Safety and health in the workplace cannot be overemphasized. In a work environment two things take precedent over any issue. Number one is the occupational well-being of employees. The second most important issue is environmental safety and health. It is no surprise that when environmental safety and health guidelines are followed, threat to humans health is lessened, not to mention the threat to the environment. Codes, laws and regulations often go hand in hand to achieve both. The list of environmental concerns is lengthly. As a Health and Safety professional, your obligation is to follow and address environmental safety and health issues.
Four of the major environmental safety and health in the workplace areas are; indoor air quality (IAQ) issues, chemical disposal, petroleum storage / fuel tanks and pest management.
Indoor Air Pollutants
I have learned that indoor air complaints range from uncomfortable temperature ranges, fear of dirt on a ceiling tile, actual mold growing on walls and unexplained illness in an entire wing of a building. One thing to make clear is this: The complaint is real to one or more persons and needs to be taken seriously. The culprit most often to blame in an IAQ investigation is inadequate ventilation. People need to breath fresh air that is brought in from outside. Often the second most common complaint is mold. Keeping roof leaks (or any water intrusion) under control is the best practice at reducing mold growth on indoor environments.
Chemicals and Chemical Disposal
Other indoor contaminates are chemicals in the air that we breathe. Chemicals that are “green” approved are considered safe for the environment, and the people who occupy the rooms. Green chemicals are safe when considering prolonged exposure for the staff who use them day after day.
State and Federal laws mandate the proper disposal of chemical, electronic, universal and hazardous waste. It is not OK to throw items into the dumpster unless the owner is certain that the items do not posses characteristics that would classify it as hazardous. Electronic items for example contain metals like cadmium, lead, and mercury. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows that the disposal cost for hazardous waste is high, therefore they classify items like computers and fluorescent bulbs that contain these metals as being a universal waste. This means these items can be managed by recycling. Other chemicals must be disposed of as hazardous waste. It’s the employers duty to determine the classification of the waste and how material is to be disposed of. They must be very careful to do so correctly to avoid serious and costly penalties and harm to the environment.
Petroleum Storage and Fuel Tanks
Another major responsibility that employers have is on keeping in compliance with state and federal regulations concerning above and below ground petroleum fuel tanks. There are many laws regulating that entities report and register existing tanks at their facility. There are daily, weekly, monthly and yearly record keeping and reporting that goes into being a petroleum tank owner.
Integrated Pest Management or IPM is the least toxic approach to pest management. IPM is important because no one wants to work with or around toxic or dangerous pesticides, herbicides or any other chemical that is designed to “kill”. And we certainly don’t want to harm the environment either. It is the business owners responsibility to assist and teach all employees how to comply with laws pertaining to IPM so that no one is exposed to dangerous pest elimination chemicals at work.
Environmental safety and health in the workplace is everyone’s business. Most people aren’t aware of the issues concerning indoor air, chemical disposal, petroleum storage tanks or integrated pest management. But for the safety person, these environmental issues are a major part of the job. We will continue to strive to keep human safety as our main priority and the safety of our environment a very close second.