Opinion: Plan ahead for effective response to on-farm spills

Prevention, planning and establishing procedures, all key to effective spill management

Farmers depend on all sorts of tools to get the job done. Chemicals are just another tool that farmers use to keep farm machinery running, livestock and crops healthy, and ensure farms operate at optimal performance. 

With the use of chemicals, there’s potential for spills or leaks wherever crop protection products, cleaning supplies, fuel, livestock medications or other chemicals are stored and used. 

Planning, developing, and implementing a spill response will minimize the potential for injury, environmental impact, cleanup and replacement costs.


Plan first

Develop an emergency response plan, acquiring necessary supplies, and developing appropriate safe work procedures for handling and using each kind of chemical. 

The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association has developed a plan template, available at: www.casa-acsa.ca/en/canadian-agricultural-safety-week/grow-an-agsafe-canada/.

Developing an emergency response plan

– assessing job tasks;

– identifying hazards and risks; and

– planning what to do in case of an emergency.

As a part of a plan, create and update a chemical inventory, and gather and keep safety data sheets current within three years. 

A response plan needs to factor in situations that may affect people in the area, such as a fire, or other situations that may require evacuation.

Create an inventory list and purchase supplies using the plan and information found on each chemical’s safety sheet. 

The inventory list should include items such as proper personal protective equipment, a spill kit, and emergency eyewash information. 

Keep in mind that the inventory list should be reviewed and supplies restocked regularly. Ensure everyone on the farm knows where to find these supplies and how to use them.

Safe work procedures

These procedures outline how to perform job tasks safely from start to finish and include information including required personal protective equipment and its proper use.

Secondary containment

Secondary containment should be in place whenever possible for all stored chemicals.

Secondary containment mitigates the impact of a spill by containing contents to a defined area and  helps make any necessary cleanup easier. 

For smaller volumes of chemicals, a drip tray may be all that is needed. For large bulk storage, a berm system or double-walled containers might be used as secondary containment options. 

Whenever practical, engineering the risk out of the risk of a spill altogether, such as ensuring a fully-contained and enclosed system, is the preferred method of prevention.

Preventative maintenance

Create a preventative maintenance schedule. This schedule will be purposeful and provide the incentive to review and repair equipment, plumbing or secondary containment.

Once these plans have been developed, it is now time to implement them.

Everyone on the farm who handles or uses chemicals needs to be trained in WHMIS 2015/Global Harmonized System, work procedures and response plans. 

This training is a legislated duty of the employer in all provinces. It is strongly recommended that procedures and plans are reviewed and practiced regularly to ensure proficiency when they are needed.

Adequate supervision ensures that job tasks are being performed safely and that procedures are being followed. 

The supervisor should lead by example, and promote and encourage compliance.

Performing routine and regular inspections and preventative maintenance are essential.

Following the preventative maintenance schedule, inspect product containers for proper labels and conditions, and look at plumbing, secondary containment or any equipment.

Note any defects, and take corrective action to prevent a spill or leak. 

Facility inspections should also include a general inspection of chemical storage areas. For example: look for hazardous conditions such as leaking containers or unvented storage for propane.

Unfortunately, spills and leaks occur for a variety of reasons. Prevention is key. 

If the steps outlined above are followed correctly, any spill or leak would be from unforeseen circumstances or human error. However, by implementing the plan, it is possible to respond quickly and safely to a spill or a leak, protecting people and the environment from any potential harm.

Spill response procedures 

These are the procedures that are developed and practiced as part of the response plan.

Depending on the type of chemical and the amount released, the manufacturer and the provincial regulatory agency may need to be contacted to report the spill. The manufacturer label and safety sheet have emergency contact information. 

These bodies and organizations can provide direction and help. If there are any serious injuries sustained, provincial workplace safety and health authorities and worker’s compensation may also need to be notified.

Once the spill or leak has been cleaned up, the contaminated protective equipment and spill kit contents need to be appropriately disposed of according to the information found in the response plan.

Contaminated items must be placed in a bag that is labelled accordingly and handled with caution.

Site cleanup

Site cleanup should be performed as soon as possible. Timely site cleanup will help ensure the least amount of environmental impact and allow for a safe work environment after the cleanup.

The “3 Cs” are the most important things to remember in the event of a spill or leak.

Controlling the spill or leak will minimize the amount of product released.

Containing the spill or leak will help to minimize the spread of product into the environment.

Cleaning up the spill or leak as soon as possible allows for work to resume in the area in a safe and timely manner.

Visit agsafetyweek.ca/resources for more information, including an inflow graphic describing each step in responding to a spill on the farm.


Robert Gobeil is an Agricultural Safety and Health Specialist with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association.

Robert Gobeil