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William H. Barbarow, CSP, ALCM, works in the Risk Services department for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. In this interview, Barbarow discusses the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and explains how SH&E professionals’ can help make emerging green jobs safer.

Please provide a brief description of your professional background and of your position with Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company.

I am a 38-year employee of Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company working in the Risk Services department. I consult with our commercial clients on safety, risk management and green solutions. I started as a trainee working my way into loss control management, marketing management and national accounts service, and now I consult with our commercial accounts on risk management issues and solutions specializing in hospitality accounts and consultative solutions on sustainability.

How is CSR defined, and why is this concept so important in today’s economic climate?

Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth awakened us to how our lifestyles and business practices negatively impact our world. These changes will not go away. Access to natural resources, energy and talent are limited and costly. Companies are seeking new business solutions that address profits, the environment and society or the “triple bottom line.” Business understands profits and environmental laws and that it is no longer acceptable to do no harm; they must now be responsible to do some good for their employees, the environment and their community. Companies are seeking business solutions that will allow them to build good practices and to make a positive impact on the community and society. They are looking for green solutions that will increase their profits, develop their brand value and demonstrate their CSR.

Bottom line CSR is a business opportunity. Actively supporting social responsibility is helping companies positively shape their public image and reputation. A 2003 Stanford University study found that 97% of the 1,000 M.B.A. graduates from America’s top 10 business schools stated they will forgo financial benefit to work for a company with ethics and a better reputation. In the past, the talent pool was abundant, and outsourcing was looked upon as a solution to fill any labor gap. McKinsey & Company’s 1998 report The War for Talent suggested that talent will be the most critical resource as America ages, baby boomers retire and jobseekers look for progressive companies that have a reputation for being inclusive, offer equal opportunity and have core values based on doing good. Socially responsible companies that use these values to guide their operations have a competitive advantage over their peers. CSR is the new yardstick that individuals, society and companies are using to determine who they will work for, invest in and do business with.

To meet their CSR objectives, many companies are incorporating green processes into product manufacturing and distribution and waste disposal/recycling. This has created more green jobs, which in turn present their own unique SH&E hazards. What are the most common hazards that green jobs present, and how can SH&E professionals help reduce or eliminate them?

Green solutions address energy conservation, development and use of alternative energy sources, water conservation, environmental remediation and resource conservation. Common health and safety hazards encountered are exposures to toxic substances, toxic waste, hazards associated with production, storage and transportation of alternative fuels, falls, hazardous chemicals, confined space and lockout/tagout. Many of these green job hazards are old hazards in a green livery.

Toxins, such as lead, asbestos and mold, are found in both business and residential environments. Green jobs are designed to remove these toxins from buildings and waste stream for remediation and reuse if possible. SH&E professionals need to evaluate these hazards and recommend procedures for hazard management, remediation and safe handling, including appropriate PPE and medical monitoring as required.   

Large companies and utilities are looking to produce alternative fuels, such as biogas to power their boilers. The raw material requirements create storage and transportation exposures. A Flexethanol plant capable of producing 50 million gallons of fuel-grade ethanol yearly requires 1,500 tons of supply-side material daily. Fuel production introduces new safety exposures, such as plant access, confined space, pollution control, fire safety and fuel distribution, for which SH&E professionals will evaluate and recommend procedures.

Engineered lumber uses a glue base with lumber pieces. This diverts smaller lumber pieces from the trash. The engineered product is used in lightweight construction, which burns and fails quickly in a fire. An SH&E professional can address this with gypsum board cutoffs and/or by designing a fire sprinkler system. 

What new risks and exposures must SH&E professionals take into account when assessing the safety of a green job? How do these vary by industry?

Implementing green sustainable solutions can present unanticipated loss exposures. You must look beyond the task and solution and evaluate how these changes can introduce new SH&E loss exposures to the workplace and community. This requires the SH&E professional to act as a risk manager with a 360° view of possible solutions. Energy conservation creates green jobs where new risks are introduced as we go green.

