Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Pollution incident response planning

Your business could cause pollution by accidentally or deliberately releasing a substance that may damage the water environment, cause air pollution and land contamination and harm wildlife or people.

Pollutants are not just hazardous substances like chemicals. Substances such as food and drink products like milk, and surface water run-off containing oil and fuel or suspended solids could cause pollution.

If you handle or store hazardous or polluting substances you should take precautions to prevent accidents and reduce their effects.

If there is a risk that your site may cause a pollution incident you can be forced to take action to remove the risk. If you do cause serious pollution you may have to pay to remedy the damage.

Relevant Business Topics:

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Additional resources


Video Case Study: How to Prepare an Emergency Response for your Business

Pollution incident response plans

A pollution incident is when any substance is released to land, air or water that could harm people or the environment.

Accidental spills or leaks from poorly maintained plant, equipment or containers, which can enter your surface water drainage, are common causes of pollution incidents.

Reduce the risk of incidents by storing and handling polluting substances carefully.

A pollution incident response plan (PIRP) outlines the actions you should take to reduce the chances that your business causes pollution from an incident or accident at your site. Your plan doesn't have to be complicated. The level of risk should influence the size, complexity and details of your plan.

Why you should have a PIRP

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

Cleaning up pollution incidents 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.

You must have a PIRP if you have a pollution prevention and control permit or are regulated by the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations. For more information, see our guides:

PPC Permits


What your PIRP should contain

Details about your business, including:

  • the name of your business
  • your main business address and all site addresses
  • a description of the surrounding area
  • the number of employees present at different times of the day
  • your site activities and operations.

Emergency and out-of-hours contact details for key people and organisations that may need to be involved during or after a pollution incident. For example:

  • staff responsible for making decisions and taking action in the event of a spill or leak
  • the most senior responsible person
  • in Northern Ireland, the emergency services, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) and the NIEA Water Pollution Hotline on Tel 0800 80 70 60
  • in Scotland, the emergency services, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the Health & Safety Executive and the SEPA Pollution Hotline on Tel 0800 80 70 60
  • your water and sewerage company
  • local GP surgeries and hospitals with accident and emergency departments
  • specialist clean up contractors
  • the person responsible for keeping the plan up to date.

Detailed site plan showing your drainage layout and areas where the chances of causing pollution are high, such as storage and delivery facilities, and areas that drain to nearby waterways or culverts.

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

Once you have identified what you store at your site, you should carry out an environmental risk assessment that will help you decide what action you need to take to prevent a pollution incident.

Your plan should describe the actions you and your staff will take in the event of an incident. Your plan should contain details of how you will:

  • stop incidents occurring - eg prevent leaks
  • contain incidents - eg how to use spill kits to prevent spilled materials entering drains or waterways 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
  • clean up after any incident - eg how you will store and dispose of contaminated materials.

Keep your plan up to date

Make sure that your PIRP is up to date. Review it regularly. You should keep a record of the date the plan was last reviewed and when your workforce was last briefed on the plan.

Further information

 GPP 1 General guide to the prevention of pollution (Adobe PDF – 95.8KB)

 GPP 21 Pollution incident response planning (Adobe PDF – 318KB)

UK wide pollution hotline: 0800 80 70 60

Good practice to prevent pollution

You should take steps to reduce the risk of pollution from your site. If you follow good environmental practices you can avoid most pollution incidents.

You should carry out an environmental risk assessment to help you understand what pollution hazards there are on your site. This will help you plan for emergencies and decide what action you need to take to control your activities and prevent a pollution incident. See the page in this guideline on pollution incident response plans.

Store and handle hazardous substances safely

You should store hazardous materials, fuel, oil and chemicals safely and in an area where you can contain spills, eg a bund or other suitable secondary containment system. Your bund and any bunded pallets should be able to contain at least 110 per cent of the volume of the largest tank or 25 per cent of the total volume you are likely to store, whichever is greater.

This may be a legal requirement if you store oil. For more information, see the page on secondary containment systems for oil storage containers in our guideline: Oil storage.

Watch our short video:

How to manage oil on site

You should review storage areas and check containers regularly. Avoid locating storage areas near waterways, drains and unsurfaced areas.

See the page on storage, handling and delivery of chemicals in our guideline: Chemical storage.

Prevent water pollution from site drainage

Uncontrolled releases or leaks can enter your surface water drainage system and cause water pollution. You should mark areas used to store or deliver hazardous or polluting substances and refuelling areas. Isolate them from the surface water drainage system by using bunds, drainage gullies, raised kerbs or appropriate falls.

Have procedures to prevent pollution from your drainage system, eg keep an updated drainage plan and colour code your drains.

For more information on avoiding water pollution, see our guideline: Preventing water pollution.

Be prepared to deal with spills

You should ensure accidental spills and leaks can be contained and keep spill kits or other pollution control equipment at your site. Keep portable spill kits in vehicles used to transport hazardous substances and waste.

