Using and managing solvents

Storing and using solvents


You should store and use solvents carefully to avoid pollution from leaks and spills. If you cause pollution, you could be prosecuted or fined.

Check safety data sheets

Ensure that your solvent supplier gives you an up-to-date safety data sheet (SDS) with every order. An SDS provides information on safe solvent use, and what to do in the case of an accident.

Make sure that your employees:

  • are aware of and understand the information in the SDS
  • know where the SDS is kept
  • have ready access to the SDS, in case it is needed in an emergency

Store solvents safely

Keep solvent containers closed when you're not using them. This will minimise emissions to the atmosphere by evaporation.

Avoid using underground storage tanks (USTs) for solvents. If you already store solvents in USTs, contact the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) for advice.

If you need to store waste solvents, or wastes contaminated with solvents (eg cleaning cloths), keep them in sealed containers.

You should locate, use and maintain solvent storage facilities as you would other chemical storage facilities - see storing chemicals.

Use solvents safely

Ensure staff who use solvents are appropriately trained.

You should place all cloths contaminated with solvents in a closed metal container after use and consider reusing them.

Only use, pour and mix solvents in designated areas. These areas should be well labelled, well ventilated and have appropriate secondary containment systems. If you use solvents for cleaning purposes, consider using equipment that will minimise emissions, eg a sealed system.

Carry out regular risk assessments and make improvements to your processes from the results - see how to manage the risks in your business.

Transport solvents safely

Make sure you allow enough space for solvents to be safely delivered, removed and transported around your site. You should also:

  • mark transport routes clearly through your site
  • check regularly that there are no obstacles or sources of ignition
  • ensure that all deliveries are made and accepted by properly trained staff
  • ensure that delivery areas are clearly marked out, secure and free of obstacles

Deal with spills correctly

It is important that you and your employees know how to manage spills and leaks if they occur.

Have a pollution incident response procedure for dealing with spills. Make sure that all staff are fully trained in the procedure and how to implement it.

Your business may face prosecution if you allow solvents to cause pollution in the air (eg odour), watercourses, groundwater or land. You can reduce the impacts of a spill if you have proper procedures in place.

You should:

  • keep equipment to deal with spills, eg absorbent granules and containment equipment, close to solvent storage areas
  • have drain covers or drain valves to stop spills or leaks entering water drains or the public sewerage system
  • have a reporting system for spills over a certain volume
  • have a spill procedure for dealing with large spills and put procedures in place to prevent any recurrence
  • seal solvent-soaked materials into a drum for recovery, reuse or disposal
  • train all employees in your spill procedure

Report pollution incidents as soon as they happen to the NIEA Water Pollution Hotline on Tel 0800 80 70 60.