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5 Crucial Steps to Safely Handle a Warehouse Spill

Oct. 20, 2022
Spills can pose significant safety threats, so these five steps to safely handle a warehouse spill are essential for any facility.

While they may not seem like much initially, spills are a significant concern for warehouses. Even if the spilled material isn’t inherently dangerous, it can create slip hazards, disrupt workflows, and represents a financial loss for the company. Consequently, a thorough spill response plan is crucial for safe and efficient warehouse operations.

OSHA requires spill containment programs and training for hazardous materials, but warehouses with non-hazardous products should develop these plans too. Here’s how workers can safely handle a warehouse spill regardless of the substance in question.


The most important part of any hazard management plan is prevention. If a warehouse manages liquid materials, it should provide proper tools and training to minimize the chances of a spill.

Prevention begins with an understanding of the hazards at hand. Different chemicals require varying protections, such as corrosion-proof packaging for corrosive materials and non-flammable containers for combustibles. Any material-moving equipment should be able to hold objects heavier than a full container and undergo regular maintenance to prevent accidents.

Training is also crucial, as almost all workplace accidents stem from human error. Employees should follow specific, pre-set protocols for handling liquid containers to minimize unnecessary motion and risks of dropping them. Workers should also inspect all equipment before using it to move liquids to ensure they’re in good condition.

Of course, even with extensive preventive measures, accidents can still happen. When they do, workers can handle a warehouse spill by following these five steps.

Identify and Report the Spill

First, workers need to identify what spilled. The Department of Transportation (DOT) recognizes nine different classes of hazardous materials, all of which carry unique considerations. Consequently, specific actions in the next few steps will vary depending on the substance in question, so employees must quickly identify it.

Workers can look at container labels, colors and viscosities to determine what spilled. If they can’t identify it, it’s best not to risk getting any closer and simply report an unidentified liquid spill. In either case, employees should also note the spill’s size, location, source and flow rate.

As soon as they identify the spill, employees must communicate about it. First, they should warn others in the area so they can stay away. Next, they must report it to designated spill teams or managers so they can respond. Particularly large or dangerous spills may require calling an emergency service, too.

Stop and Contain the Spill

The next step in a proper spill response plan is to stop it. Workers should start by donning appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), which will vary depending on the type of spill. If the liquid only presents a slip hazard, non-slip shoes are likely enough, but other materials may require gloves, respirators, aprons or goggles.

To stop the spill, find its source. In some cases, stopping it could be as simple as moving a broken container. In others, workers may need to turn on an emergency shutoff switch, turn a valve or plug a hole with a leak stopper.

Once the liquid is no longer flowing, workers should contain the spilled material to prevent it from spreading. Warehouses should keep absorbent materials, dikes or other barriers on hand to place around the spill. Employees should also move any other nearby materials or equipment out of the way to prevent spoilage.

Clean the Area

Next, it’s time to clean the spilled material. How this step proceeds depends on the specific substance, which is why identification is so important.

Water and other non-hazardous materials may only require mopping or using a shop vac. Other materials may require neutralization first. The American Chemical Society recommends neutralizing acids with sodium bicarbonate and bases with citric acid. Warehouses should turn to resources like this beforehand to know what cleanup materials to keep on hand.

When cleaning the area, start from the outside of the spill and work inward. This will minimize the spread of the material and facilitate a more efficient cleanup. Any PPE and equipment used in the process may also require cleaning after the job is done, and workers should wash their hands.


Decontamination is a crucial part of handling a warehouse spill if the material is hazardous. This step can also be easy to miss. While it may seem like the issue is resolved once the spill is no longer visible, some substances can still present hazards, especially if they got on anything else.

Workers should treat the ground with appropriate chemicals or equipment to remove any lingering material and its adverse effects. That could mean industrial degreasers to prevent slipping hazards, spill rugs to absorb the last drops or sanitizers to neutralize remaining hazardous materials.

Anything that touched the spilled material needs decontamination, too. Workers may need to disinfect or—in extreme cases—dispose of any products, clothes or equipment that the spill contaminated. If anyone got hurt in the incident, they need to decontaminate before medical staff can treat them.

Learn From the Incident to Prevent Future Accidents

Finally, warehouses should take each spill as a learning opportunity. Once everything is clean and decontaminated, employees should assess the damage and any monetary losses. Managers should then review this information and consider how the situation unfolded to see how they could improve the outcome of future events.

Frequent spills from employee mistakes may suggest a need for robotics. Mistake-prone workflows are often the ideal use case for automation, so if these errors are a consistent problem, removing humans from these hazards may be the safest way forward. Alternatively, if the incident came from machine failure, the warehouse may need new equipment or better maintenance protocols.

An ineffective spill response will show what needs to change to prevent similar accidents in the future. An effective one could highlight strategies that would work in other safety incidents. In either case, reviewing the situation is critical to ongoing improvement.

Follow These Steps to Handle a Warehouse Spill With Confidence

Every warehouse needs some form of spill response plan, and such plans should cover these five steps. If employees can follow these measures, they can handle a warehouse spill in minimal time with minimal damage. Overlooking any could make these incidents more hazardous or time-consuming than they need to be.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton has eight years of creating logistics and supply chain articles under her belt. She loves helping people stay informed about industry trends. Her work in Supply Chain Connect, Global Trade Magazine and Parcel, showcases her ability to identify newsworthy stories. When Emily isn't writing, she enjoys building lego sets with her husband.

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