Planning for large-scale clean-ups

When it comes to tackling a major industrial clean-up operation or clearing up after a disaster occurrence there is no substitute for adequate planning and preparation. 

A clean-up operation can take many forms and it is this need for readiness against a multitude of possible events that presents one of the biggest challenges to the emergency planner. The objective of any clean-up operation is to return the affected areas to safe, unrestricted use and the successful realisation of this will be determinant on the type, scale and complexity of a project or incident, its geographic location and the specific nature of the hazards presented.

Speed and quality of response are the fundamental determinants of a satisfactory clean-up outcome. Unlike those hazardous situations which might occur in relatively controlled environments such as in well-ordered manufacturing facilities or during planned maintenance operations, many industrial, accidental and environmental clean-ups are emergency scenarios in which time and readiness are crucial.

Examples of large-scale clean-up operations:

  • Oil and petrochem spills and leakages
  • Chemical and hazardous material releases
  • Environmental disasters
  • Weather and natural disaster events
  • Civil disturbance clean-ups·Building and other structural collapses
  • Road/rail/air accident clean-ups
  • Ground remediation and decontamination projects
  • River and coastal clean-ups
  • Industrial site regenerations
  • Flood recovery programmes
  • Large scale hygiene and sanitisation
  • Disaster/humanitarian relief programmes
  • Nuclear particulate contamination events
  • Contagious epidemic/pandemic disease control
  • Biohazard and infectious waste cleanups
  • Forensic and scene of crime investigations.

Evaluating and responding to a major clean-up incident presents formidable challenges; in addition to the official reaction being fast and effective, the incident must be dealt with according to carefully prepared advance plans, resources must be readily available and mobilised without delay and the deployment and coordination of the response teams must be decisive and efficient. 

In most accident situations, clean-up operations will normally commence after any initial emergency response activities. In some cases, however clean-up activities might proceed simultaneously or even in advance of first response actions where it is necessary to render a site safe for human entry.

First responders at the scene must be fully trained, fully supported, and furnished with the correct equipment, communication devices and personal protection. They must be organised, professionally supervised and be fitted out and in a position to improvise and react quickly to dynamic on-the-ground situations and hazard conditions.

Post-crisis and non-emergency clean-ups present further challenges, perhaps not as acutely pressing as those at emergency point of incident but often spread over a prolonged period of time. It may, for example, take many months or even years to clean-up after a major oil spill or subsequent to the closure of an old steelworks or the decommissioning of an end-of-life power station.


The identification and subsequent assessment of hazards is one of the most difficult and critical elements of any clean-up programme. Get the risk assessment right and you will minimise danger to responders and workers as well as meet your legal responsibilities. Get it wrong and the consequences could be very serious.

The assessment of possible hazards well in advance of a perceived catastrophic environmental disaster forms the basis for determining the necessary protective equipment requirements. These pre-incident risk assessments dictate the type of PPE that will be made available to first responders and post-event recovery workers. However, although a predictive risk analysis should ensure that adequate personal protection equipment (PPE) is available for the majority of hazards it is essential that a continuous re-assessment of risks commences as soon as possible after an event to enable PPE to be modified or replaced in response to actual hazard conditions.


In all emergency response and clean-up situations the effectiveness of the response will ultimately depend upon the quality of the advance contingency planning and the organisation and management of the clean-up operations. When faced with a major clean up operation the following procedures should be adopted to control risks:

