National Museums of Kenya, P.O. Box 40658-00100 Nairobi,

Managing Environment, Health and Safety Risks at the National Museums of Kenya for Sustainability

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Courtesy of National Museums of Kenya, P.O. Box 40658-00100 Nairobi,


Urban environmental policy cannot escape the dictates of global environmental requirements as stipulated by the principles of Stockholm Conference, Rio-Summit, and the Johannesburg Summit that includes multilateral environmental agreements. The National Museum of Kenya (NMK) is a public, educational, scientific and heritage management institution established in 1909. It has undergone major transformation in 1930, 1964 and 2005.The NMK has more than 18 research programmes, 20 regional museums and 170 sites and monuments of national importance in different parts of Kenya. The mandate of the NMK is to promote cultural and natural heritage collections, documentation, exhibitions, and conservation. The NMK public programmes annually attract 300,000-500,000 visitors of different kind. The institution also houses the national collection centre for the country’s biodiversity. The environmental aspects are important because as an institution we constantly generate waste (solid, liquid, dust), consume energy, use water, experience problem of pest control and use chemicals in laboratories for conservation management and research. The challenge has been inadequate knowledge, data and policy on the acquisition and handling of chemical and chemical waste, disposal facilities, procedures and standard of compliance with respect to the existing legislations. To ensure the environmental compliance and sustainability for its wide operations, the NMK management has put in place a strong programme of environment, health and safety since 1999, under Standing Committee. The main aim of the programme is to help in the environmental compliance by improving museum capacity building, awareness creation, facilities inspections and advocating for the efficiency use of its resources as sustainability change has become increasingly important. The organization norms, values and practices may enhance or limit the sustainability change (Doppelt 2003). The programme is expected to put the NMK on the right footing in terms of national environmental frameworks and legal requirements such as EMCA, 1999, Water Act 2000, KFS Act 2006, Waste regulation, 2006, Water Quality regulation 2006 among many others. To comply with legislations, the NMK EHS programme frequently organizes workshops in which experts are invited to share their experiences and professional knowledge with the museum staff. A focus on transforming norms and values through learning is therefore fundamental to education for sustainability initiatives in organisations. This paper shares how the NMK is responding to sustainability question from an environmental perspective.


Before 1999, the Republic of Kenya did not have a comprehensive environmental policy, and about 77 statutes addressed various sections of the environment. Factors that have shaped environmental management practices are multilateral environmental agreements, policy and legal framework, institutional frameworks and cultural underpinnings. Global principles and strategies may be inconsequential unless the participating states domesticate and enforce national institutional mechanism stated in the global arrangements (SOE, 2006). Environmental policy is designed to respond to people’s aspirations. Kenya has embraced the principles of environmental management as well as formulating environmental and development policies. Policies to guide management include the Environment and Development Policy 1999, the Poverty Reduction Strategy, Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth Creation and Employment embedded Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These policies, however, have not realized the desired environmental outcomes as relates to the attainment of the environmental sustainability as the public engagements and actions are minimal.

The National Museum of Kenya (NMK) is a public, educational, scientific and heritage management institution established in 1909 with over 20 regional museums, 18 research programmes and manages over 170 sites and monuments of national Importance. It is a non-profit heritage conservation organisation that plays a significant role in the provision of environmental education programmes in Kenya through collections, documentation, exhibitions, and conservation. The NMK public programmes annually attract 300,000-500,000 visitors of different kind. The environmental aspects are important because as an institution we constantly generate waste (solid, liquid, dust), consume energy, use water, experience problem of pest control and use chemicals in laboratories for conservation management and for research. Through a process of critique, the study has identified contextual issues that constrain environmental sustainability at the NMK. Basic assumptions underlying these contextual issues have been reviewed and surfaced through processes of dialogue, critical thinking and critical reflection. The challenge has been inadequate knowledge on the government policies dealing with chemical waste, disposal facilities, procedures required and standard of compliance. The study examines aspects of the NMK initiative in promoting the environmental management practices to enhance understanding of organizational learning and change for sustainability. To ensure the environmental compliance for its wide operations, the NMK management has put in place a strong programme of environment, health and safety since 1999. The performance EHS of the programme is analyzed as strategy for environmental compliance and improved practices.

