Active or passive containment: which is the best approach for spills?


Thursday, 16 November, 2017

Active or passive containment: which is the best approach for spills?

There are two ways to approach spill control and countermeasures: ‘active’ and ‘passive’.

Is one better than the other? No; they just have different applications. Active and passive are terms used in plans for ‘spill control and countermeasures’ — also known by the acronym SPCC. Basically, they describe ways to comply with SPCC general secondary containment requirements that deal with the most likely discharge, whether it’s from a container or from equipment. In general, these types of spills are smaller and more easily contained than a worst-case discharge.

Passive containment

Passive containment is pre-emptive. It’s what is put into place to contain spills before they happen. The term ‘passive’ is used because these devices control the situation by themselves without a human actively needing to get involved.

You can set up either permanent or semipermanent passive containment for continuous, reliable protection. This is particularly helpful for remote sites that may not be routinely staffed. Passive containment systems also give peace of mind in containing potential, disastrous spills.

Passive containment devices include:

  • containment pallets and decks
  • bunding
  • retaining walls
  • drip pans and pillows
  • spill diversion and retention ponds.

Active containment

Active containment, as the name suggests, means a person has to actually take action to put the containment devices in place. It doesn’t matter if the containment device is deployed before an activity begins or in reaction to a discharge; all it means is that it needs people to ‘do something’.

Active containment measures include:

  • putting drain covers over storm drains before doing an oil transfer
  • placing drain covers over storm drains during spill response
  • using a spill kit to clean up a spill
  • closing gate valves before an oil discharge.

Keep in mind that active containment measures outlined in your SPCC plan must clearly specify the people available to actually deploy the solutions listed.

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