Pollution incidents include spills, leaks and accidents which could cause environmental damage.

You can avoid causing pollution by having a pollution incident response plan, showing what you would do if there was an incident.

You must have a pollution incident response plan if you carry out hazardous processes or store hazardous substances on your site. However, it is good practice for all retail and wholesale businesses to have some kind of plan in case there is an emergency.

What is a pollution incident?

A pollution incident is any unauthorised discharge to land, air or water that could cause environmental damage.

Examples of pollution incidents at retail and wholesale businesses include:

  • fuel drips or spills during refuelling distribution or fleet vehicles, or on a petrol station forecourt
  • leaks or spills from fuel tanks
  • leaks or spills from chemical containers, eg cans of paint, wood treatment products, cleaning chemicals
  • contaminated run-off entering a watercourse or drain, eg from vehicle cleaning on your site or an oil or chemical spill
  • waste or packaging being blown from skips or containers on your site
  • fires in stores or warehouses, which can have major environmental impacts.

What is a pollution incident response plan?

A pollution incident response plan is a short document that outlines the actions your business will take to minimise the pollution caused by an incident.

Your plan doesn't have to be complicated. The level of risk should influence the size, complexity and details of your plan.

Why do you need a pollution incident response plan?

Most businesses aren't legally required to have a pollution incident response plan, but it will help you prevent a pollution incident occurring at your site.

If there is a pollution incident on your site the clean-up costs can be expensive, particularly if you contaminate groundwater. You could be committing a criminal offence, may have to pay compensation and your reputation may suffer.

See our guidance: GPP21: pollution incident response planning.

Examples of retail and wholesale businesses that might need a pollution incident response plan include:

  • dry cleaners
  • petrol stations and garages
  • garden centres and DIY or home improvement stores
  • builders merchants
  • dairies and cheese wholesalers and retailers
  • bakeries
  • high street pharmacies.

Displaying a pollution incident response plan shows your staff and customers that you are acting responsibly and that you care about protecting the environment from pollution.

What information should your pollution incident response plan contain?

Details of your business

You should include:

  • the name of your business
  • your address and the location of your premises or site and a description of the surrounding area
  • a list of the operations that take place on your premises, including the number of employees present at different times of the day.

Key staff and contact details

List 24-hour contact details for people and organisations that may need to be involved during or after a pollution incident. For example:

  • staff who are responsible for making decisions and taking action in the event of a spill or leak
  • the most senior responsible person
  • the emergency services, your environmental regulator, the Health and Safety Executive and the pollution hotline (0800 80 70 60)
  • your water company or authority
  • local GP surgeries and hospitals with accident and emergency departments
  • the sewerage undertaker in case pollutants enter foul drainage
  • specialist clean up contractors
  • the person responsible for keeping the plan up to date.

Contact your environmental regulator

Document review dates

You should include:

  • the date the plan was last reviewed - make sure that it is current and up to date
  • the date your workforce was last briefed on the plan contents.

Details of pollution risks at your premises or site

Include a detailed site plan that shows areas vulnerable to pollution, including the locations of storage and delivery areas, any other areas that could cause pollution, and locations of surface watercourses or culverts that could be affected by a pollution incident.

List the types of fuel, oils, gases and chemicals you store on your site. Include estimates of how much of these you normally keep on site to help the emergency services in an incident. Attach product data sheets and COSHH (control of substances hazardous to health) assessments for any substances that pose a risk to people or the environment.

Once you have identified possible sources of pollution, you can take action to reduce the likelihood of an incident.

See our guidance on water pollution.

How to deal with pollution incidents

Your plan should describe the actions to take in the event of an incident and who is responsible for them. The actions that you need to take will depend on your business activities.

The plan should contain details of how to:

  • stop incidents occurring, eg prevent leaks
  • contain incidents, eg how to use spill kits to prevent spilled materials entering drains or watercourses, and include a list of all materials and equipment held on site to deal with pollution
  • notify relevant contacts when an incident occurs, eg key staff, environmental regulators and emergency services
  • decide whether an incident is significant or not
  • clean up after any incident, eg how you will store and dispose of contaminated materials.

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