Make sure you can access your spill kit easily when you need it. This can include:

  • absorbent materials
  • drain sealing mats
  • gully seals
  • booms
  • sealing putty
  • earth or sand.

Prepare a pollution incident response plan for dealing with spills. Make sure that your staff are familiar with the procedure and know how to implement it.

If a spill does occur, act immediately and try to prevent it from entering drains or surface waters. For example, use absorbent materials to help contain the spread of oil and soak it up, and drain blockers to protect surface water drains.

Use the UK Wide Pollution Hotline on Tel 0800 80 70 60 to report an incident and ask for help and advice about what to do.

Store and transport waste to prevent pollution

You are responsible for storing and transporting your waste safely and legally. You must ensure that your waste does not harm the environment.

You must:

  • store and transport waste in suitable containers such as skips
  • label containers clearly with their contents
  • separate hazardous waste from other waste types
  • ensure materials cannot leak into the ground, waterways and drains
  • ensure your site and storage facilities are secure and check this regularly.

You should store your waste on impermeable surfaces (such as concrete), ideally with a bund to prevent run-off from your waste causing pollution.

See the page on storing waste correctly in our guideline: Duty of care - your waste responsibilities.

Avoid causing a nuisance

Dust, fumes or noise emissions from your site can cause a nuisance to your neighbours. If your local authority receives a complaint, they may request that you reduce or stop the nuisance, or ask you to carry out work to reduce or stop it. See our guideline:  Noise, odour and other nuisances.

Use an environmental management system

Your business can reduce its environmental impact and the risk of harming the environment by using an environmental management system (EMS). An EMS will help you to manage and control your activities, including emissions and discharges, resource use, and waste in a planned way. See our guideline:

Environmental management systems and environmental reports

Further information

 GPP 1 General guide to the prevention of pollution (Adobe PDF – 95.8KB) (PDF 96KB)

 GPP 21 Pollution incident response planning (Adobe PDF – 318KB)

CIRIA 736 - Containment systems for the prevention of pollution. Secondary, tertiary and other measures for industrial and commercial premises.

UK wide pollution hotline: 0800 80 70 60

Prevent pollution from firefighting

Fire is a serious risk to the environment. You should always try to reduce the risk of fire and the damage that fire and firefighting could cause.

To prevent pollution from firefighting you should:

  • discuss how to manage contaminated firefighting waste (firewater) and your firefighting response options with the fire and rescue service
  • prevent firewater from escaping - eg by temporarily blocking drains or using a containment barrier or firewater containment facilities on your site
  • ensure that your fire protection systems and fire extinguishing equipment comply with ozone-depleting substance and fluorinated gas regulations.

Ozone-depleting substances and F-gases

  • check if you need a major accident prevention policy for storing large quantities of dangerous substances

Control of major accident hazards (COMAH)

Deal with polluting foams safely

Most firefighting foams for Class B fires, including all film forming foams, contain fluorinated chemicals which are highly polluting if released into the environment. Class B fires include those fires involving flammable liquids like fuel.

Perfluorooctanesulphonate (PFOS), a fluorinated chemical additive that was used in some Class B aqueous film forming foam, is classed as a persistent organic pollutant (POP). The marketing and use of PFOS and PFOS-related substances is now banned in the European Union. You must not keep or use foams containing PFOS or PFOS-related substances. Contact your supplier to find safe disposal options.

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

You can use firefighting foams containing different fluorinated chemicals, including fluoroprotein and film forming fluoroprotein foams.

You must dispose of firefighting foams containing PFOS or PFOS-related substances and fluorinated chemicals correctly. It is good practice to return them to the manufacturer or contact your supplier to arrange disposal by high temperature incineration.

When you test fire extinguishers or carry out firefighting exercises you must not allow used foams to enter drains, surface waters or groundwater. You must contain them for disposal off site or you may be able to get approval from your water or sewerage company to discharge foam into the public foul sewer.

Control firewater

Firewater is polluting and you may need to deal with it as hazardous waste.

Hazardous/special waste

You must not discharge firewater into the environment. Ensure you have a plan and equipment in place to collect or contain it in the event of an emergency.

Store firewater correctly and ensure that it is treated and disposed of by a permitted or licensed waste management business. You may also be able to get permission from your water or sewerage company to discharge it into the foul sewer.

Trade effluent – managing liquid wastes

To prevent firewater from running into surface drains, polluting nearby waterways (rivers, streams and groundwater), foul drainage systems, and land, you should:

  • construct containment lagoons, tanks or systems on impermeable surfaces to hold firewater
  • isolate containment systems from surface drains, waterways, land or sewers..

Further information

UK Fire and Rescue: Guidance - Protection of the environment during firefighting

PPG 18 Managing fire water and major spillages (Adobe PDF – 132 KB)

PPG 28 Controlled burn (Adobe PDF – 240KB)

 GPP 21 Pollution incident response planning (Adobe PDF – 318KB)

HSE: Secondary containment for major spills and firewater

UK wide pollution hotline: 0800 80 70 60

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