Working as a Health & Safety Officer (HSO) at a hazardous waste site presents many challenges. It is our job to insure that workers on the site perform their activities in a manner that protects them and the public from injury or illness. Each hazardous waste site has its own unique dangerous conditions, which must always be considered - dirty soil, contaminated groundwater, containers of hazardous materials -contaminates vary from location to location, depending on the prior use of the site. It is never just a show up job and the HSO must learn the risks associated with every new site. Additionally, hazardous conditions within the site often vary from area to area. The purpose of the HSO is to understand the hazard, convey the risks, and enforce the sites Health and Safety Plan.
Basically, the HSOs daily activities include insuring that workers are using the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and following decontamination procedures to prevent the spread of contamination from the dirty side to the clean side. Or an HSO may be called upon to perform air monitoring while work is being conducted to insure that workers are adequately protected and that contamination is not becoming airborne and being spread to other site locations or to public areas. However, life on a hazwaste site gets interesting when an HSO is working with several organizations and trades on the site at the same time. This can include drillers, pipeline contractors, environmental contractors, heavy equipment operators, surveyors, and other specialty groups. Each organization has its own set of rules and methods for completing their assigned tasks - a good HSO makes sure that all groups are following the sites safety rules and procedures.
Adding more spice to the soup is the possible addition of a specialty contractor brought in from another country. The Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets and governs the regulations for worker safety in the US, but workers from non-US companies may not be familiar with the requirements. Regardless, the HSO on a hazardous waste site must communicate these requirements and insure their compliance. All too often, the health and safety rules in other countries are more relaxed than those set by OSHA, presenting a cultural change for visiting workers. Also, if enforcement of regulations in the country of origin is basically non-existent, our stricter regulations appear as nuisances to visiting workers-slowing work progress or just a cause of physical discomfort. All too often, blatant disregard for the site health and safety plan is apparent.
A good HSO must be ready for any challenge. It is our job to know the regulations, the cause and effects of the hazards present, and be able to interpret data, all while working through the maze of a multi-employer and possibly multi-cultural work site. Since keeping people safe, well or even alive is the task, there is very little room for error.