The 80’s and 90’s saw introduction and refining of environment protection legislation in the various state and territory jurisdictions. To complement the introduction of these acts there was an increase in the resources allocated to environment protection agencies to police the new legislation.
The combination of these two factors heralded the new role of environment co-ordinator being identified in many organizations in order to work towards the “zero harm” aspiration.
Because of the considerable existing regulation of workplace health and safety, many organizations were adding the role of Environment Coordinator to a team that already included an OH&S Coordinator. For much of the position requirements, environment and safety are able to operate independently of each other. There is however a crossover of responsibilities that does occur. The identification of these two roles poses the question of where health and safety ends and environment begins.
The easiest place to see this crossover of roles manifesting itself in the workplace is in the event of a diesel fuel spill. If the spill threatens to contaminate land or water then it is an environmental issue. That same diesel spill is a serious fire and slip hazard and as such falls under the responsibility if the OH&S manager. Either way the issue must be addressed to prevent damage to the environment, personnel and premises.
The manner in which the issue of workplace spills are addressed also raises issues for both the Environment and OH&S Coordinators. A well-known way of cleaning up such spills is with granular absorbents commonly known as “kitty litter”. One OH&S issue involved with using “kitty litter” to clean up spills is the weight of the bags. As a general rule, Workcover organizations and responsible companies set a single person safe lifting limit of 16kg in order to avoid back injuries. Standard bags of granular absorbents weight 20kg (30 litres). The most obvious way to avoid the risk of back injury when lifting bags of absorbent and carrying them to the site of the spill is to only use the 10kg size bags. Another option is to explore the other absorbents available on the market that are lightweight and often many times more absorbent.
To avoid OH&S risks, absorbent materials should only be used once. If a diesel spill is cleaned up and the contaminated absorbent material is not disposed of in the correct manner it poses a serious fire hazard. If that same diesel soaked absorbent is used to clean up a spill of cleaning chemicals that may contain bleach, hazardous chemical reactions that threaten both the staff and the premises can easily occur. To avoid this scenario, contaminated absorbent material must immediately be disposed as required by relevant regulation.