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Everything you need to know about Spill Control Automation in under 11 minutes. If you prefer to read the transcript is below.

What is Spill Control Automation? (Transcription)

Hi, my name is David Cole and I’m technical director of Sandfield Penstock Solutions and I’m going to talk to you about spill control automation today.

Well, spill control automation, really simply put is the fact that you can automate a system that controls a spill so instead of using human beings to react to a spill you’ve actually got some automation involved in your system.

Why is Spill Control Automation Necessary?

Well, what we’re looking at here is actually a system that’s self-controlling, so when there’s a pollution incident, instead of relying on a human being to go and operate a valve or control a valve or implement some sort of bund control it’s working for itself so it’s seeing a pollution incident through monitoring devices, so it might be linked to some sort of monitoring device, it might be linked to a fire alarm device. Immediately something happens to the containment system, the spill containment system automatically operates itself.

Ok so let’s just look at the automation and the maintenance and activation side of this process. So, what you’ve got is an automated system that will respond to an incident, this may come from a fire alarm, it may come from a monitoring device it may come from a human being pressing a button. Then you’ve got to look at how it records that, how it maintains what’s happened, so, what you’re looking at is: I’m recording that someone’s pressed a button and I’m logging onto a network, onto your smartphone, onto some sort of device so that you can see, who operated or where was it operated from, what caused it to be activated at what time of day. So, you’re logging a time. So, what you’re creating now is a schedule so that instead of someone saying, “well, we had a pollution incident, I think it was at three o’clock this morning and one of the guys went out and put a spill kit down”, you’ve actually got a system now where it records the piece of equipment that was operated, you know that it was operated its told you it’s been operated, you can see who operated it so you know who you can go and ask or where you can go and ask so you can actually find out what actually happened. But also you’ve got a  maintenance schedule because you know that device was operated so you know you need to go and have a look at that equipment, check that its ok, check that its perhaps leaked the pollution incident, check that its back in spec, ‘cos if that was coming from an interceptor alarm for instance which would close the valve, you need to is that interceptor now full of oil, do you need to empty, do you need to arrange to get it emptied. So it completely automates your process rather than relying on a human being at the end of it, seeing a pollution incident, operating some sort of device or going to respond to it and then writing a log of when it was operated which never really works in the real world.

So, when we’re looking at this automation side of it its moving technology along really because most of the world now relies on some form of automation. But what you’ve got now is if your site does have a pollution incident or for instance if you want to test this system, so if this system is a test operation where you want to close off your drainage or operate some barriers you’ve got that is set up as an automated device, what you’re doing is you’re creating a log and if you’re logging that event down, you’re creating s maintenance record of when things happened. And I think if you’ve got a system that’s automated so it’s generating a record of operation, who operated it, the regulator, if they were involved in an incident on your site, if you can show a record that is actually something simple to print off that actually shows that every Tuesday you test your system and it’s got a document, it’s not relying on someone just pencilling something in, it’s actually got some sort of computerised information, it goes a long way to proving that you’ve been in control all the time.

So, one of the things that we’ve moved along with, with the automation of spill control is the kind of current or the older idea was, you see a pollution incident, you react to it. What that’s doing is that’s totally relying on a human being qualified and actually skilled enough to actually react to an event, I think there’s no sort of mystery that lots of businesses, lots of businesses that we work with today, don’t have streams of maintenance personnel or engineers on site. These can be quiteautomation lean operations, there may only be a security guard, production workers and a production process going on at any one time. So, if there’s an incident that happens, have you got anyone on site that can actually deal with that pollution incident, you haven’t got time to pick up a phone, speak to a spill responder, get them to site. They could be hours away: you need to react very quickly.

How are Automated Spill Containment Systems Triggered? 

So, when we look at spill automation there’s lots and lots of areas to look at.

