Environmental Health & Safety Compliance Blog

Trained vs. EH&S Trained, Qualified and Competent

Posted by Rebecca McDaniel on Jun 18, 2010 10:21:00 AM

By Doug Graham, Senior Compliance Advisor & Training Manager

What makes an EHS specialist qualified and competent? Most employees would agree that training is an essential part of becoming a skilled EHS specialist. In the EH&S world, there are many disciplines that require training, such as the shipping of hazardous materials and the management of hazardous waste. The training is required so that employees tasked with those functions are presented with, and provided an explanation of, specific regulatory requirements which they must meet. But the question becomes, is training enough?

When it comes time to put the knowledge acquired during training to use, can the employee perform the task compliantly? Even further, does the employee continue to be competent if considerable time elapses between tasks or is given new and more challenging tasks? If I'm an employer, I need to know- if I don't, I risk penalties, financial, civil or criminal liability, the reputation of my company or institution, even peoples' lives could be at stake.

It's no secret that employers do not always make an effort to determine if employees are qualified and competent to perform EH&S tasks, usually because they don't see the consequences. . . .right away, that is. (We've heard it- "he's got the certificate, he's good to go"). Concern about competency commonly arises only after a shipment is rejected, a regulatory inspection occurs, a citation is issued, an incident occurs, the environment is contaminated, or a person is injured or killed. It may take considerable time and practice to establish proficiency at mastering the minutiae of a set of regulations to be confident that what he/she is doing is accurate and compliant.

Nowhere in the EH&S world is it more crucial for an employer to determine competency after training, than when offering hazardous materials for transport by aircraft. ValuJet Flight 592 which crashed in the Everglades in 1996- an avoidable tragedy caused by the improper loading of hazardous material, is a stark example. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), responsible for enforcement, knows this all too well. In the last 6-7 years enforcement has been vigorous. Enforcement actions against employers have resulted from discovery of non-compliant shipments at air terminals, incidents, and what's becoming ever more frequent, from unannounced inspections of employers triggered merely by offering hazardous materials by air. FAA is very concerned with the qualifications and competence of employees tasked with preparing shipments. One FAA inspector recently, during an onsite inspection, required the employer to assess the competency of each hazmat employee and certify that those previously-trained individuals were qualified, even suggesting an additional employer's signature be added to the original training certificate already signed by the instructor.

So, the lesson to be learned here is, employers should look at EH&S tasks carefully, assess the risks associated with non-compliance, and not only train those employees, but follow-up and have another person with the training, knowledge and experience assess their competency through evaluation of actual job duties. . . only then should they be qualified.

Tags: Training

Regulatory Compliance: New Rules for Lithium Batteries

Posted by Rebecca McDaniel on Jan 14, 2010 9:34:00 AM

Doug Graham, CHMM Sr. Compliance Advisor & Training Manager

Yes, they’re at it again! Just when you thought you knew how to ship lithium batteries, DOT has thrown in yet another potential rule change.

Currently, there are exceptions for certain “small” lithium metal (primary) and lithium ion (rechargeable) batteries, wherein the DOT allows those batteries to be shipped under a special provision. If the batteries (including those in equipment) meet the requirements described in Special Provision 188 of 49 CFR 172.102, they need not comply with the entire scope of the hazardous materials regulations. DOT defines the maximum size of the batteries applicable to this provision based upon the amount of lithium within each cell and the total within each battery. The batteries that fall within this small-sized range are those we typically find inside cell phones, cameras, and laptop computers, and have power ratings under roughly 100 Watt-hours (Wh).

In a press release on January 8, 2010, the DOT is proposing to remove those exceptions for small lithium batteries, effectively making them fully regulated Class 9 hazardous materials like their medium and large-sized counterparts. The justification for the proposed rule change was explained by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar this way, "Under existing regulations, a flight crew may not be made aware of a pallet containing thousands of lithium batteries on board the aircraft, yet a five-pound package of flammable paint or dry ice would be subject to the full scope of the regulations. That makes little sense. . .”