Research design and process

This study is being undertaken at the NMK where I work as a scientist specialised in the environmental, health and safety issues. The purpose is to provide an overview of the NMK issues that’s related to environmental management aspects by sharing museum experiences and as a way to learn from others in order to influence existing practices for future improvements, innovations and networking with sustainability concerns. The study follows a critical action methodology that entails a commitment to socially transformative research in which ideological and power-related issues are addressed in organisations (Guba 1990). The methodology is grounded in a vision of organisational change and democratic values (Fien & Hillcoat 1996). Three stages underpin the study. The first one involved identifying contextual issues that constrains and enhance environmental sustainability change at the NMK. The second stage entailed acting upon some of the identified issues towards sustainability change. The final stage will entail institutionalising sustainability change at the organisation.

Empirical evidence is gathered from the many NMK EHS meetings, focus groups, workshops, journals and internet research techniques. The whole approach followed participatory research method. At the second level, I am undertaking a critical action research process to review and alter basic assumptions related to environmental sustainability change. Action research as used in this study describes processes of planning, transformation and evaluation that draw on insider practitioner inquiry and reflection (Armstrong & Moore 2004). To capture issues for critical analysis the NMK EHS programme frequently organizes workshops in which experts are invited to give environmental policy directions, share their experiences and professional knowledge with museum staff. A good example are the two recent workshops, one on the Radioisotopes and Chemical Safety (September 2006) and another on waste management (December 2006). The idea is to promote clean, healthy and safe working environment and management of the environment in which the subject of environmental sustainability is considered as an ongoing multi-dimensional learning process that seeks cultural change through communicative action in organisations (Tilbury 2004). The NMK EHS programme is basically an education strategy for enabling and achieving sustainability within museums operation by infusing ‘cultural change’ to improve an internal and external understanding of the organization working and management of the environment, thus enabling and advancing NMK cultural perspective on organisational learning for sustainability.

Theoretical framework

Habermas’s (1984, 1987) social theory of communicative action forms the basis on which to understand organisational learning and change for environmental sustainability at the NMK is based. I theorised the concept of ‘organisation’ simultaneously as both system and life-world according to (Habermas 1987). The life-world is a differentiated structure closely bound up with cultural values and communicative practices. It is characterised by implicit assumptions about norms and values. Transforming norms and values through learning is thus essential to education for environmental, health and safety sustainability in organisations. It was through the life-world and its institutions that environmental communication became possible through reflective understanding and learning. I have listed the environmental contextual issue that constrains sustainability change within a systems thinking perspective (Sterling 2004) at the NMK. My underlying argument is that organisations as both cultures and structures of the environmental communicative action can be transformed through EHS education to enhanced sustainability.

This study draws from both fields of environmental education and organisational studies. Socially critical theory of environmental education (Fien 1993) has provided pedagogical assumptions underpinning sustainability change. Organisational learning and change theories (Senge 1990, Schein 2004) have provided strategies required to enable change for sustainability within a systems thinking perspective. The radioactive and chemical workshop was attended by representatives from key Institutions (Ministry of Health, University of Nairobi, and Government Chemist) and Regulatory bodies (NEMA, Radiation Protection Board) that are the Kenya government references in defining Environmental, Health and Safety policies. Fruitful discussions by participants and enlightenment from resource persons gave a new perspective to NMK staff on the status of safe handling and use of chemicals and radioactive materials. With the current scenario of lack of enforcement and compliance of the environmental sectoral laws for the safe use of chemicals and radio-active materials, the way forward for NMK would be to create leadership through partnerships, and networking with the relevant government and Non-Governmental organizations to enhance sustainability. One aspect to be explored is larger national conference, workshops or a specialized training at the various levels to enhance environmental management programmes and policies compliance with respect to the chemicals and radioactive materials waste materials. The recently released water quality (legal notice number 120) and waste management (legal notice number 121) regulations will provide basis to improve our environmental management practices.

The issue of chemical safety and its disposal continues to be one of the biggest challenges that research and regulatory bodies are faced with. It is our good hope that the new waste management regulation gives new direction how to deal with already accumulated chemical waste in many of our public institutions including universities, research and middle level colleges. These institutions need to strengthen the aspect of self-regulation to promote compliance with all environmental related laws before the NEMA inspection as this will improve the institution public perceptions and image, provide better marketing opportunities of the institution products and services as the modern consumers are becoming more and more environmentally sensitive.