For example, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are an energy solution to an inefficient incandescent light bulb. CFLs contain mercury. A recycling plan and an emergency response plan to breakage are required to ensure that safe handling and disposal methods are practiced. Broken bulbs must be cleaned up safely so as not to spread mercury-containing dust. EPA has outlined such a method that includes adequate ventilation, PPE and methods to pick up and package the waste for recycling. The mercury creates unique liability exposures for CFLs used in areas with food products present, such as refrigerated coolers or under commercial cooking vent hoods. When these lamps break, besides cleanup and disposal issues, an exposure to contaminated food products exists.

Solar panels present firefighting challenges, such as the concern about power in the cells (an energized DC power in the conduit from the panels to the inverter in the daytime). Therefore, firefighters must secure all utilities and stay away from the panels and conduit in the daytime. They also do not want to break a panel with an axe or related forcible entry tools, as each solar panel in the string could be carrying the full voltage of that string (120-400 VDC), not just one panel, so they must vent elsewhere and kill the utilities at the main panel. Since thieves are stealing solar panels from building roofs, risk management procedures are being employed, such as having identifying barcodes burned into every panel, installing alarms in the panels, using unique bolts and keys to secure the panels, padlocking the panels to the roofs and blocking access to exterior ladders.

Municipalities are installing light-emitting diode traffic lights to save energy. The problem occurs in cold snowy environments where these cool burning lamps can easily be obscured by snow and can create traffic safety loss exposures. Solutions are under evaluation at this time.

Planted green roofs extend roof life, lower local heat island effects in cities and insulate buildings. SH&E professionals will be called on to evaluate the live load’s (people, water, vegetation and soil) impact on green roofs plus the fire load from dead vegetation. They will also need to assess how these factors will affect structural stability during a building fire.

Vehicles are looking to reduce their reliance on gasoline. Some solutions include liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen and rechargeable batteries. Fire personnel often do not know what hazards they will face when they respond to an accident scene and vehicle fire. These professionals need safety training to properly respond to these emergencies.

Do certain green jobs incur more worker injuries than others? Why is this so, and what are SH&E professionals doing to improve the safety of these jobs?

Examples of increased worker exposure to injury are: (1) recycling, especially electronic waste (lead is used in electronics now; 50% is recycled), (2) energy-efficient lamps, mercury (use is increased in low-energy light bulbs), (3) alternative energy, wind turbines and solar installations and (4) building renovation for energy efficiency and toxin removal.

E-waste recycling is mandated by state laws for electronic goods manufacturers. This is also seen as a source of income from recovered tantalum, gold, silver and palladium. This waste is often toxic, exposing workers to severe health risks from heavy metals. Similar laws mandate the recycling of mercury, which is found in fluorescent lamps, old thermostats, etc. Mishandling of toxic materials, such as lead and mercury, can be dire. One-seventieth of a teaspoon of mercury can contaminate a 25-acre lake, and worker exposure can damage vital organs, including lungs and kidneys. Health and safety regulations have been established for waste handlers, transporters and destination facilities. These wastes are hazardous to the environment and potentially to the individuals who handle them. Proper waste management requires SH&E professionals’ expertise for training on safe handling/cleanup procedures, PPE, containment, recovery and labeling/tracking.

Wind power is viewed as safe clean energy, but working more than 100 ft above the ground and having wind turbines that can throw off their blades present new safety challenges beyond those encountered during turbine construction and commissioning. Working on wind turbines requires a safety-and-rescue plan that addresses fall protection, working in an exposed environment, hazardous energy, confined space and self-evacuation. Each of the safety plan’s components require physical fitness, training, strict adherence to safety rules and continuous oversight and evaluation by an SH&E professional.
Solar power is clean, cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. Operations include employee exposure to ladders (falls), working from heights (falls), ergonomics/lifting, outdoor weather conditions and electrical safety, which require health and safety protocols and training.

Building renovation and weatherproofing jobs for energy efficiency can expose a worker to falls from ladders and scaffolds, electrical hazards, confined spaces and health exposures to fiberglass, isocyanates and asbestos. These SH&E exposures require adherence to established OSHA and NIOSH standards.   

