Safety 2012: Transitioning to a Dual Safety-Environmental Role

As many occupational safety and health professionals are tasked with a broader range of responsibilities, they may find themselves accountable for corporate environmental policies and compliance. During a June 5 ASSE Safety 2012 session in Denver, two environmental experts offered tips for transitioning from a safety role to a dual safety-environmental role.

Mary L. Prisby, CHMM, senior environmental engineer at 3M and Heather Ingraham, CHMM, principal at URS Corp., addressed the challenges inherent in managing corporate environmental policies.

"I have been through the trenches and I do understand the pain and fortitude that we must sustain in order to be successful to represent not only ourselves but also our companies to the public," Prisby said.

She and Ingraham shared the following tips with Safety 2012 attendees:

Take stock of your new role. "When you're starting out in your new environmental role, the first thing to do is get a clear understanding of what your job description is," Ingraham said. Clarify your responsibilities, your goals and objective and what resources are available within your company. Ensure there is clear communication from the company's top management in regards to environmental policies and concerns.

Understand how the company operates in terms of environmental programs. Ingraham stressed the necessity of looking past your particular facility to understand if there are larger corporate policies in play. Get a feel for the environmental culture of the company, including any annual reports and corporate requirements and how you can align your programs with them.

Get a grip on applicable regulatory compliance. Gather information about current plans and what permits might apply. Make sure all compliance requirements are documented and organized. Visit EPA's Web site for a review of regulations, or consider resources such as Cyber Regs, Techstreet or SafetyBOK for additional help in understanding regulations.

Take a deep breath and consider air requirements. "It's very important that you understand what your job description says about your responsibilities [for] air," Prisby said. "You might have a maintenance department managing air, but permits might be your responsibility."

Waste not when it comes to understanding waste requirements. "Waste is very important. It's highly regulated and it has very visible metrics in annual reports and in year-to-year activities," Prisby explained. You will need to define hazardous and non-hazardous waste, know what is sent for incineration and what goes to the landfill, and understand recycling policies, wastewater and more. Prisby cites 3M's waste management information as a good example of strong environmental programs for waste management.

Be ready for the auditors. "Auditors will dig through your trash," warned Prisby. Be prepared for anything and everything.

Water, water, everywhere – and it's your job to track it. Have a full understanding of your company's water sources, discharges, consumption, monitoring and reporting. If your company uses an outside lab for sampling, ensure you have a good relationship with that lab, Prisby suggested.

Establish baseline figures for greenhouse gas. "It's a good idea to get a hold of what emissions are for greenhouse gas [so you can] compare those baseline emissions for future years," Ingraham explained.

To be sustainable is to be transparent. Many companies are creating annual sustainability reports and publishing them online to communicate their environmental programs.

Develop sustainable programs. "By 'sustainable programs,' I mean programs that are going to last, programs you maintain," Ingraham said. "When you put all this effort into programs, you want to make sure they stay."

Keep data management systems simple. Data management systems are valuable tools in managing environmental compliance, especially if you are reporting on multiple facilities. Keep these systems as simple as possible so anyone can understand and use them.

Establish an internal evaluation program in your facility. Develop an evaluation checklist and train personnel to conduct these evaluations. "I think it's really important to have a lot of people at your facility that understand what the requirements are," Ingraham pointed out.

Prisby and Ingraham completed their overview by encouraging safety professionals to seek assistance when undertaking complex environmental compliance tasks.

"If you're going to start assuming environmental responsibilities, my recommendation is to get people together in a room and start talking," Prisby concluded, "because you're not going to be able to do it yourself."

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