From the museum waste management workshop, we prioritized issues relating to the waste source separation, disposal of obsolete materials, practices of the 3R (reduce, reuse and recycling) and composting as away of improving the environmental management quality standard. To implement these activities, the NMK has strategically positioned itself to enhance waste source separation for the office waste, undertake composting practice at the museum Botanic Gardens and improve in size Bins for the public waste management. This action is expected to add value to our already existing environmental education activities at various museums. The purpose is to promote the spirit of efficiency of resource use. This will be in part, the NMK contribution to the global initiative aimed at promoting education for sustainable development at the local level. To be a national leader in the heritage management (both cultural and natural), the museum will strife to improve its standard and quality of environmental management given the opportunities a rising from the upcoming world-class exhibitions and new galleries project funded by the European Union.

Identifying of Environmental contextual issues and envisioning new possibilities

Currently, the NMK is undergoing major legal, infrastructural and restructuring organisational changes termed as ‘Museum in Change’. This study has drawn from these wider changes when exploring organisational learning and change for sustainability. At the same time, the study is contributing useful ideas towards the ‘Museum in Change’ initiative with environment, health and safety risks reduction focuses.

A starting point for seeking cultural change at the NMK was to identify environmental contextual issues related to sustainability through a process of critique and analysis. This required a critical social and political analysis of the NMK organisational structures and processes. During some discussion forums of developing the NMK Strategic Plan, the research team was requested to envision a preferred future NMK. Envisioning, also known us ‘futures thinking’ (Tilbury & Wortman 2004) enabled us to build a shared vision of a sustainable NMK. The simultaneous critique of practices that constrain sustainability and the envisioning of new possibilities for action resulted into ‘team learning’ (Senge 1990). According to the Atiti (Abel, 2006), team learning is the basis for organisational learning and change for sustainability as argued in this paper. In what follows, I first outline the environmentally related contextual issues that enhance or limit the NMK ability to adapt to sustainability change and then highlight key features of the visions that were generated by the workshops participant for a preferred future NMK.

Environmental Contextual issues related to sustainability change

The contextual issues that constrains sustainability change at the NMK are associated with poor governance systems at the organisation. Governance systems have been described by Doppelt (2003, p. 78) as “three-legged stools” that shape information flows, decision-making processes, and distribution of resources. Essentially, changes in governance systems can provide the greatest leverage for sustainability change. Presently, there are efforts to change governance systems by supporting many of the environmental awareness creation programmes within and outside museum as compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Indeed, Dr. Idle Farah, NMK Director General once said that the environmental performance is an important ingredient of the government driven contract of performance requirement.

The following are Environmental Contextual issues related to sustainability change that emerged from several of our meetings and hence, the need for the NMK to improve its environmental management practices

Waste generation is increasing and is poorly managed with no recovery
High energy consumption
Water consumption is high despite the NMK experiencing frequently water problem. Storage capacity has been a real problem issue, but this problem is already addressed.

  • Problem of dust in offices/stores/rooms due to the existence of poor cleaning practices.
  • Security issues (people, property and environment)
  • Customers sensitivity
  • Problem of obsolete objects occupying important spaces that could have been utilized for some productive work.
  • NMK sometimes become dumping grounds for others and hence electronic waste accumulation.
  • Chemicals for preservation/expired/hazardous-safe handling and correct disposal systems have been a great challenge.
  • Equipments radiation protection concerns
  • Biohazards- pathogens-handling and safe disposal
  • Pests attacking valuable collection which makes the NMK famous in the world over.
  • Disaster preparedness, communications and responses has been poor and neglected including fire risks.
  • Lack of training in the field of EMS, EQS, EHS and first aid.
  • Poor working and management of environment in terms of ventilation/space/lighting.

To enhance environmental sustainability, the following intervention measures are proposed for the NMK.

  • Foster interest in this topic in museum
  • Promote environmental issues recognition
  • Share knowledge of the problem
  • Foster environmental sustainability approach in the management of issues
  • Support the idea of risk assessment and management
  • Hazard identification and mapping and management
  • Foster respect, cooperation and team work in environmental management issues
  • Develop environmental management improvement indicators for targeted issues through partnership building and networking
  • Focus on Environmental education areas e.g. use our exhibits to teach other
  • Increase research and monitoring activity to keep improvements

Communicative Environmental Actions

Continuous communication is promoted to enhance the Environment, Health and Safety Risks assessment and management in line with the NMK policies. Consultation meetings are considered important because issues get reviewed to meet the environmental and other legislations requirements. These included improved data generation, supervision and reporting system, looking at the other EHS management systems, adopting internal checks and balances with dissemination of information through in-house training developments. This then become input into the NMK policy. For example, the first initial Environmental Review in 1999 was triggered by staff complains from the use and poor handling of chemicals, poor working environment, and need for risk reduction measures.
The purpose was to identify environmental aspects and help formulate environmental information that could lead to policy implementations improvements. The initiative resulted to production of technical report with key actions recommended that greatly benefited the NMK employee.

