EHS Risks for Lower-Risk Facilities

6 Commonly Overlooked EHS Risks for Lower-Risk Facilities—And How to Address Them

September 29th, 2018

EHS managers of lower-risk facilities are tasked with ensuring employees are working in a safe, comfortable, and protected environment. But as growing companies focus attention on expanding locally and globally, some EHS risks can be inadvertently missed, overlooked, or completely unknown.

In our experience working with lower-risk facilities—work that has led to the development of our RiskRight EHS®  program—we’ve identified several EHS risks and issues that are often overlooked in many non-manufacturing environments. Below, we outline these commonly missed risks and offer advice for overcoming them.

1. Bad (or no) ergonomics

Improperly equipped desks and workstations could cause strain on employees’ bodies, resulting in lower productivity and long-term injuries. This is especially common in co-work, open plan areas, where equipment is not adjustable, seating is not guaranteed, and employee movement within a space is constant. 

Developing an ergonomics program with a nomadic workforce can be challenging. Conduct an ergonomic assessment using a comfort survey to uncover how employees feel about their working conditions and issues they’re having. An on-site audit is also necessary to see exactly how people are working. Consider assessing locations as opposed to employees – look at the couches, the reclining seats, the high stools, and the communal table work set-ups. Watch as people come and go and determine how they use the space.

If you don’t have the in-house resources or expertise, consider hiring an EHS consulting firm. An EHS consultant can tailor an assessment program to your specific environment to provide facility-wide, as well as employee-specific, recommendations for mitigating risks and improving ergonomics.

2. Poor lighting and air quality

Poor lighting and air quality issues can be distracting for employees, reducing productivity and comfort. Dark "cubbies" where employees experience glare on computer screens or unidentified odors that come and go can be a source of concern for those directly affected and those in surrounding locations. In fact, studies show that comfortable, well-lit, well-ventilated and safe workplaces increase productivity by as much as 16% and job satisfaction by 24%.

Conduct monthly walk-throughs to identify areas with stagnant air or lights that are burnt out or have been removed. Make sure bulbs are promptly changed when burned out and properly recycled or disposed of, and ensure common spaces are well-lit and clear of potential hazards. Create a maintenance schedule and checklist to ensure that HVAC systems are in proper working order, filters changed on schedule, and coils and pans are cleaned regularly.

3. Blocked emergency exits and lack of path lighting

In the event of an emergency, people need an unobstructed path in order to safely exit the building. This can be challenging in a co-work location where many companies inhabit the same space. Ensure employees are aware of exits, and practice evacuations regularly.  

Make sure that evacuation routes and emergency exits are clear of materials such as desks, chairs, boxes, wires, or tools. Look for properly marked exits and emergency lighting. Check on a quarterly basis to ensure that routes and exits remain free and clear in the event of an emergency. In a leased or co-work space, work with the landlord on signage issues, and suggest holding regular mandatory evacuation drills. 

4. Dangerous procedures and equipment

While employees at tech companies don’t usually work with toxic chemicals, they can get involved with trendy equipment, such as 3-D printers, lasers, and drones, all of which have their own unique safety hazards. Printers in particular may cause air quality concerns and generate unique wastes that need special handling and disposal. 

Implement a process involving EHS upfront when new equipment and new processes are being considered to avoid issues like being unable to install a machine because of a fire code violation, or failing to account for whether the building's foundation can handle the extra weight. Develop training programs to ensure all employees are aware of proper safety measures and waste management protocols. Ensure all employees complete environment, health, and safety training each year as part of their ongoing employment. In addition, investigate all near misses and incidents or accidents and use the findings to communicate lessons learned and keep everyone accountable for safety.

5. Emergency backup systems

Many facilities have emergency generators and/or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems to ensure critical operations are protected in the event of a power outage. Both types of backup systems have aspects that require careful planning to maintain environmental compliance and protect employee safety. 

Emergency generators should be tested regularly. This can be a critical procedure for a data center, and will require intricate planning to ensure power is never dropped. Generators can run on diesel fuel, which is housed either in an aboveground or underground storage tank. Both types of tanks are regulated and carry compliance burdens  such as inspections, secondary containments, leak monitoring, overfill protection, integrity testing, air permitting, SPCC plans (dependent upon tank size), spill response, personal protective equipment, and nearby eyewash placement.

UPS systems can have lead acid or gel type batteries that require regular maintenance to prevent leakage and special disposal when they are replaced. Charging batteries can produce hydrogen, which in significant quantities can create an explosion hazard, thus requiring monitoring and proper ventilation or rooms. Some systems are going to lithium-based batteries, which carry their own set of regulatory concerns.

6. One-size-fits-none EHS programs

When it comes to lower-risk facilities and offices, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to EHS because standard programs don’t address workplace nuances or your company culture.

An EHS consulting firm can develop a reasonably priced, customized program tailored to the unique needs of your company. An EHS consulting firm not only brings broad-based knowledge and expertise to the table, but also flexibility and outside perspective to catch issues you may have overlooked.

If you’re looking for a partner to help you develop and customize EHS programs for your unique company, get in touch with Antea Group.

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