as the particular circumstances of the release itself, such as quantity, confined space considerations, ventilation, etc., will have an impact on what employees can handle safely and what procedures should be followed. Additionally, there are other factors that may mitigate the hazards associated with a release and its remediation, such as the knowledge of the employee in the immediate work area, the response and personal protective
equipment (PPE) at hand, and the pre-established standard operating procedures for responding to releases of hazardous substances. There are some engineering control measures that will mitigate the release that employees can activate to assist them in controlling and stopping the release.
These considerations (properties of the hazardous substance, the circumstances of the release, and the mitigating factors in the work area) combine to define the distinction between incidental releases and releases that require an emergency response. The distinction is facility-specific and is a function of the emergency response plan..