Museum, Environment and Business

NMK intends to adopt business approach to its environmental management practices to enhance sustainability of its operation, render quality of services competitively and thus remain relevant during this era of performance ranking. Cleaner technologies and practices will be adopted to promote sustainability of heritage materials documentation, collections, exhibitions and preservation as a global centre of excellence in the cultural and natural heritage conservation. Such thinking and approach will help harness the interest of the public in museum environmental affairs and image protection through addressing the contemporary consumers concerned about environmental risks and boycott of museum businesses. Therefore, the NMK will strife to reduce its operational and non compliance risks, and higher costs. Tougher regulations may increase costs and NMK may proactively improve its operations to anticipate costs that may impact them in the future. The NMK enjoys local, regional and global partnership and linkages with various gov’t agencies, local, regional and international bodies. Some of the NMK sites and monuments including Lamu Ancient City, Fort Jesus and Kobi Fora are internationally chosen visitors destination and constitute world heritage sites, hence great treasure to the humanity.

The NMK without collections, research and proper environmental management practices, plus dedicated staff is a useless place. It cannot survive as independent and relevant public institution without changing its styles in this era of performances/innovations. It also does not act only on behalf of the Kenyan population but on behalf of all the people of the world and hence becoming relevant, consultative, effective and proactive institution with high focus to improve the environment, health and safety matters. In the fast ever ranking of the government corporation in 2006, the NMK was ranked every good, making the Ministry of National Heritage to be in the position 2 in the Republic

NMK Environmental Programme

The NMK has an Environmental programme, whose overall objective is to design and implement an appropriate environmental management programmes with the goal of promoting a healthy museum worker in a safe working environment with a desired vision of being a leader in the heritage management, research, and education by advocating for environmental friendly practices in its working environment and management of environment to enhance beneficial effects and minimize detrimental effects consistent with reasonable and prudent use of its resources. The specific objective is as follows:-
1. Assess EHS conditions in the labs, collections rooms and within NMK Compound.
2. Develop an inventory of expired chemicals and recommend best way of disposing them.
3. Develop simple rules and guidelines from the NMK safety manual for display and use in high risk areas.
4. Develop in-house training programmes for the various cadres of the museum.
5. To provide an evaluation report of the EHS situation.
The NMK EHS programme is organized under the following thematic areas:-
1. Coordination/networking
2. Environment and Resources
3. Chemicals/Radioactive
4. Staff welfare
5. Env. Sanitation
6. Security/safety
7. Pest management

The NMK EHS programme is also responsible for the celebration of the global events at the museums to increase awareness and public participation with other partners. The guiding milestone is as follows:-

  • 2nd February world wetland day
  • 3rd March world water day
  • 18th May world museum day
  • 22nd May world biodiversity day
  • 5th June world environment day
  • UNCCD among many others

Other NMK experiences in Environmental Communications, and Management to enhance sustainability of the resources included the following actions:-

  • Promoting Museum-Community Rainwater harvesting activities e.g. Success stories of Kariandusi Pre-historic Site Museum, Gilgil, Nakuru district
  • Promoting Museum-Community Environmental and Natural Resources Conservation activities at the Orlogosaile site (Maasai community), Kajiado distrit and, Loyangalani Desert Museum (Turkan Community), Turkana district
  • Promoting Museum-Community Drylands programme as coordinated under Research Programme for Sustainable Development for Dryland Biodiversity/Dryland Biodiversity Network for the Eastern Africa/Elengata Wuas Ecosystems Management Programme
  • Interactive programme targeting schools to enhance environmental education and learning
  • Promoting Museum-Community Insect farming for improved livelihood in Makueni district


