Posts tagged ‘Environment Health and Safety’
Early in my scuba diving days I learned a critical lesson about measuring progress. While diving in the dark, cold, and fast moving waters of the Pacific Northwest, I learned not to trust just what I saw, but also what was measured.
Watching the gauge for depth and compass for direction was essential for ensuring we were moving in the right direction and at the correct pace and depth to reach our objective. This practice of checking gauges (measures) and comparing the two points of (1) where you were and (2) where you are now, to verify progress and direction, has served me well on road trips, while hiking in the back country and in managing environment, health and safety (EHS) processes. Comparing metrics to verify improvement is a critical element of any environment or safety management system. But I am still amazed at how many organizations do not apply this practice to individual workplace improvements as part of their safety and ergonomics improvement process.
Milton Friedman, American Economist and Nobel Prize Winner, stated it clearly: “The only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is comparison of prediction with experience.” This simple act of comparing two points of data to validate change is a core element of EHS management system and continuous improvement process.
During Humantech’s recent benchmarking study of ergonomics program/process management, we explored if and how organizations verify the effectiveness of workplace changes and improvements. We found that:
- Only 59 percent conducted formal follow-up assessments (reassessments) using the same risk assessment tool used in the initial “ergonomic” assessment. Of these,
- 80 percent used quantitative assessment methods, allowing them to compare “before” and “after” scores to verify that the improvement reduced the level of risk. These were predominately programs in the ‘proactive’ and ‘advanced’ levels of maturity.
- 41 percent interview or survey employees as their only or a supplementary method. These were predominately programs in the ‘reactive’ level of maturity.
- 23 percent use a lagging or activity-based method. These included tracking reduction of injury and reviewing project improvement records.
- 18 percent of participants do not conduct follow-up assessments.
The benchmarking study looked at the level of maturity and effectiveness of each ergonomics process and found that all of the highest performers included comparison of before and after metrics at both the program (strategic) level, and at the tactical (workplace improvement) level.
Frank Zappa summarized it well when he said, “Without deviation, progress is not possible.”
I’d appreciate hearing from you about your experience and methods for validating improvement of EHS and/or ergonomics programs and conditions.
- Do you compare before and after, or trust that change happens?
- Are you confident of the direction and magnitude of change?
- How do you measure change? By activity or results? With lagging or leading indicators?
- What challenges have you encountered?
- What best practices have you learned?
Walt Rostykus is a vice president and consultant with Humantech Inc., a consulting firm that combines the science of ergonomics with their unique 30-Inch View® – where people, work, and environment intersect–to deliver practical solutions that impact safety, quality, and productivity. When he is not travelling for work, Walt resides in New Mexico enjoying the great outdoors.
This week NAEM’s Upper Midwest Local Networking Group met to discuss regional water management challenges and to explore best practices from around the world. We caught up with speaker David Crisman, Principal of EHS Management Associate LLC, to learn about his research on water management approaches in Australia.
GT: Why did you begin research water management approaches in Australia?
DC: In the case of Australia, what has been the most fascinating to me is the Murray-Darling River Basin. It’s 14 percent of the country area-wide, six percent of the water that falls on Australia falls in the basin. It’s something like half of all the agriculture comes from the basin. Just to give you an idea, 44 percent of the water consumed in Australia goes to agriculture, so you’ve got fairly substantial land area, not so big of an input (because the only input is rain) and a huge water take. And now even in a good year less than half of the water makes it to the ocean. So it’s like our Colorado River.
In Australia, the individual states control resources, so the federal government said, “Wait a second. We’ve got three major states drawing water and as the federal government, we need to say what is the environmental water needed just so it makes it to the ocean so we have aquatic habitat, we have tourism, we have those benefits that we don’t normally think about, rather than throwing it on a rice field.
I thought this was a really good example to look at because as industry people, we don’t think of water coming in; our requirements are always on the water going out. And in the industry, I used to work in (specialty chemicals), water quality was important. If you start taking too much water out of this area, you start having saline problems, you start having acidification problems. Even if I had a plant in this area, you could be saying, “Is it drinkable?” but also, “Is it even useful in a manufacturing setting?” We don’t think of the upstream side. We think of the wastewater side.
So I was really trying to get into that particular issue by taking a look at Murray Darling. I think the cutting-edge thought was what they came up with, which was to create a water market. They said, “The Basin has a finite amount of water and we’ve got to balance this whole water usage and it doesn’t matter if you’re taking it from a well or you’re taking it directly from the river, we’ve got to figure out that balance. It’s a commodity, there’s going to be years it’s in surplus, years that it’s deficient, so how do we, as Australia, buy water to lower the allocation within the Basin so there’s enough water for fish, for flow and all those other things?”