Now let’s look at some of the sites we’ve actually been involved with and we’ve actually dealt with. We had one site that was quite compact and had an issue with vehicle washing of a particular dirty vehicle and the drainage was quite difficult to control. The way they got around that, the way we worked with them to get around that, was we built in an underground tank, and that tank normally is just closed off, nothing happens with. When they decide to wash a vehicle there’s one of our valves, one of our valves is fitted to this tank and what it does is it closes one valve and opens another valve. So, while they’re washing the vehicle all the material; say they turn the vehicle wash on, the valves swap over and close. It closes off the surface water outlet and diverts any run-off then into the storage tank. It’s a simple system so that as soon as they operate the valves, it operates the vehicle wash. You can’t operate either or. You can’t, sort of, disconnect our valves and you can’t disconnect the vehicle wash. You have to use them together. So, it’s the valves that if they go to the closed position which is the ready position you couldn’t turn on the vehicle wash. Which is really a simple alteration system to prevent mistakes. If you relying on a human being that’s got to go and close that valve and open that valve it’s open for an element of error. There’s always a chance that the person will not operate the valve because it’s easier, or they’ll forget or normally it’s okay and nobody ever notices and just that once can be the incident that ends up with a pollution event.

Then you look at other sites where you might be linking something into a delivery. Whereas a delivery comes onto site, they’ve got a bypass key, that bypass key is interlocked into the control of the valves, you place it into the valves, you turn the key, that operates the valve. On operating the valve you release your interlock key which allows you to go into your tankard and make its delivery. It’s all little simple effects that eliminate the reliance on a human being operating a system. It’s back to a fully automated unit. And I think most of industry now if we look at jobs and look at how production works now is the more and more we automate things the more reliable they are and the simpler they can become. 

Why Should Site Designers and Managers be Excited About Spill Control Automation?

Well, spill control and the automated side of it a) is interesting because it’s no longer just some people running around operating a simple manual valve or perhaps a spill kit which is all reactive. It’s now become a bit more high tech, a bit more interesting. When you’re building a new site as soon as that site hits the ground when it starts to look at permits and starts to look at how it’s going to operate the chances are they’re going to be asked what’s the firewater containment plan. How would you control a major incident? So, the interesting part for us as designers and people building new sites is this could be done at the start. It can be done as part of the design process. So, instead of waiting to be build to site and then the customer applying for permits this could just be done as a standard, always there that it’s just something simply connected into the fire alarms, into an alarm system so that if the site ever had an incident, it doesn’t matter what they’re storing; it’s already developed. It’s already in the site, it’s the site drainage, the site pollution pathways can be closed down and there won’t be a pollution incident for the customer, as the containment is already done. 

What Does Spill Control Automation Cost?

So, spill automation, and the control and the cost of it is quite a difficult subject to cover in one quick statement. So, what you’ve got is that hundreds and hundreds of sites now have adopted a pollution containment policy; an automated system in process. When you look at it from a new point of view if you’re building a new site, if you actually look at it and cover the latest guidance. So, you’re looking at how much liquid you might have to contain. You’re building a policy up and you’re then building your drainage network probably simply fitting a ToggleBlok valve so they actually double (8:19) flat faces and the drainage has been built correctly for what we’re requiring and the above ground tertiary is correct. It’s relatively quite simple and the costs are actually very low in the great scheme of building a whole new warehouse or factory. But if you then take that and don’t do that, and you’ve now got a site that’s got to be retrofitted it can be quite difficult. Obviously the cost can escalate. You could already have an old existing pollution containment system that’s been involved which isn’t automated, which is reliant on human beings to operate. These could be large Penstock valves that are in manholes that have been benched over the biscuits and they sit in the middle of a road. To actually take those out and replace them with automated systems is difficult. So, there’s a big balance between at the start of a process if you take this we need to think about containment right at the start because you don’t know what might be on that site. That site might start off as a simple warehouse but in five years time it could be converted into a storage depot for drink materials, all sorts of, let’s say, other materials that are more of a pollution issue. So, your problem is is that if the design wasn’t thought of at the start, when somebody takes that over and then has to retrofit a containment system in place it’s quite complicated and that can be a lot more expensive. So, if you could do it at the beginning and always think let’s just look at how I can contain this site it’s a lot simpler than waiting until a new type of application arises. 

What is Your Recommendation For Anyone Considering Spill Control Automation?

Step one is understand the regulation. Step two is understand how that regulation specifically is to your business. Step three is to carry out a risk assessment of your business. Step four is to design an appropriate system. Step five is to implement that system that you’ve designed. And step six is to measure, maintain and document the system that you’ve actually installed and keep it up to date. 

If you’ve got any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. 

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David Cole MSEE

David Cole MSEE

Technical Director

David is a pioneer of the spill containment and water pollution prevention industry with 30 years experience. He was instrumental in the development of CIRIA736 with The Environment Agency and is passionate about preventing water pollution.

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