Best Practices in Hazard and Waste Management
With the right actions, companies can keep both workers and the environment safe from harm.
- By Steven John Cumper
- Jul 21, 2023
Accidents and injuries happen in all industries and work environments. Saying that, few people would dispute that employees in some industries are exposed to greater dangers than others. The construction and chemical industries are among those with higher accident and injury rates. Hazard and waste management is another example.
Workers in the hazard and waste management sector have an essential role in American communities. They handle and dispose of industrial and personal waste in a manner that protects the environment and the community. In some cases, that involves handling substances that are dangerous to the environment and individuals. Following regulatory guidelines and applying best practices in hazard and waste management is critical to protecting communities, workers and the environment.
Identifying Hazards and Assessing Risks
Protecting communities from environmental and waste-related hazards is impossible without a clear understanding of those hazards themselves. Knowing what substances to look out for is the first step toward avoiding them or disposing of them correctly. That is what hazard and waste management professionals do.
In the U.S., there are currently just under 45,000 people employed in jobs dealing with hazmat removal. Most of them are employed by remediation services and other waste management companies. Waste treatment and disposal businesses as well as construction companies also need hazardous material removal personnel.
They follow guidelines by the likes of the Occupational Safety & Health Association (OSHA) and the EPA. Both organizations not only specify regulations but also offer guidance on how to identify and dispose of hazardous waste. The EPA’s cradle-to-grave system, for example, covers safety measures during waste generation, transportation, disposal and treatment. Identification of hazardous substances is critical to the effectiveness of the procedures.
Most companies that work with or produce hazardous waste know which substances result from their processes and how to protect workers and the environment. If your company is among those, start by listing the hazards and assessing the risks created by them in detail. Document your work, as your countermeasures will be based on your findings.
Minimizing Risks Through Effective Controls
With hazards identified and risks assessed, companies can then check current regulations that will help them develop procedures and policies to minimize risks. OSHA’s standards for hazardous materials and waste operations are contained in the organization’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standards. The standards exist in a general industry version and one specific to the construction industry. HAZWOPER details safety requirements and emergency responses to incidents that lead to dangerous substances being released.
These standards provide the framework based on which companies can develop their own specific policies. They cover specific work policies, how to conduct cleanup operations and provide training criteria to ensure workers stay up-to-date on safety regulations and other developments.
Managing Hazardous Substances Through Safe Handling and Disposal
In an ideal world, neither our environment nor your company’s workers would ever become exposed to hazardous substances. Alternatively, if they became exposed, it would be in a controlled and contained manner to avoid serious consequences.
Uncontrolled exposures to hazardous substances can lead to immediate and long-term health effects. Those effects could range from irritation and burns to death in extreme cases. The OSHA law dictates that employers need to protect their teams from harm and provide a safe and healthful work environment for them.
Safe handling and disposal procedures are a critical part of that. These procedures include labeling and storage practices.
1. Hazardous Waste Labeling. Knowing which substances your business produces or works with is only one aspect of keeping employees and the environment safe. Labeling is equally critical. Hazardous waste or substance labels alert others to potential dangers.
Attached correctly, a simple label can make a crucial difference when containers are being transported or relocated. Complete labels not only name the substances in a container but also detail related hazards.
2. Hazardous Waste Storage. Secure storage is the next step in hazardous material handling and disposal. It’s simply not always possible to dispose of hazardous waste immediately. When that happens, businesses need to use clean, undamaged and properly sealed containers that prevent leaking or spilling.
Containers should also be removed from busy work areas to limit potential accidents. This type of on-site storage is only ever a temporary option, however. Prioritize the removal of hazardous waste and limit the number of storage containers your company keeps on location to minimize the risk of exposure.
Responding to Emergencies and the Importance of First Aid
Even with the most thorough planning and conscientious handling of chemicals and other substances, accidents and incidents can happen. Prevention is any company’s first line of defense, but it is just as important for your organization to be equally well prepared to react to adverse events.
With the right preparation, including training, access to first-aid kits and basic equipments, many smaller incidents can be handled internally, often by employees themselves. Basic first-aid courses prepare your team to handle common problems, but if your company is handling substances that could become hazardous to the community and the environment, specific training and customized first-aid equipment will be required. Ensuring your team has access to both allows them to take the right measures and collaborate effectively with medical personnel.
If your business is producing hazardous waste, handling and disposing of it responsibly needs to be a priority to protect the community you operate in. Hazardous waste leaks or spills can endanger employees, the environment and the hazmat disposal workers closest to the substance. Establishing strong policies and procedures following legal regulations and guidelines is an excellent way to protect your team, your business and your surroundings.
Steven John Cumper, B.App.Sc. (Osteo.), M.Ost., is a businessman with a strong background in biomedical science and osteopathic medicine. He founded Medshop & ScrubsIQ while studying at RMIT University in Australia, expanding its reach to markets in Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and Malaysia. In September 2021, the Bunzl Group acquired a majority stake in Medshop, but Cumper remains involved as the Managing Director (Medshop Group). His journey from Zimbabwe to the UK and Australia reflects his dedication to academia and entrepreneurship, combining diverse knowledge and experience.