On April 20, 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers. That isn’t the part of Deepwater Horizon most people remember, though.
What they remember is that it created the largest oil spill in marine drilling history, with 4 million barrels worth of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico each day over the 87 days it took BP, the company which operated Deepwater Horizon, to cap the spill. It resulted in an unprecedented $5.5 billion Clean Water Act penalty for BP, up to $8.8 billion in natural resources damage, and settlements for multiple class-action lawsuits for medical claims and economic damages.
It was, in short, a catastrophe.
For businesses today, it also points to the importance of the first letter of EHS: environmental. While it’s easy to pay attention to safety issues like PPE and regulatory compliance, your environmental responsibilities are just as important to your safety efforts. As Deepwater Horizon shows, your environmental impact can have an outsized influence on all your safety efforts.
Environmental Best Practices
With that in mind, it’s time to take a step back and take a look at an often neglected letter in EHS. Because the truth is, if you pay attention to health and safety without also paying attention to the environment, you’re neglecting one-third of your whole safety program.
While it’s easy to think of environment as protecting the trees or preserving clean water, at a safety level, it’s deeper than that. It’s about ensuring your work environment is safe to be in, and about ensuring that your business maintains a safe, healthy environment for the community that surrounds you.
These responsibilities are reflected in a variety of regulations.
Take the National Environmental Policy Act, one of the first laws ever written to establish a broad national network for protecting our environment. Or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), through which the EPA imposes liability on operators of facilities from which there is a release of hazardous substances. Or the Clean Water Act (CWA), which prohibits discharge of pollutants into point sources and navigable waters in the U.S. without a permit.
All these laws point to the same basic tenet: that companies are responsible for the harm they commit to the environment, and as far as the government is concerned, it is a company’s responsibility to ensure they don’t cause harm in the first place.
Testing and Inspection Responsibilities
That said, EHS and environmental responsibilities are incredibly broad, from water safety and jet fuels to hazardous chemicals to clean air. Covering all of them can easily become a full-time job in its own right, and you have an entire organization’s safety to worry about. For example, if you manufacture energy-related products, like crude oil or chemicals, it is imperative that you inspect them to ensure they adhere to environmental and quality standards. There are various companies, like AmSpec, that can help with these different testing services.