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Simplifying Vehicle Maintenance and Repair Shop Spill Clean-Up

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New products can absorb oil spills quickly with no dangerous dust, slippery residue or heavy lifting

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Vehicle maintenance departments and repair shop floors always seem to end up as a huge mess due to spills or leaks of oil, grease, brake fluid, transmission fluid and more, creating a dangerous slip-and-fall hazard and interrupting work flow until it is cleaned up.


While cleaning up such messes traditionally involves using clay type absorbents or a mop and bucket, these methods actually do an unsatisfactory, inefficient job. Not only is clay heavy, but it is extremely dusty when dry and the airborne dust can be dangerous, even potentially cancer causing, if inhaled. 

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Clay absorbents can also leave a hard-to-remove residue that typically must be scrubbed with secondary cleaning methods, including a mop and bucket. This can leave slippery wet spots to dry, followed by disposal of the oily water, which may be regulated.

“Absorbents like clay can become sticky when used to clean up spills or leaks on the shop floor,” said Anthony Eid, owner of Perris Auto Repair, a repair shop in Perris, California. “Mopping can make a mess if you push spilled oil and clay absorbents around. It is not effective and people can slip, fall and get hurt until any spill is fully cleaned up and the floor is dry.”

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Fortunately for shop safety and production managers who know what to look for, cleaning up the inevitable messy spills on the floor no longer has to be difficult or time consuming. Now a new breed of commercial absorbents is promising to simplify spill clean up safely and quickly so work can resume with no hazardous dust, slick residue or back-breaking lifting of heavy bagged absorbents.

Dustless Cleaning Products
Commonly used cleaning absorbents such as clay or diatomaceous earth are extremely dusty in their natural form, and can be hazardous when inhaled. While water can be added to reduce dust, as soon as the water evaporates (when a package is left open for instance), they return to their very dusty original state.

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“Products like clay can dust up unless you wet them down, and they get dusty when they dry out,” said Eid. “We want to avoid any dangerous dust in our enclosed, indoor shop environment.”

Many such absorbents, like clay and diatomaceous earth, contain crystalline silica, which is listed by the World Health Organization as a Group 1 carcinogen, the same category as asbestos. If inhaled, crystalline silica can also cause silicosis, a debilitating and sometimes fatal lung disease. OSHA recommends “replacing crystalline silica materials with safer substitutes, whenever possible.”

As a solution, a growing number of vehicle maintenance and repair shop managers are turning to safer “dustless” alternatives. There are now new cleaning absorbents made from all-natural, non-toxic earth compound and certified by NSF International for safety around humans and food. These products are permanently “dustless” without adding water. Because of this, they can be used safely without worry of inhalation, and will remain dust-free even when exposed to the open air indefinitely.

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These products go down dry and can be used to clean up any spills, such as oil, coolant, transmission fluid or even fuels.

While clay is a poor absorbent (it is mostly coated by the spill and absorbs it quite slowly), better absorbents act much faster. This expedites the clean up, and allows personnel to get right back to work. The “dustless” absorbent, for instance, picks up spills in a quarter of the time compared to clay.

“We found that the these absorbents soaks up spills several times faster than clay, and do a better job of clean up in much smaller quantities,” Eid said.

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No “Slippery” Residue
To protect shop mechanics and other workers from slip and fall accidents, which can be costly and carry some liability, managers also need to use a spill clean-up product that does not leave water (which needs mopping) or an unsafe residue.

To address these concerns, innovations in spill management technology have eliminated the need to add water to some products, as well as handled the issue of leftover residue.

New, all-natural absorbents are applied dry and reduce the risk of slip and fall liability. As a best-management practice, such absorbents can be applied dry to contain and clean up oil or other spill and leave no residue. When placed around a spill, this type of product acts like a sponge, quickly absorbing the spill material and binding to it. This makes it easy to sweep up the substance — along with the absorbent — into a dustpan and dispose of in a proper solid waste receptacle.

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No Heavy Lifting
Another issue with spill clean-up absorbents like clay and diatomaceous earth is that they are extremely heavy. Because such products have relatively low absorption-to-weight ratios, a lot of product must be used to clean up spills of any size.

As a result, workers can easily injure themselves handling multiple 50-pound bags of clay or diatomaceous earth to clean up a spill. This is another potential worker’s compensation or liability risk.

The weight and quantity of absorbent is also an issue when it comes to disposing of it after the spill clean up.

To address such issues, innovative absorbents now pack more absorption power in a lower weight. This makes bags of product safer and easier to handle, as well as less costly for disposal since such fees are usually based on weight.

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These absorbents, for instance, weigh a third less than traditional clay products but absorb up to 15 times more — so less product is needed to do the job. Clay absorbent bags normally weigh up to 50 pounds. In comparison, a 15-pound bag of the super absorbent could soak up about five times the amount of a spill.

Because of these products’ high absorption-to-weight ratio, in fact, cleaning up a spill typically costs less than 25 percent of the total cost of clay alternatives. Because much less product is required to handle the spill, much less needs to be paid out in terms of disposal fees, not including the labor-cost savings in the time it takes for an employee to pick up a spill.

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Neutralizing Acid Spills
While the vast majority of vehicle maintenance and repair shop spills will tend to be materials like lubricants, oil and grease, occasionally cleaning up battery acid or other caustic liquids is required and that can be an issue of worker safety.

To ensure safety, some new products can actually indicate if a substance is hazardous by changing color. This is important to prevent accidental exposure and injury.

One innovative, absorbent, clean-up aid, for instance, can neutralize a chemical hazard and indicate the substance’s pH level. It does so by turning red for dangerous acids and blue for dangerous bases. When the harmful substance is neutralized, it changes back to its original natural color, indicating that it is safe for disposal.

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With better spill clean-up options being made available, shop managers will keep employees safer and the service center more productive. A cleaner shop will also help the shop to pass required inspections, as well as impress customers.

Del Williams – Freelance Writer For Power PR

866-820-8050
[email protected]

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