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:

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

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