Absorbents Improve Safety & ProductivityBack to The PIG® Library
Every facility uses “something” to clean up spills. Choosing absorbents that have been specifically created for the task will help save time and money spent on clean up, and help improve floor safety conditions.
Clay, or cat litter, has been around for ages. The initial cost for a bag is fairly low, but the hidden expenses of using clay to handle leaks and spills are often surprising. Clay pellets and dust find their way into machinery, damaging engines and gears, and causing premature wear and equipment failure. It also gets tracked everywhere, making the entire facility look dirty, and creating slip hazards wherever it goes.
Because clay is made from crushed rock, it is not truly an absorbent — liquids simply coat the surface, and are easily redeposited on the floor. It also takes over 10 pounds of clay to clean up one gallon of spilled oil.
Another problem with clay is the health hazard it presents. Because clay contains crystalline silica, every bag of clay is marked with a health warning. Prolonged exposure to crystalline silica dusts can cause silicosis, an irreversible lung disorder that can lead to tuberculosis and heart failure.
Lost work time injuries due to muscle strains may also be a concern when using clay. Clay is commonly packaged in 50 pound bags that need to be manually carried and lifted. Whether the bags are lifted and poured onto spills, or it is scooped from the bag, it presents an ergonomic hazard.
After a spill has been adsorbed up with clay, the job's not over. It still needs to be swept or shoveled — and at ten pounds of clay for every gallon spilled, the time to sweep and shovel a spill adds up, prolonging the ergonomic burden on workers, decreasing morale, and cutting into productivity.
Keeping Cardboard in the Recycling Bin
Because it comes “free” with nearly every product shipped, cardboard is sometimes used to soak up water near entrances when the weather turns bad, or in production areas where overspray or leaks are common.
Cardboard isn't a great absorbent, but to some people, it gives the perception that something is being done to rectify a situation. When cardboard is placed on a wet floor, it slides around freely until it starts to absorb something. As it absorbs the layers tend to separate quickly, causing slip and trip hazards.
Besides the safety issues, like clay, cleaning up soaked cardboard isn't a favored chore, and the messy cardboard is usually no longer recyclable, so it now becomes a solid waste, taking up room in dumpsters or roll offs if it has absorbed water, and possibly becoming a hazardous waste if it picked up other liquids.
Getting to Know Modern Absorbents
Modern absorbents include mats, socks, pillows, and silica-free loose. They are lighter than clay, have higher absorbency rates, are more efficient, provide more disposal options, and help increase safety.
Absorbent mat rolls are most often used to cover slippery floors. Absorbent mat pads are used to capture leaks and drips, or to clean up spills. Mats are commonly made of polypropylene or cellulose. Each of these materials gives mats different properties. But unlike clay, both are more efficient than clay and are capable of absorbing and retaining liquids so they don't get tracked around the facility.
Polypropylene mats are stronger than cellulose, and will stand up to foot and sometimes cart traffic. They are also more chemically resistant — an important consideration if corrosive materials will be absorbed. Cellulose absorbent mats are more absorbent than polypropylene, making them a good choice for non-corrosive liquid spills, but they are not strong enough to be used in aisleways or entrances.
Although mats are available in many colors, there are two main types: Universal and Oil-Only. Universal mats will absorb any liquid that comes in contact with them. If corrosive liquids are present, care should be taken to avoid mats with cellulose content. Oil-Only absorbent mats will absorb oil-based liquids while repelling water.
- Gray and blue mats are universal absorbents that are commonly used for routine leaks and spills in a facility. Their color blends well in most facility settings, helping to minimize change-outs.
- White and brown mats are oil-only mats. White mats are most often used in spill response because it is easy to see when a spill has been absorbed and when the mats are saturated and need to be replaced. Brown mats are more commonly used inside facilities in a similar manner to gray and blue mats.
- Pink and yellow mats are universal absorbents. Because of their bright color, they are often reserved for spill response to alert everyone in the area that something out of the ordinary has occurred, and that caution should be taken in the area.
Polypropylene mats provide a number of disposal options. Because they are non-biodegradable, they can be landfilled in hazardous waste landfills. Polypropylene also burns with a high BTU value and low ash content, making it a great choice for fuel blending and incineration. Cellulose mats are excellent candidates for fuels blending and incineration.
Both polypropylene and cellulose mats contain recycled content, helping facilities meet sustainability and “green” initiatives.
Absorbent Socks and Booms
Absorbent socks are made of a permeable skin that is sewn or glued into a tubular shape, and filled with a loose absorbent media. This filler varies widely and can be a cellulose material, such as corncob or recycled paper; or an earthen material like vermiculite. Like mats, socks can be either universal or oil-only absorbents.
Absorbent socks are made to be moldable so that they can conform to the base of a machine to capture leaks before they enter a walkway; or to create a dike to contain a spill. This is why socks shouldn't be completely full. An overfilled sock will not bend or curve well, nor will it hug the floor well enough to provide spill containment.
Booms are larger versions of socks that are used almost exclusively for large spill response. Most booms are oil-only, and can be used on land or water to contain oil-based spills while repelling water. Even when fully saturated, oil-only booms will continue to float, making retrieval easier.
Because workers who have used clay for years can sometimes be resistant to change, making the jump from clay to a mat or sock can be hard. There are also times when mats and socks just won't get into all of the nooks and crannies that spilled liquids tend to find.
In these cases, safer and more efficient loose absorbents can be substituted for clay. The properties of ground newsprint, peat moss, or volcanic ash make them safer and more efficient than clay.
Ground newsprint is lighter than clay, is highly absorbent, and can be fuels blended or incinerated. Peat moss is excellent for absorbing oil spills in the rain. Volcanic ash soaks up thicker liquids, and helps to remove slippery oil sheens from hard surfaces.
Saving Time and Money
Absorbent mats, socks and efficient loose materials may initially cost more than a bag of clay, but the benefits far outweigh the slightly higher initial cost. Because they are more efficient, fewer absorbent products are needed to perform the same job.
Using fewer absorbents means that less waste will need to be disposed of, helping with waste minimization efforts. Modern absorbents are also more effective at capturing spills and keeping them where they happen, so less is tracked to other areas, minimizing clean up time and associated costs for floor and carpet cleaning.
The price of safety may seem hard to quantify, but according to the National Floor Safety Institute, slips and falls are the leading cause of lost work time injuries, and American businesses spend over $2 billion in compensation claims associated with these injuries each year. When absorbent mats and socks are used as part of a floor safety program, slip and fall hazards can be minimized or eliminated.
Switching from clay to modern mats and socks increases facility safety and productivity, helps to minimize wastes and helps preserve the environment.