Oil spills may be caused by damage to oil carriers such as trains, planes, vehicles or ships; or by damage to an oil platform. The damage may be due to an accident, storm damage, equipment failure, or human error. The spilled oil can pollute the surrounding air, water and soil. The effects of the oil depend on the type spilled: some oils are highly toxic to humans, others have low toxicity but their impact on waterfowl and wildlife can be severe.
Oil spill response workers may encounter many health and safety hazards, including fire and explosion; inhalation and skin contact with oil, dispersants and other chemicals; physical injury from slippery surfaces and moving debris; confined spaces; heavy equipment; drowning; heat and cold stress; contact with wildlife, poisonous plants and noise; and stress.