Overview / Background:
Everyone has seen the posters and heard safety mantras such as, “Every incident is preventable,” “Safety first,” and “Safety is our priority.” These might mean more to some people than they do to others. I visit many facilities where chemicals are manufactured, used, stored, and sent for disposal, and at the Upstate New York research and development facility where I spend a lot of my time, Health and Safety is much more than a poster on a wall. This facility is more than 2 million square feet and is the workplace for thousands of people. Preventing harm to human health and the environment is essential to this company and they prove that in their actions.
As a contractor for this company, I have limited access to the site and to the scope of the activities that occur. However, as part of the team of people within this company and my company, WTS, Inc., who help manage their waste program for the entire facility, I can say that the variety of chemicals that are housed at this facility is virtually limitless. The challenges of health and safety not only for the people who work at the facility, but of the surrounding community and the environment are plentiful. The list of hazards to be mitigated are always evolving and are far too numerous to list all of them but it would include things such as forklifts, driving a car on the property, slip and trip hazards, long term exposure to high decibel levels, lifting heavy items, confined space entry, security, air and water quality, chemical hazards, proper waste management, and now more present than ever, spread of disease. Some hazards can be easily mitigated, high decibel-levels, for example, if the noise cannot be removed, wear hearing protection. However, there are others that pose a greater challenge, such as security, air and water quality, and waste management.
There will unfortunately always be hazards in a workplace. These hazards are mitigated through constant hard work by many people day in and day out to prevent a health and safety incident. The Environmental, Health and Safety (EH&S) department lead the charge on incident prevention but work alongside many others on this task, including WTS, Inc. It truly is a team effort, and this team is impressive from top to bottom. NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) gives the hierarchy of controls as (from most effective to least effective) elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment. This facility uses all the above and even adds a layer of protection with their own Emergency Response Team (ERT). This team is a group of highly trained professionals that include first responders, medical professionals, and chemical experts. The ERT is located on-site 24-7-365 and uses state of the art vehicles, equipment, technology and training to always be ready in the event of an emergency. They respond to any emergency imaginable but also do preventative work, venting pressurized drums, for example. There is a facility-wide alarm system that is wired to the ERT building meaning that they will be the first ones to know if there is an emergency response required.
Health and safety for this company is taken extremely seriously and you can see that at any of their facilities, especially this one. I am an Environmental Manager for WTS, Inc. and I am part of the team that manages their waste, and as such, I would consider myself on the “waste-side” of the EH&S group. I would not consider myself a safety professional, but I can not think of a single thing or a better way to manage Health and Safety than how it is being done at this facility. I witness many potentially dangerous situations and types of work being done every time I am there, but I know it is being handled by someone who knows what they are doing and is doing it the safest way possible. For example, WTS, Inc. and the EH&S team, every year, has handled hundreds of lab packs, thousands of containers, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of waste without incident. This is no accident. Between this company’s Health and Safety standards, and WTS’s who have a Health and Safety standard called Goal Zero, I am certain that human health and the environment are in good hands.