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Primary and Secondary Containment for Environmental Health and Safety


Protecting the environment - not to mention the health and safety of everyone on the site and all those near it, should be one of the principal concerns of any business - but especially those that could cause significant damage to the local ecosystem. Generally this will relate more to companies involved in industries such as heavy manufacturing, sewage treatment plants, oil refineries etc where any accident could cause harm to the environment on an extremely large scale.

Environmental Health and Safety Training and Risk Assessments

In such workplaces, not only is it imperative to provide environmental health and safety training to employees in the form of the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate for example along with other areas of health and safety in the workplace, but it is also necessary to conduct environmental risk assessments. By determining potential incidents, action can be taken to introduce measures with the goal of preventing them taking place and causing the likely damage to health and the environment.

Containment of Substances Hazardous to Health

One important safety feature involves primary and secondary containment of substances which are hazardous to health and the environment. Any accidental spillage or leakage of these substances could cause a lot of devastation to the environment over a wide area, as well as endangering the safety and welfare of every person in the vicinity. In some instances, it may even prove fatal to human life.

Primary Containment

A primary containment system usually describes the storage tank or container in which the hazardous substance is normally kept. This container therefore obviously needs to not only be suitable for the task, but also needs to be inspected regularly in order to locate any potential problems which may be occurring, such as a corrosion of the container wall, before it leads to a significant incident.

Secondary Containment

Whilst significant resources and attention should be devoted to the primary container, there should always be a plan and safeguards in effect should the primary tank breach.

For storage tanks, this will typically take the form of bunds which trap the liquid and prevent it from escaping into the surrounding land or watercourses where the pollution could cause death and destruction to the local environment.

Even if it has never been called into action in the past, and the focus is on the primary container to prevent that being breached, it is still the case that the secondary containment system should never be overlooked or allowed to fall into disrepair. Relying solely upon the primary container to perform flawlessly negates the entire purpose of having the bund or other form of secondary container at all. If it cannot perform effectively, it is of little use. Therefore, not only does a secondary system need to be put in place should the main one fail, but it too also needs to receive thorough maintenance, even though it is hopefully never needed, so that it can perform its intended function should it ever be called into service.

Back Up Systems and Safety Features in Other Areas

Having a secondary safety feature should not just be limited to the storage of harmful chemicals or gases either, but should be something which is adopted in as many different areas of the business as possible with regards to protecting the health and safety of everyone. Having backup safety features which can step-in should the primary control fail for whatever reason can make the difference between life and death, in additional to long-term environmental damage.

Related Course

Please see below for more information on the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate:

NEBOSH Certificate in Environmental Management

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate, or NEBOSH National Certificate in Environmental Management to give it its full title, is an environmental health and safety course which is intended to be taken by managers, supervisors and any other employees who are responsible for managing environmental issues at their workplace.

The NEBOSH Environmental Certificate qualification focuses on UK law, so is really only suitable for those who are based and operate within the UK.

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