A Holistic Approach to On-Site Chemical Management
Technology can help streamline and standardize complex processes, centralize data and corresponding analyses, make reporting easier, and eliminate silos between departments.
Chemicals present a real risk to employee health and the environment if they are misused or accidentally spilled. To safeguard against these risks, companies employ a team of people, including industrial hygienists, occupational health teams, and environmental and safety professionals. To help facilitate communication among these different disciplines and to ensure regulatory compliance, many companies are turning to technology to help better manage on-site chemicals.
Chemical management requires EHS professionals to break down silos and work together. Working in silos can be disastrous, so it's important that people are communicating with one another. Everyone in the organization must be working toward the same two goals:
- Ensuring safe working conditions for employees
- Complying with state/provincial and federal EHS regulations
To make your chemical management program successful, it's important to identify the program goals, continuously evaluate what is and isn't working, and communicate with and train your employees.
Identify program goals
Whether you're just developing your chemical management program or you're looking for ways to improve an existing program, it's critical to first identify goals and then develop performance measures to track the effectiveness of your programs. Remember to define time-bound program activities, determine what resources are needed and how you're going to communicate with employees, and identify the pertinent regulations that cover your program.
Continuously evaluate the program
Most of us are familiar with the "Plan, Do, Check, Act" model for management systems. It's important for EHS professionals to constantly review their programs to ensure that they are functioning as intended and identify opportunities for continuous improvement. You should conduct a visual tour of your facility on a regular basis to determine whether the chemical management program is working and that employees are following all of the policies and procedures that were put in place, such as PPE requirements, safe handling and disposal procedures, and compliance with known EHS regulations. As part of the initial program development, you should have developed key performance measures to track the progress of the program, so these should be reviewed on a regular basis to determine whether there are issues that need to be addressed, such as worker injuries and illnesses, spills, and notices of violation.
Communicate with and train employees
For a program to be effective, you must communicate with employees at all levels of the organization. As you're developing your program, determine who the stakeholders are and identify what messages are pertinent to each audience. Remember, what you tell senior managers may not be the right message for front-line employees, and vice versa. It's important to leverage existing communication channels to share information and provide ongoing updates to employees.
For example, you'll want to send out communications when there are large projects going on at the site, such as site upgrades or expansions, to remind employees and contractors of proper procedures and alert them to any risks associated with the work. During these times, it's always a good idea to send out reminders about proper PPE, safe chemical handling, and proper storage or disposal of chemicals. Be sure to time these communications appropriately; too many and people ignore the information, too few and events could occur.
In addition to ongoing communications, it's important to make sure that people working on site are properly trained to use PPE, handle chemicals, and dispose of chemicals and fully understand the emergency response plans that are in place. This is not only a best practice, but also required by local, state/provincial, and federal laws and regulations.
The Value of Technology in Chemical Management
It's now more imperative than ever before that EHS professionals leverage technology to help them better manage on-site chemicals. Technology can help streamline and standardize complex processes, centralize data and corresponding analyses, make internal and external reporting easier, and most importantly, eliminate silos between departments. Below are five ways technology can help improve how you manage on-site chemicals at your organization:
Manage chemical requests
We've all been on site and found chemical products that no one seems to know how they got there. With technology, you can ensure that everyone follows the same process for requesting chemicals. This will ensure that industrial hygiene, safety, and environmental team members are able to properly review any health, safety, or environmental risks and put controls in place prior to the chemical coming on site. This will also enable EHS professionals to communicate and train employees properly if there is a need.
Deliver and track employee training
Whether it's done in a classroom or on demand through the web, training employees about EHS compliance requirements is an ongoing process. Having a system in place that can deliver and track training for such things such as proper PPE usage, safe chemical handling, agency reporting, and disposal requirements is paramount to ensuring a safe workplace for all employees and reducing the risks of environmental incidents. Coupled with chemical request and inventory modules, EHS professionals will have an easier time determining who, what, where, when, and how often training has to be done.
Knowing what you have on site and how much of it are the first steps to managing EHS compliance. Many regulations dictate on-site quantity limits and thresholds for chemicals. Inventory solutions need to be able to speciate chemical products into their constituents to fully comply with regulatory limits and thresholds. It's important for EHS teams to communicate with operations about any product limits to ensure that additional reporting isn't required or, worse, that plant modifications aren't needed to accommodate an increased amount of a chemical product. Inventory modules tend to be highly configurable and should be able to send out notifications to the team. Useful notifications include:
- New chemicals are added to the system
- Inventory levels are updated
- Limit warnings
- Waste streams are generated
Track and manage waste
A key component for any chemical management program is being able to accurately manage hazardous or universal waste generated during the manufacturing process. Regulations require that these waste streams be stored properly to prevent spills and labeled so employees can quickly understand health risks. Employees who handle waste will likely need training on proper PPE and incident management. They also may need to participate in your company's respirator fit testing and medical surveillance programs. Having one system that can manage all of these facets holistically will improve the dialogue between operations, industrial hygienists, safety, and environmental professionals and result in reduced risks and efficiency savings.
Ensure safe working conditions
An EHS professional's number one priority is to make sure that facilities are safe places for employees. As noted above, employees need to be aware of safety and environmental hazards and be able to determine how to minimize or mitigate risks. Leveraging one system to manage risk assessments and share information with employees will have a positive impact on injury rates, environmental incidents, employee morale, and, ultimately, the company's bottom line.
As IH and safety managers are responsible for managing many programs—including employee medical surveillance, PPE training, respirator fit testing, job hazard/risk assessments, and hazard communications—they need to be aware of changes to operations, such as process changes or new product formulations, to appropriately adjust their programs to keep employees safe. Trying to manage all of this with multiple-point solutions, Excel, or paper can lead to increased injuries or illnesses and a breakdown in communication.
Mobility and IoT
Today, we are more connected than ever, thanks to mobile devices. Paper and pen inspections, assessments, and audits are quickly disappearing and being completed with tablets and smartphones. Safety and IH professionals are leveraging wearable technologies to gain insight into how work is being done and what the conditions are like in near real-time, which is empowering them to work with operations to adjust processes to improve employee health and well-being and reduce the risks of injuries or, worse, fatalities. IoT also provides EHS managers the opportunity to manage assets in near real-time to ensure the company is in compliance with regulations and permits.
The mobile-first revolution is making EHS teams more efficient and providing them with more data, which is helping them drive change throughout their organization, reduce incidents, and deliver increased value to their organizations. More and more companies are now realizing the value of their EHS teams and the role they play in achieving operational excellence.
Summing it Up
EHS professionals are keenly aware of the risks that poor chemical management programs present to employees and the environment. Leveraging technology to centralize and standardize chemical management programs is a key component to successfully protecting employees, communities, and the environment from the unintended consequences of a chemical release. To safeguard against these risks, it is imperative that EHS teams have the right technologies to manage each program component, communicate with and train employees, measure and evaluate program value to make changes, and drive continuous improvement. With the help of mobile and IoT technologies, EHS teams are leading the way to a safer, greener future.
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.