Going green is one of the most desirable trends of modern industry. This is for good reason. The benefits both to the environment and to business make renewable energy and materials a positive for just about everyone.
What tends to be forgotten in the rush towards sustainability, however, are the changes to workplace policies and hazards that come with adopting sustainable materials. Unique problems exist in the use of sustainable materials, from solar panels to nuclear power. Addressing these problems and their effect on workers must come before true sustainability can be achieved.
As the market for sustainable materials and processes in the industrial space continues to grow, business leaders must be aware of the hazards, the regulations, and the obligations of sustainable industry.
Sustainable growth and new industrial territory
The green technology and sustainability markets are set to reach a value of $36.31 billion by 2025. This growth comes as renewable energy and sustainable technology are becoming more and more cost-effective. For those in the manufacturing and warehouse industries, this means potential changes to business processes that can lead to many benefits.
For example, companies can cut down on costs through all kinds of energy-efficient practices. Installing LED lightbulbs alone can reduce utility bills while lasting longer than alternatives. Meanwhile, making effective use of solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewables all have the potential of reducing energy costs while producing cleaner results.
To further improve on these results, industrial companies can even add Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and digital twinning systems to their equipment. By doing so, they can observe flaws in their processes, which in turn can lead to energy-saving innovations and reduced equipment downtime. These technologies running on a clean energy grid can compound into significant savings.
However, all these innovations represent new territory for industries and the workforces that run them. With new impositions from technical systems and new hazards posed by sustainable materials, safety managers have to learn to adapt quickly.
After all, true sustainability considers three core elements. These are the economic, environmental, and social effects of the actions undertaken by both private and public industries. This means worker safety concerns cannot be ignored by companies that profess to care about sustainability or want to reap its benefits.
Fortunately, new OSHA sustainability standards address the unacceptable levels of illness, injury, and deaths that have historically occurred across some corporations. But to better protect their employees, companies have to understand the hazards.
How sustainable materials can create new hazards
Just because a system or job is environmentally friendly doesn’t mean it’s safe for the workers who make it possible. In fact, sometimes renewable energy sources make for greater dangers to the professionals involved. For example, solar panel installers have to deal with falling risks, thermal burns, and electrocution. Then, there’s nuclear power. One only needs to watch HBO’s Chernobyl to get an inkling of all that can go wrong for those who work in and maintain a nuclear power plant.
Renewable resources and their application necessarily come with certain risks. Here are some of the occupational hazards that can stem from sustainable materials:
- Biofuels create toxicity, chemical, fire, and explosion hazards.
- Geothermal energy processing entails chemical hazards and physically dangerous conditions in some circumstances.
- Green roofs can lead to silica dust exposure, which can present a respiratory hazard for workers.
- Hydrogen fuel cells can cause arc flashes, freeze burns, electrocution, and explosion.
- Weatherization materials can be dangerous in confined spaces or when exposed to electricity or fire.
- Networks for energy-efficient automation pose a cybersecurity risk.
Facing these workplace safety concerns, industry leaders need effective protection for their workers. Otherwise, these innovations aren’t quite as sustainable as they might be. From the proper PPE to methods for more effectively monitoring workplace hazards, a combination of tools and practices must bridge the safety gaps that come from sustainable material integration.
Fortunately, there are ways safety managers can better prepare for change.
Safely preparing for change
No matter what materials or manufacturing methods you use, industrial hygiene is important for your business and employees. This includes cataloging and addressing all the various hazards of the job, from air contaminants to ergonomic hazards. With sustainable materials, maintaining health and safety is no different, though the considerations might be.
To safely prepare for change, consider the following tips:
- Engage workers in environmental sustainability and safety training.
- Keep up to date on new safety standards and regulations.
- Explore the hazards involved before integrating sustainable materials.
- Use strong cybersecurity provisions to protect IoT networks.
- Continuously reevaluate your safety procedures.
These are just a few of the many ways you can secure a safer industrial environment. With a thorough understanding of the risks posed by even the most environmentally friendly business practices, your industry can better keep your workers safe. From there, you can develop efficient and sustainable practices that improve not only the environment but your bottom line as well.