It’s a good technical problem.
GT: What are some of the guidelines of the water market Australia established?
DC: There’s permanent trades that going on – I can actually sell you my rights as a property owner—and there are allocation trades—I can sell you my annual take because it’s low this year. So if the tomato farmer decides it’s more worth his while to sell his allocation this year, he can give it to the guy who owns the vineyard. So what is the value of water? There are also regulations in place to ensure that the way you use the water on your land doesn’t impact others. So the legal framework is critical, too.
GT: How can those lessons be applied to water management in the Upper Midwest region?
DC: Everything has a yin and a yang. So the fact that we have constant supply is really great. We may never think about water coming into a facility, but when we turn the tap, we will have water. The negative is ‘Have I really been thinking of the cost?’ And will that price for water increase? And will it become a variable cost for me? Meaning that one year I will pay x, but two years later it may be 5x or something more. For businesses, it’s probably easier to plan on price than to deal with a disruption. So that’s probably an overall positive.
The next thing is quality. If I can get to a consistent quality grade it’s going to mean less disruption, less upset for my manufacturing process. But that again boils down to price. And then you start to see intangible benefits and impacts. People can’t come to work because their neighborhood is on fire. If you can have consistent supply, you can perhaps deal with drought situations. And of course there are lifestyle impacts in Australia because if you look up Australian water restrictions online you’ll see pages of instructions of when you can water your lawn, do your laundry. That’s at a more personal level but it could reach industry as well.
GT: How close do you think we are to seeing some of the approaches being used in Australia to be applied to the U.S.?
DC: It’s hard to say because it sometimes seems like if we want to focus on an issue, we need to have a crisis. Last year we were dealing with too much water. I think the question of quantity has to be driven by a drought. And certainly the Texas situation if it continues may end up pushing a lot of buttons because those Great Lakes look awfully tempting.
David Crisman is the Principal at EHS Management Associate. As the former EHS Director for a global, specialty chemical company, he is well-aware of the challenges facing today’s EHS managers. He continues to study trends to deal with water supply and quality issues throughout the world.
To learn more about NAEM’s Upper Midwest Local Networking Group, please visit http://www.naem.org/?LNG_Upper_Midwest
I am not a curmudgeon, but since Andy Rooney is no longer with us to continue his long-time “60 Minutes” tradition, I thought I would take a crack at being one…
During the 32 years I’ve worked in the EHS/Sustainability field, I’ve noticed that many EHS professionals inherently want to do “the right thing,” and are much more comfortable than most people using science as a means to help decide what is right. Traditionally, one of our profession’s biggest challenges has been convincing senior management that what is scientifically the “the right thing” to do can also be good for the business. And using a scientific rationale has typically been more appealing to the public as well. Customers and end users are more likely to rally around an idea based on good science rather than one motivated by political ideals, and I think trust has much to do with this.
Have you noticed, though, that recently there seems to be a growing tendency to defer to the short and simple solution regardless of what may be scientifically correct?
One example of this that you might have encountered is the use of recycled paper. Everyone agrees that using recycled paper is good for the environment because it keeps paper out of the landfill and reduces carbon emissions. So, the simple solution has been to use as much recycled paper as possible in every type of paper. But what if good science (Life Cycle Assessment) tells you that it is not that simple and finds that it actually depends on which type of paper you are reusing it in?
Using recycled paper in magazines can require significant processing to remove the inks before it is bright enough for use, while using recycled paper in cardboard boxes would require less de-inking with their lower brightness requirements. This extra processing usually involves fossil fuel-based electricity along with higher CO2 emissions. Most of the energy used to make virgin magazine paper, on the other hand, comes from renewable energy. Although it requires more energy to make than recycled paper, virgin paper may wind up having lower carbon emissions (thanks to the use of renewables).
So, which is better to use: recycled paper or virgin paper? The answer is, “It depends.” Unfortunately, many people don’t like that answer or want to spend the time to understand the issue more clearly. I find one of the biggest challenges in our profession is being able to communicate that complex, scientific “right thing to do” in simple terms that are persuasive. I am sure you all have similar stories on digging too deep into the weeds.
What have been your successes in communicating complex solutions in simple terms?
Craig Liska is Vice President of Sustainability for Verso Paper Corp., where he is responsible for integrating Verso’s sustainability philosophy of balancing environmental, social and economic values into decisions affecting all aspects of the business. This involves decisions from wood/fiber procurement and manufacturing to product development and final disposition of products. Prior to joining Verso, Mr. Liska worked for Motorola, where he was Corporate Director for International EHS and had a history of increased EHS responsibilities both at the manufacturing plant and corporate management level. He also has experience at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, holding various positions of increasing responsibility. He was the President of NAEM in 2005.