  • The following achievement has been realized through implementation of the NMK EHS programme.
  • Generation of EHS information
  • Production of safety manuals, guidelines and brochures
  • Environmental education and awareness workshops/seminars
  • Staff protection measures has increased
  • Regional museums-community partnership building has improved
  • Train first aid and disaster response team
  • Improved waste management practices within museums
  • Improved integrated pest management systems
  • Enhanced collection management due to the increased proper supervision and coordination
  • Improved water harvesting and storage capacity
  • NMK beautification programme on course
  • Improved NMK Hygiene and sanitation systems
  • Improved mode of cleaning dusts e.g. from broom cleaning to the vacuum cleaning
  • Ownership and recognition of the EHS issues by the NMK management
  • Improved transport system
  • Improved working space within the NMK reducing congestion


The following are some of the challenges that need to be addressed to enhance sustainability of the Environment, Health and Safety issues at the museums.

  • Lack of institutionalization within the existing NMK management structure. Accountability and monitoring is difficult under committee status as issues become one person or nom person responsibility.
  • Limited human resources with relevant knowledge/experience
  • Financial constrains for planned activities
  • Access to information in good time
  • Partnership and network building for sustainability is not easy

The following measures present the NMK with great opportunities for improvements of its environment, health and safety to enhance sustainability in its operation, research and collections.

  • Museum has vision for ISO Certification, promotion of EHS is an excellent vehicle for attaining this goal.
  • Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA 1999)
  • Water Act, 2002
  • Environmental Quality Standards
  • Waste regulation, 2006
  • Water Quality Regulations, 2006
  • Existing culture of conservation especially biodiversity resources:
  • Growing environmental awareness at the community and governance level
  • Restructuring programme including development of new infrastructure, thus opportunity to infuse environmental planning and management strategies.
  • A management committed to prudent environmental management improvements exists.

Way forward

  • Review and formulate improved Museum Environmental Management Policy.
  • Improve level of NMK in – house environmental training programmes to reach wider audience.
  • Promote further the NMK concept of 3R and KMC (Keep Museum Clean).
  • Expand level of interaction with communities to appreciate hub of knowledge and experience at the NMK.
  • Seek and adopt cleaner technologies and management practices through enhanced information and experience sharing.
  • Improve partnership and network building.

All the Praise is to the Allah (SWT), for spiritual guidance.
I would like to sincerely extend my gratitude and appreciation to the NMK DG, Dr. Idle Farah and entire NMK management team for the moral, material and financial support to the Museum EHS programme, NMK EMT for nurturing team work and being very dedicated, Principal curator (FJM) and his team,(facilitation of the EHS workshop at the Fort Jesus Museum), Senior Curator Kisumu Museum and his team (facilitation of the EHS workshop at the Kisumu Museum), NMK staff for their vast knowledge, experiences and assistance towards writing of this paper and finally the EAEN Conference 2007 organizers for giving such great chance without any charge.

1. The NMK EHS Brochure, version 2003
2. The NMK Biosafety manual, 1999
3. The NMK Standing Committee minutes of the various meetings (2003-2007)
4. The NMK EHS workshops and seminars proceedings (2003-2007)
5. The NMK EHS workshop at the Fort Jesus and Kisumu Museum (2007)
6. Doppelt, B. (2003). Leading change toward sustainability: a change-management guide for business, government and civil society. Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing Ltd.
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9. Guba, E. G. (1990). The alternative paradigm dialog. In E. G. Guba (Ed.), The paradigm dialog (pp. 17-27). Newbury Park: Sage.
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11. Habermas, J. (1987). The theory of communicative action: lifeworld and system: a critique of functionalist reason (T. McCarthy, Trans. Vol. 2). Boston: Beacon Press.
12. Schein, E. H. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
13. Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday.
14. Sterling, S. (2004). Higher education, sustainability, and the role of systemic learning. In P. B. Corcoran & A. Wals, E.J. (Eds.), Higher education and the challenge of sustainability: problematics, promise, and practice (pp. 47-70). Dordrecht: Kluwer academic Publishers.
15. Tilbury, D. (2004). Environmental education for sustainability: a force for change in higher education. In P. B. Corcoran & A. Wals, E.J. (Eds.), Higher education and the challenge of sustainability: problematics, promise, and practice (pp. 97-112). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
16. Tilbury, D., & Wortman. (2004). Engaging people in sustainability. Gland, Switzerland: Commission on Education and Communication, IUCN
17. Draft State of Environment 2006, NEMA, Kenya

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