Tag Archives: environment

Member engagement gathers pace

3 Oct

The past week the British Safety Council has been learning more on how its members are addressing topical health and safety focuses – occupational health and the green agenda.

Global law firm Linklaters invited the British Safety Council for a tour of its London offices to understand first-hand what they are doing with their staff in relation to managing occupational health and safety issues. The focus on work stress is important given the firm has recognised ill health presents far greater risks than accidents to its employees therefore aligning its health and safety policy to reflect this.

With a workforce of about 1,800 in London, the health and safety team led by Peter Kinselley are focussed on engaging its large workforce with a variety of awareness-raising initiatives, training and support. The British Safety Council was given an overview of the team’s many initiatives covering mental health talks, confidential support services and well being road shows. A tour of the firm’s extensive catering facilities serving healthy meal options using local produce, a well equipped staff fitness centre and detailed waste management system, followed. 

Later in the week, the British Safety Council visited Panasonic UK to learn more about how the business is positioning itself in relation to environmental product engineering. Following the launch of  Panasonic’s ‘Green Plan 2018’ last year, the manufacturing giant has been working towards the business goal to be the number one green innovation company in the electronics industry by their 100th anniversary in 2018 . Together with the company’s health, safety and environmental affairs team, Keith Evans, Panasonic UK managing director, talked through the vision of not just products reflecting this ambitious environmental action plan, but employees. The plan outlines initiatives that all employees should take to become an industry leader in the green indexes the company has set covering areas like reduction of CO2, energy efficiency, resources reuse and recycling, and minimising water consumption. You can read more on Panasonic’s sustainability activities in the next issue of Safety Management magazine.

Both meetings discussed the role of the British Safety Council in supporting members implement their corporate occupational health and sustainability activities. Members expressed interest in outcomes of the charity’s campaigning, influencing and lobbying work, an area both members acknowledged is fundamental in ensuring their health and safety objectives aligns with. The charity took on board the feedback and will work on further engagement with members on important legislative development in the coming months.

Civil Sanctions – new regulatory tool in action!

27 Jul

The Environment Agency is the first to use its powers under Part 3 of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 against an organisation that failed to comply with environmental regulations. By using these enforcement powers the Environment Agency is ensuring legal compliance at the same time continuing with its objectives to drive environmental improvement and compliance within business.

The Environment Agency accepted an offer of £21,000 from an engineering and information technology company who had failed to register the group and some of its subsidiaries with the packaging waste regulations. The organisation self-reported the offences which had occurred between 1998 and 2010.

In addition to implementing improvements to comply with the regulations, the organisation offered to fund environmental improvement projects in the local community equivalent to the cost of the offences. The funds will be used to drive environmental improvements and also cover the costs of Environment Agency investigations and future monitoring.

Applicable in England and Wales, Environment Civil Sanctions Orders came into force on 6th April and 15th July 2010 respectively and can be used by the Environment Agency as an alternative to prosecution. They allow the Environment Agency to take action that is proportionate to the offence and the offender and reflect the fact that a number of offences committed by business may be unintentional.

In this instance the organisation failed to register under the packaging waste regulations believing the obligations were applicable to each separate business (meaning they fell below the business threshold) whereas the regulations can also apply to a group of businesses.

The Environment Agency and Defra have published guidance explaining how these powers will be used. Briefly the sanctions include:

  1. Fixed monetary penalty: tend to be at the lower end of the range of potential financial penalties and have a capped maximum the same as could be imposed in a Magistrate’s Court.
  2. Enforcement undertakings: an agreement between the regulator and the operator or individual to require certain works, for example, to be undertaken.
  3. Stop Notices: as the name suggests allows the regulator to serve a notice to require a certain activity to cease, subject to compensatory provisions if the notice is ill-founded.
  4. Discretionary requirements including variable monetary penalties (VMPs)

In the case above the approach taken allows the operator to deal with the regulatory breach in a way that does not attract issues of liability or the negativity of a prosecution. For the regulator and any external stakeholders who may be concerned about the incident, the advantage of this approach is that the focus is on putting right what has previously gone wrong, rather than simply applying a punishment.

More serious offences, such as overtly criminal, reckless, and deliberate acts undertaken with a view to profit, will still result in prosecution. It is expected however that some 20 per cent of matters which have been subject to prosecution may shift to the civil sanctions regime. Moreover it is likely that incidents that are currently subject to warning letters or formal cautions will move to the civil sanctions regime.

As a regulatory tool, and taking this case as the first example, civil sanctions could play a significant part in improving compliance and environmental performance across UK business. It remains to be seen how effective these powers are, however with increased dialogue it seems to me the relationship between regulator and operator can only improve, and local communities stand to benefit too.

State of the Planet – reap what we sow

20 Jul

We’re currently in the throws of updating our environmental diploma course, within which the first topic explores the state of the global environment and the complex inter-relationship between environmental, social, economic, political and demographic drivers and pressures.

Referring to source material from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) it’s clear the health of our environment remains under seemingly relentless pressure. For example, releases of greenhouse gases continue to rise and our marine and coastal environment is at significant risk.

For those interested in a few facts, just to illustrate the point, the globally averaged mixing ratios of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO2) reportedly reached new heights in 2009. These values are greater than those in pre-industrial times (before 1750) by 38%, 158% and 19% respectively. And with regard to the oceans and the marine environment, as much as 80% of the pollution load in coastal waters and the deep oceans originate from land-based activities.

