Preventing Your Next Environmental Incident

The environmental profession has historically relied on “lagging” indicators (i.e., indicators that follow an event, such as a spill or a notice of violation) as the primary means of assessing and managing environmental performance. But what if we instead focused on “leading” indicators, that is, upstream factors that could aid in the prevention of an environmental incident? There is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that human behaviors, whether positive or negative, are the true root causes of the majority of incidents. If these behaviors and their associated actions (or inactions) can be identified, measured, and controlled, it may be possible to proactively manage work processes and prevent future environmental incidents before they occur.  The construction industry has used behavior-based safety practices for many years to assess safe behaviors and prevent accidents. In some ways, behavior-based safety has always included environmental aspects that are intertwined with safety, specifically when they include the use of hazardous materials and general good housekeeping practices. However, other behaviors that could lead to noncompliant environmental practices are typically not included in safety observation programs. By leveraging two tools—behavior-based safety practices and pre-task planning analysis, both proven successful in reducing accidents in the safety arena—preventing that next environmental incident can become a reality.

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