To follow these developments regarding lithium battery shipping issues, and other emerging rules regarding DOT hazardous materials, log onto www.phmsa.dot.gov/hazmat . To view the proposed rule change (docket HM-224F) as published in the Federal Register on January 11, 2010, click on the following link: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-281.htm. So. . . . . .keep your ear to the ground, if history’s any indicator, there’s sure to be more to come.

Tags: Hazardous Materials, DOT, Lithium Batteries, Training, Regulations, PHMSA, Trainings

Staying in compliance while cutting cost

Posted by Rebecca McDaniel on Nov 17, 2009 7:39:00 AM

By Joseph Shupp, Chemist II

The economic slump that the economy is currently in has forced industries, especially smaller scale companies, to evaluate where they are financially and where they need to be to stay in business. Our industry of hazardous waste management and disposal is heavily driven by meeting regulatory standards. One of the many regulations that we all must follow is having the proper training that we need to do our jobs. Not only must we attend training and receive a certificate, but we also must re-certify on a pre-determined time frame. These trainings are rarely located in our backyard and have numerous cost associated with attending the training. Flights, meals, and hotel rooms are an overhead cost that is tough to cover when your company is cutting budgets and evaluating every penny that is spent.

The solution is to bring the desired training topics to your office. Web seminars and web based training modules are becoming an increasing popular item among companies who need to stay up to date with training regiments, but cannot necessarily afford to send all of there employees to external training centers. These web based programs meet all required regulatory aspects. Some of the trainings include videos and interactive modules to utilize a more hands on approach. In some cases the programs are broken up into sections which allow the trainee to work at there own pace. Upon completion of the modules a test will most likely follow. Once the test is passed a certificate can either be printed directly from the web page or an official certificate is mailed to the person testing. After it is all finished the two basic goals where achieved; training requirements are satisfied, and money has been saved.

Tags: Hazardous, Hazardous Waste Disposal, Training, DOT Training, Hazardous Waste Management

A Cautionary Tale from the Annals of Emergency Spill Response

Posted by Mark Campanale on Oct 9, 2009 8:09:00 AM

Doug Graham

"Responders? We don't need no stinkin' responders!"

OK, here's the scenario: Our hypothetical employer- (factory, institution, research facility, hospital, take your pick) makes an executive decision to "out-source" all hazardous chemical emergency response actions to an outside contractor. All employees are instructed that in the case of a chemical spill, they are not to respond, but to call the internal emergency contact person, who will then call the outside spill response service provider. Hands off, nice and neat, no internal hazmat response team, no need for emergency spill response (HAZWOPER) training of employees, it's all good, right? . . . . . . . . right?

Not so fast. What this employer does not realize is that in the event of a release they are in fact:

1) deciding if the incident could threaten human health or the environment; ]

2) implementing an incident command system;

3) assigning roles and responsibilities;

4) implementing defensive and/or offensive response actions;

5) notifying, or failing to notify, outside agencies; and the list goes on!

This sure sounds like "responding", and a lot like the stuff that's covered in a good emergency response training class!

The question now becomes, are all the people involved in the response trained in accordance with their anticipated rolls and response actions? Also, have they the knowledge and tools to make the correct decisions and perform assigned tasks?

Crucial decisions are often made in the initial stages of a hazardous chemical release, often by employees not always thought of as "emergency responders". According to OSHA's emergency response training standard- 29 CFR 1910.120(q) (HAZWOPER), an employee must be trained to the level to which they are expected to respond- awareness level, operations level, or technician level.

A simple way to approach this is to think of employees as fitting into one of these three categories:

1. Those who may be first to discover a hazardous chemical release and are expected only to recognize a potential threat, run away, warn others in the area to do the same, and then call for help; or
2. those who may come back to take defensive actions at a safe distance; or
3. those who will put on a full chemical protective suit, atmosphere-supplying respirator, and perform reconnaissance or take offensive actions in areas that could be a threat.
Yup, those are the basic descriptions for the three levels of OSHA HAZWOPER training.

So, in conclusion, if we go back to our hypothetical employer, we see that hiring an outside spill contractor only serves to add a tool to the emergency coordinator's tool bag, just an additional role under the employer's incident command structure. They've neither transferred responsibility, reduced decision making, nor removed the need for employee training.


Tags: Training, OSHA, Hazardous Chemicals