The latter statistic, linking with another diploma subject area – environmental monitoring – serves to demonstrate the complexity of environmental systems and the nature of pollution. While legislation aims to control and indeed prevent harm to the environment, the persistent, synergistic and cumulative effect of our releases illustrates the insidious nature of pollution and the substances we use, and ultimately release into the environment. Regulatory control therefore is not necessarily going to work on its own.

In the environmental news this week Brittany has been struck by tonnes of toxic algae washing up on the beaches. This has caused the death of local livestock, not to mention significantly harmed the tourist industry. Such events are increasingly common where nutrient loading and high organic discharges lead to algal blooms. And in June this year a report by the International Programme of the State of the Ocean (IPSO) highlighted the plight of the oceans, indicating that ocean life is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”. The combined effects of pollution, over-fishing and climate change are acting together in ways not previously recognised, and the consequences are already affecting humanity.

I highlight these because at the same time the most recent talks on climate change, held in Bonn, failed (again) to agree on emission limits, the future of Kyoto and finance. While some technical solutions were agreed, the ongoing stumbling point is agreeing on future target reductions and apparent lack of progress in achieving existing targets. The UK’s former chief scientist Sir David King also added to the debate recently suggesting that Kyoto should be abandoned and instead each country should set itself a carbon quota based on population size.

It’s clear that to achieve the required modes of sustainable consumption and production for a healthy planet we need a fundamental change in our collective behaviour and attitude to the environment. This of course is a huge undertaking however if we fail to agree and act now, as Galatians 6:7 advises, the future looks rather bleak. Or to put another way… because there is no Planet B.

Hundreds of barrels of oil released into the Yellowstone River

4 Jul

An Exxon Mobil oil pipeline that runs below the Yellowstone River in Montana ruptured on Saturday, leaking hundreds of barrels of crude oil into the river.

The clean-up operation is still in progress, with crews from Exxon Mobil, state agencies and the federal Environmental Protection Agency deploying booms, absorbent material and vacuum trucks as the 25 mile-long plume moves downstream at a rate of around seven miles per hour.

The pipeline was shut down within seven minutes of pressure loss occurring in the pipe, during which an estimated 750 – 1000 barrels (or 42,000 gallons) of oil were released into the waterway. Hundreds of local residents were evacuated along a 20 mile stretch of the river due to concerns about possible explosions and overpowering fumes. As the water in the river is at such high levels, many are concerned that once the water levels drop, it will leave the thin layer of oil that is currently floating in the surface of the water on the land. The flooding has also made the clean-up operation harder, as the oil is more difficult to track and recover.

The pipe was shut in mid-May over concerns about the seasonal flooding the river is currently experiencing, but the decision was taken to reopen it a day later after reviewing its audit records and deciding it was safe. The last audit that was carried out on the pipeline was conducted in December 2010 by the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The report concluded that the pipe was five to eight feet below the riverbed. Since then there have been record rains in the area and melting snowpack flooded the river in May, which Exxon and government officials have said may have exposed the pipe to damage from debris.

The river is home to large numbers of rainbow trout. “If fish get oil on them, if they break the surface and get oil on them, it tends to plug up their gills and it often is fatal,” said Bob Gobson, of the Billings Fish, Wildlife and Parks Program.

In a statement released by Exxon Mobil, the pipeline company president Gary Pruessing said: “We recognise the seriousness of this incident and are working hard to address it. We will continue to add resources and are extremely grateful for the patience and assistance of local residents and authorities.”

Let’s have our day in the sun

25 Mar

I recently had the pleasure of spending a long weekend in Basel, Switzerland. Basel sits on the border with Germany and France and has the luxury of all three countries. You can pop to France to buy your frogs legs in the morning, take a stroll along the Rhine in Switzerland in the afternoon and bask in the last rays of the day in Germany with some German beer and sausage. Parfait! Perfekt!

As we drove into Germany one morning and the road wound through small country villages, there were the typical German houses: painted shutters, a low thatched roof. But as we left the heart of the villages, into new housing areas, there was a marked contrast in the dwellings. New housing estates had a distinctly different look. Gone were the thatched roofs and tudor-esque designs. Instead, solar panels lined the roofs and the designs were simple and modern. Every house in this obviously new neighbourhood had a roof full of solar panels and a few even had smaller wind turbines in their gardens.

Germany initiated incentives for renewable energy back in 1991. The scheme was enhanced and drove a massive increase in the installation of solar PV panels. In 2005, 10% of Germany’s electricity came from renewable sources. In 2009 it was up to 16%. The target in the UK for last year was 10%. We are well behind our energy saving European neighbours.

In the next issue of Safety Management we take a look at renewable energy and some major plans and projects which are happening and have happened both here and around the world. The fact remains: the earth’s natural resources (gas, coal, oil) have an expiration date. They will disappear and our planet is begging us to look for safe and clean alternatives.

The rewards for investing in renewable energy know no bounds: reducing CO2 emissions; technological innovation; creating a variety of green jobs; securing more sustainable domestic power supplies; building a cleaner and safer environment, not just for today, but for many, many tomorrows.

Businesses have a huge part to play, as does the government in supporting them. The policies it is putting in place, and the initiatives through the Carbon Plan, have been welcomed by businesses: funding for apprenticeships in the green industry; investment in new technology; the desire to develop more wind turbines. More can always be done, and we can all play our part.

Henrik Tikkanen wrote that “because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.” We all need and use energy, and we all have to take responsibility today. Striving to create a safe and healthy world for everyone will have little meaning if there will be no energy left to keep us enjoying and living it.  

Check our the next issue of Safety Management for the full article on renewable energy.