How does CSR positively impact worker safety and health within an organization? In what ways can it affect injury rates, costs, lost workdays, etc.?

Going green beyond energy and utility cost savings has tangible business results. In the June 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review, Charles Lockwood states, “Employers have experienced significant workforce benefits in green buildings, including stronger employee attraction and retention, as well as fewer illnesses and lower absenteeism, which relates to lower healthcare costs.”

Lacy Muszynski makes similar comments in her article “Tenant Satisfaction Guaranteed.” She states, “Safeguarding the health of occupants is at the top of facility executives’ priority lists. Green design especially applied to interiors shares the same tenet. And as the list of research studies and surveys linking occupant health and happiness to productivity grows, more and more companies are taking notice.”

“A company’s business is based on humans,” says Jack Davis, program manager with BetterBricks. “Once an organization realizes that green factors track against less employee sick days, that becomes a huge incentive to go green.”

Lockwood also reports that green buildings boost employee productivity nearly 15%. Gregory Kats, chair of the energy and atmosphere technical group for LEED, says, “A 1% increase in productivity is equal to $600- $700 per employee per year. The relatively large impact of productivity and health gains reflects the fact that direct and indirect cost of employees is far larger than the cost of construction and energy.” For these reasons, other companies are beginning to understand that healthy employees make better decisions and employee retention is a profit booster.

How can SH&E professionals better collaborate with senior management when it comes to establishing and meeting CSR goals?

Corporate values are changing. Sustainability and social responsibility reflect business’s commitment and vision for success in the 21st century. Companies appoint chief sustainability officers. Corporate focus is now on productivity and efficiency goals that include ways to protect our resources, the climate and reduce energy use and demonstrate environmental stewardship by engaging with stakeholders and communities on these issues. In so doing, they go beyond compliance requirements and look to improve the world and people’s lives.

Companies realize their CSR actions are highly visible and society expects quick action and positive results. SH&E professionals are called upon as members of the team that will provide technical expertise and as risk controllers to ensure that the company is in full compliance with all laws, regulations and recordkeeping requirements for the products they purchase, produce and dispose of.

SH&E professionals’ role is now expanded beyond compliance into risk management. These professionals are asked to evaluate how proposed green solutions will impact the safety and health of employees, their community as well as their environment. Then these professionals will design and implement all required SH&E control measures, including lifecycle analysis, so green jobs and processes are safe and green today and in the future. They may help communicate technical SH&E information for these solutions to employees, the community and governmental bodies.
What are the greatest challenges facing SH&E professionals who wish to make green jobs safer?

Companies want results now and see an urgency to move forward quickly with green solutions. SH&E professionals are asked to evaluate new technology and chemical/mechanical/biological exposures for which little information may be available. Many of these potential hazards are not regulated, evaluated or adequately addressed by existing OSHA standards. Hazardous chemical exposures in particular present challenges because substitution is not always a workable solution. These chemicals may not have complete safety analysis, be too costly or they may not fit the task’s technical requirements.

They will need to ramp up their technical expertise quickly and collaborate with other professionals across multiple disciplines (e.g., NIOSH Prevention through Design initiative for safety in green jobs and sustainability) to stay on top of these fast-paced changes. SH&E professionals will be asked to apply risk management principles to their decisions. Green solutions require the ability to address SH&E needs today and into the future by selecting solutions that are safe to execute and good for the environment through product lifecycle, including reuse opportunities at the end of its original lifecycle.  

William H. Barbarow, CSP, ALCM, is a 38-year employee of Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. He consults with commercial accounts on risk management issues and solutions specializing in hospitality accounts and consultative solutions on sustainability.

He is a member of the American Hotel and Lodging Association loss prevention committee, a member of the Orange County, CA chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and a member of the ASSE Service Branch’s advisory committee. He has also chaired the ISO engineering and safety workers’ compensation committee and the Morris County, NJ traffic safety committee.   

Barbarow holds a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Maine.