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Environmental Safety: Why Devise Emergency Plans?
An accident or incident in the workplace such as an explosion or a fire for example can cause serious injury or illness at the outset, which obviously provides a reason for taking suitable precautions in order to prevent it in the first place. However, as well as the initial danger, incidents can also create a chain reaction or produce other situations which will pose a danger to people. Examples include fires which damage storage areas containing hazardous substances and result in the harmful substances escaping, or flooding which not only creates a danger of drowning or being swept away by fast flowing water, but can also create a risk of electrocution as the water comes into contact with electrical wires.
Along with creating a danger to the health and safety of human beings, they can also have a seriously destructive and detrimental effect upon local wildlife and the environment. Just as escaping harmful substances can negatively impact the health and safety of people, they will also have a similar impact upon other biological creatures and plant life. Fires and smoke will not only create the same danger to creatures as they will for humans, but the damage to habitat can result in many animals struggling to survive in the area even after the immediate danger from the fire has been extinguished.
It is therefore imperative that - for the sake of human, plant and animal welfare and wellbeing alike - that steps are taken to reduce the probability of such an incident occurring as far as it is reasonably practical to do so. Whilst nobody wants an emergency situation or accident/disaster to occur - even with comprehensive and robust control systems and health and safety training - there will still exist the possibility of such an event taking place. Safety controls and increased knowledge through environmental training courses like the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate for example can only reduce the chances of an incident occurring, with it being virtually impossible to totally eliminate any possibility whatsoever of it taking place.
Safeguarding the Environment
As far as protecting and safeguarding the environment is concerned, the same processes will apply as they do to other aspects of accident prevention and health and safety insofar as performing thorough risk assessments, introducing stringent controls and monitoring procedures, having staff attend relevant health and safety courses etc. Similarly, environmental emergency plans need to be devised, just as they do for other potential safety incidents, to effectively deal with any emergency situation which may arise despite the best efforts of management.
Health and safety accidents and incidents are not always due to a lack of training and suitably qualified personnel, or insufficient safety controls. Sometimes they are brought about by events which could not reasonably be foreseen, such as certain natural disasters like earthquakes or floods which are far more severe than anything which has occurred in the past.
Why Create an Emergency Plan?
Having an effective emergency plan which is understood by all employees can significantly reduce the impact and severity of any incident, and can be the difference between a minor situation which is speedily contained and an out-and-out disaster unfolding.
This is similarly the case when it comes to environmental emergency plans. Many emergency situations will result in substances being released into the surrounding environment, particularly in the air or into nearby watercourses where it can wreak havoc on creatures who depend on the environment for food, drinking water and shelter. Poisons and toxins released into water can quickly kill fish and other creatures living in it, not to mention killing or affecting the growth of crops taking the contaminated water from the soil. Some chemicals can even find their way into the food of humans when it is contained in the crops which are in turn used for food production.
What will an Environmental Emergency Plan Do?
An effective environmental emergency plan may not be able to prevent a situation occurring, but it will have the ability to significantly lessen the detrimental impacts upon the local environment. The way it does this will depend greatly upon the nature of the incident and what substances are involved, not to mention the geographic location (e.g. on an offshore oil rig, at the top of a mountain, in a residential or urban area etc), but having a comprehensive plan which has been communicated to staff will allow them to understand who is responsible for which action and will allow the measures to be performed in a timely manner, ensuring that no crucial aspect is missed. This can greatly limit the impact and devastation which may otherwise have been imposed upon the environment, lessening the death and destruction that may otherwise have ensued.
Not only will this be beneficial for the environment, but it will also help to save the reputation and brand image of the company which is so key to its future performance and financial success, and is a further example of how health and safety is not just a regulatory requirement which must be grudgingly obeyed, but can provide a positive outcome in terms of saving lives (of all creatures) and for the future trading success of the company.
Health and Safety and Environmental Training Share the Same Objectives
Just as the primary purpose of health and safety training is to prevent an accident, injury or illness befalling an employee or nearby member of the public, environmental preventative measures such as safety controls and environmental training are intended to prevent an environmental disaster or indeed any negative impact upon the surrounding environment. However, even with all of the training, safety controls, planning and procedures in the world, it will often be impossible to entirely and completely eliminate every single potential risk and danger which may cause harm to a person.