  • Act quickly and professionally. In many contamination scenarios any time lost will result in a much more difficult and, sometimes, much more geographically dispersed clean-up operation. For example, pollutants that are comingled with natural materials such as foliage and aggregates, and pollutants that are widely dispersed by wind and tides will be much harder and more hazardous to deal with.
  • Make sure you have planned access to all necessary resources - manpower, plant, transport, clean-up materials, safety equipment, lighting etc.
  • Investigate alternative approaches. Are there less risky or less environmentally aggressive approaches that could be adopted e.g. can machines be substituted for staff?
  • Conduct a reconnaissance survey if the nature and extent of the operation is unknown and if time permits.
  • Ensure that the clean-up site is secured to prevent unauthorised or inadvertent access by the public or unauthorised parties.
  • Organise the work to minimise exposure to the hazard using isolation barriers, screening, protective covers etc.
  • Where appropriate ensure that the necessary temporary and segregated storage for contaminated materials is available and readily accessible.
  • Issue appropriate personal protective equipment such as coveralls, gloves, footwear, goggles, helmets, respiratory apparatus etc. as part of a formal PPE programme. Ensure that these products meet your performance standards and beware of cheap, low quality substitute equipment - it may easily prove the most expensive in practice.
  • Provide suitable welfare facilities including medical/first aid points, toilets, resting/eating places and washing /decontamination areas.
  • Put appropriate health monitoring procedures and facilities in place if necessary e.g. where there is a risk of exposure to bio-hazards or nuclear particulates.


Personal protection is the last line of defence against hazardous physical, chemical and biological agents. The selection of protective clothing for large clean-up operations must be undertaken as part of a comprehensive PPE programme. A good PPE programme will have the active involvement of all staff levels from senior management to site operatives and should include the following elements:

  • Identification of potential hazards with site survey and incident evaluation.
  • Assessment of possible hazards and selection of appropriate controls.
  • Selection of appropriate protective garments taking into account permeation data, nature of work, physiological and psychological factors. Wherever appropriate and possible select equipment that offers multi-threat protection. For example, the new Tyvek® 800J coverall from DuPont™ offers resistance to oils, particles and pressurised jets of water-based chemicals all in a high comfort, breathable, Type 3 limited-use garment.  
  • Reference to the garment manufacturer when evaluating protection and permeation data.
  • Involvement of individual users in choice and fitting of garments. Remember - choosers are users.
  • Comprehensive education and training support.
  • Inspection, maintenance, cleaning, storage and replacement regime.
  • Ongoing programme review and monitoring of PPE in use.


1. Objectively identify the potential hazards including their sources and any associated trigger events. A suitable hazard assessment form or software package might be used for this purpose.

2. Determine those who might be affected by exposure to a hazard and in what circumstances.

3. Evaluate the risks and what steps are available for prevention, mitigation and protection. At all times consult with operatives and their representative bodies. 

4. Incorporate the findings into a formal risk assessment document which can be shared, and expanded as necessary.

5. Put the risk assessment findings into practice, and make sure you have contingency plans in place for the unexpected.

6. Continuously re-examine procedures, training and equipment as necessary and periodically conduct a formal review of the entire risk assessment programme.



The optimum choice of PPE requires sound judgement, a sound understanding of hazards faced and a detailed knowledge of personal protection principles, technical standards and equipment performance. Consultation with the PPE manufacturer is essential to understand the protection on offer and to ensure that safety is not compromised. Unless it's a 'repeat order' situation it's not enough to rely on choosing protective coveralls (or any other PPE) from a web-site or a piece of literature without professional guidance.

DuPont has a comprehensive range of protective garments and accessories suitable for chemical handling operations including the highly-featured Tychem® 4000S designed for maximum comfort in hazardous environments and the exciting new Tyvek® 800J coverall which combines breathability and resistance to pressurised jets of water-based chemicals in a high comfort Type 3 limited-use garment.

A global leader in personal protection, DuPont has been addressing the world’s safety needs with the best in technologies and innovations for over 40 years. DuPont Personal Protection offers comprehensive support in protective garment selection and chemical risk assessment as well as training on the use of protective clothing. A customised selection service is available for all Tyvek® and Tychem® protective clothing products.



Tyvek® 800 J
Environmental Emergency and Other Large Scale Clean-ups
DuPont™ garments protect sanitation workers from multiple safety risks


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