As environmental managers, we are faced with the task of determining what kind of risks there are and how to manage them.There are many ways to determine environmental risks. One of the most common methods is to look at the environmental impact (severity) of a process and how often it occurs (frequency). If your process has significant impact on the environment and the impact occurs on a regular basis, that process poses a relatively high environmental risk as compared to others.
The environmental impact of a chemical can be easily determined by reviewing its Safety Data Sheet which will also tell you its pathway and its impact on receptors. How does it affect the receptor? Is it through ingestion, dermal contact, or inhalation? All of this information should help you determine the severity of that chemical.
You can assign a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the greatest) to both severity and frequency and multiply them out. The product of the two would give you a quantitative indication of the risk. For example, if we are storing some highly flammable wastes onsite all the time, the severity and frequency would each carry a rating of 5 and the product would be 25. Any other activities or processes that are less hazardous or less frequent would have a risk factor of less than 25.
As we go through our facility and determine the risk factor for each individual manufacturing process or step, we would come up with a long list of risk factors with ratings ranging from 0 to 25. This list then gives us a road map on where to use our limited resources by starting to manage those processes with the highest risk factors.
That is just one of many ways to manage environmental risks.
Note that we are not dealing with zero risks here because they are essentially unattainable. There is no such thing. We are focusing on minimizing the identifiable risks to the greatest extent possible within the constraint of our manpower and financial resources.
Many examples come to mind:
Perform due diligence on the Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF) before you ship your hazardous wastes to it. Here you are trying to minimize the chance that the TSDF will turn into a Superfund site which would cost your company large amount of money for clean-up costs.
Reduce the amount of hazardous wastes you generate by practicing waste minimization and source reduction. The less wastes you generate, the less liability you incur for your company.
Reduce the amount of waste you keep onsite at any given time by shipping them out more frequently. The less waste you have onsite, the less you have to spill. This may incur higher shipping costs. Look at your risk and determine how much you are willing to pay to reduce it.
When determining environmental risks, try to avoid using probabilistic percentage figures as indicators. It makes little sense to say that one particular activity has a 50% chance of having an accident.
Here is why.
All those probabilities are calculated based on large pool of samples. The chance of a coin toss yielding a head or tail is 50% in the long run. It does not mean that if we toss a coin four times in a row, the outcome will always be head/tail/head/tail. All it means is that if we toss it hundreds of times, the numbers of head or tail will be about the same. That’s why it is not a good idea to base your risk management strategy on these numbers. Accident can happen to you the next day. You can end up with four heads in a row.