Similarly, the same can be said for the issues which could cause damage to the local environment and have negative consequences for human, plant and animal life in the vicinity. Whilst all reasonable precautions and plans can be made and followed to the letter, there will still be the possibility, however slight, for an incident to occur which has negative repercussions for the environment.
Therefore it is imperative that in addition to doing all they can to prevent such a situation occurring in the first place, the company has comprehensive plans and procedures which can quickly be engaged and put into action should such a situation occur. This will greatly assist with mitigating and limiting the damage being done to the environment. How it does this will depend greatly upon the exact nature of the emergency situation, but can include measures like activating emergency shut-off valves, alerting the emergency services in a timely manner, initiating evacuation procedures quickly and efficiently etc.
Trying to Organise During an Emergency Will Be Too Late
In order for environmental emergency plans to operate as intended and with maximum effectiveness, suitable levels of planning and training need to be utilised, just as they do for emergency procedures not related to the environment. Although emergencies are unpredictable and it is difficult to plan for every possible eventuality, thorough planning needs to be comprehensive enough to cover as many likely scenarios as possible, with certain dangers such as fire or explosion risks being a common possibility of many different disaster situations.
The Need for Communication, Training and Practice Sessions
It is all very well management conduction thorough planning and devising comprehensive action plans, but if they are not properly communication to staff members and practiced through suitable training and periodic drill sessions then they will be next to useless in their effectiveness is nobody knows what to do during an emergency which means certain actions such as shutting off valves or checking certain areas are not performed and left for someone else to do and so it never gets done. Employees need to be fully up to speed with their own role and requirements should an emergency occur, whether environmental or otherwise, in order for the situation to be brought under control as quickly and efficiently as possible, thereby minimising the negative impact upon both the environment and the health of people nearby.
Why an Environmental Emergency Plan Can Save Money
Emergency Situations Can Damage The Environment
Any accident or emergency situation can not only put the health and safety of workers and the public at risk of harm, but it can also bring about damage to the surrounding environment. Just as it is important to have plans and procedures in place if there ever is an emergency situation for any type of incident, having a comprehensive environmental emergency plan in place can help to significantly mitigate the impact upon the environment.
Contamination and pollution of the environment can occur rapidly during an emergency situation, and can even occur as a consequence of performing a remedial action to make safe another hazard such as tackling a fire with large volumes of water which wash hazardous chemicals into the surrounding soil and watercourses. Similarly, certain materials which burn in a fire can produce highly toxic and poisonous gases that pollute the air and endanger the health and wellbeing of people, animals and plant life in the vicinity. This area can encompass a significant size depending upon conditions such as wind speed, with effects depending upon the substances involved and the number of people that are currently present in the affected radius from where the incident occurred.
Environmental Health and Safety Training
The potential scope for causing ill-health or death to biological creatures, including people, is just one reason why environmental health and safety courses like the NEBOSH Environmental Certificate are so important and increasing in popularity, in conjunction with other health and safety training courses in other areas to provide workers with the knowledge they need to keep themselves and others safe from harm. Being well-trained and highly knowledgeable in how to work safely and prevent accidents with regards to both the environment and health and safety in general will greatly reduce the likelihood of an episode taking place which endangers or damages people's health or animal habitat.
The Financial Consequences of an Environmental Emergency
Dealing with the consequences of an environmental emergency - both as it unfolds and needs bringing under immediate control, and dealing with the aftermath such as clean-up costs - can cost a business considerable amounts of money. Add to this the likely fines which may be imposed by the authorities and the cost of an incident which has a negative effect on the environment can be so expensive that it can sometimes even threaten the very existence of the company.
Companies which pollute or damage the environment, even if it is entirely accidental and a one-off event, are subsequently viewed in a very dim light by the public, many of whom will be current or potential customers of the firm's products or services. The damage to reputation and brand name can further compound the financial problem faced by the company, as not only will they have to pay fines and clean-up costs but they may also see a significant reduction in trading for the foreseeable future.
So whilst the ultimate intention is to prevent environmentally-damaging situations occurring in the first instance, like with other aspects of health and safety it will be virtually impossible to completely reduce the probability right down to zero, which is why it is so necessary for emergency plans to be devised and have employees trained in its implementation so that it can quickly be enacted should the need for it arise. This will help to lessen the monetary cost of the accident, as well as the more important issue of preventing as much destruction to the environment and the health of those living creatures unfortunate enough to be caught up in the incident.