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Without effective communication, safety is compromised

Whether you are building a single-story house or a 50-story high-rise, you
start at the same place: the foundation. Why do you do this? Because you know
that without a solid foundation, the building will crumble.

The same is
true for your organization’s environmental health and safety efforts. Without
a solid foundation, your efforts will crumble –- often at the expense of
human life, injury or organization finances.

What is this foundation for
your environmental health and safety? What, when properly implemented, will create
a firm foundation upon which you can build the safety of your employees, building
occupants, outside vendors and others?

Effective communication.

Over
the past several months, we’ve looked at some of the more common environmental
health and safety hazards and the basic techniques for addressing those hazards.
While each of these is unique, they do all have the similarity that to successfully
manage these hazards, any practices need to be built on the foundation of effective
communication.

This creates another problem though. Namely, what is effective
communication? This month we’ll focus on the common parties with which you
need to communicate, an example of the information that needs to be communicated
and some techniques to successfully communicate that information.

The first
struggle with regard to effective communication is determining who needs to receive
the information. With the involvement of so many parties, it’s often difficult
to determine whom you need to make aware of environmental health and safety issues.
Some of these are obvious, some you may have overlooked, but all need to understand
the potential environmental health and safety hazards they face at your job site.
Below is a list of some potential parties that may need to be supplied with information
during your next project.

  • Building owner

  • Health and
    safety consultant

  • Architect
  • Regulatory agencies
  • Employees

  • Building occupants/subcontractors
  • General public

What to say

Now that you understand some of
the parties with which you need to communicate, what do you need to tell them?
The difficulty is that the necessary information varies by hazard type. Some of
the information is required, some is just good practice, but all is important.

Let’s
look at an example of the flow of communication regarding asbestos in a construction
project for a school. This will give you an idea of some information that may
need to be communicated.

  • The building owner must be made aware of
    the asbestos issue before beginning the project and the potential impact that
    it can have on the project.

  • The environmental health and safety
    consultant must be made aware of the issue and they must perform the mandatory
    pre-renovation/pre-demolition inspection.

  • The architect/designer
    should then use the information gathered in the inspection and develop a plan
    for how to manage the issue in the construction process.

  • Now,
    bids must be solicited from abatement contractors and a contractor selected to
    perform the abatement activities. If any new asbestos is discovered throughout
    the entire construction process, it must be communicated to the building owner
    within 24 hours.

  • Appropriate notices and permits must be filed
    with regulatory agencies. In this case, it includes the notice of intent to perform
    renovation or demolition activities.

  • Employees working in or
    around the area must be informed of the potential hazards as required by the Occupational
    Safety and Health Administration’s construction hazard.

  • Building occupants and subcontractors need to be made aware of the hazard by the
    building being properly regulated through sufficient barriers and the posting
    of warning signs.

  • Waste must be labeled and manifested for transportation
    to the landfill. The manifest must be returned to the building owner following
    disposal.

  • The school needs to communicate the presence of asbestos
    to the general public through annual asbestos notifications.

Determining
what information you need to supply to whom is important, but often it is difficult
to determine how to do just that. Fortunately for you, we live in the information
age. Communication has truly never been easier than it is right now. With the
advent of communication tools such as the Internet, e-mail, cell phones and other
technological tools, you have numerous tools to communicate environmental health
and safety hazards to affected parties.

The key to succeeding with these
tactics is proper organization of the necessary information so it is easy for
you and the affected parties to work with. All affected parties need to know where
to find the needed information in the event of an emergency.

Bill Freeman
is president of Environmental Management Consulting Inc.

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