Environmental Incidents In The Workplace – A Manager’s Guide

Posted 7.04.22 by:

Environmental incidents can happen in any workplace, and managers need preparatory measures. By understanding the types of environmental hazards that can occur and implementing an effective ecological incident management plan, you can minimize the damage caused by these incidents.

Environmental incidents are any situation where a harmful substance (solid, liquid, or gas) is released (willingly or otherwise) into nature, potentially causing harm to ecosystems, wildlife, and humans.

This article will discuss the environmental incident, how to manage such situations, and more tips to help you and your team handle environmental incidents at work.

Types Of Environmental Hazards

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), workplace hazards are defined by seven categories. These primary categories classify several risks within their scope:

  • Chemicals
  • Ergonomic
  • Lifting, pushing, pulling
  • Sitting, standing
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Lighting
  • Shiftwork
  • Office ergonomics
  • Tool use
  • Health
  • Pandemics
  • Biological
  • Diseases, Disorders, Injuries
  • Mould
  • Physical
  • Temperature
  • Indoor air quality
  • Noise
  • Radiation
  • Psychosocial
  • Stress
  • Violence and bullying
  • Safety
  • Driving
  • Electrical
  • Forklifts
  • Garages
  • Ladders
  • Machinery
  • Material Handling
  • Platforms
  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • Tools
  • Workplace
  • Confined spaces
  • Indoor air quality
  • Lasers
  • Scents
  • Temperature
  • Ventilation
  • Violence
  • Weather
  • Working alone (in solitude)

Many of these hazards correlate to potential environmental incidents. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the US has a slightly more straightforward categorization of hazards:

  • Chemical and dust hazards
  • Biological hazards
  • Ergonomic hazards
  • Work organization hazards
  • Safety hazards
  • Physical hazards

The above list is non-exhaustive and shows the most common classifications of hazards commonly found in workplace situations. Again we can see how environmental incidents can correlate to providing more than just a hazard to the environment. Similarly, they often can pose severe consequences for human exposure.

Given the common hazards and categories of risks presented by leading authorities, we can derive that environmental incidents include the following:

  • Liquid chemical spills
  • Release of toxic or harmful gases
  • Spill or ecological exposure to toxic solid substances or materials

In essence, a substance of any state of matter that is detrimental to the environment fits into the classification of an environmental incident. 

In other parts of the world, the environmental hazards are defined a little differently from those in North America, typically due to the part of the world and their subsequent environmental conditions. For example, the Government of Western Australia Department of Health deems environmental hazards to fall into the following categories:

  • Air quality
  • Asbestos
  • Chemicals
  • Clandestine drug labs
  • Contaminated land and water
  • Heatwave
  • Illicit drugs
  • Pesticides
  • Radiation

These are not official categories. Instead, the department’s chosen types deemed it most necessary to provide an entire section of their website for public awareness. This fact leads us to believe that these are the department’s most commonly communicated environmental hazards. Obviously, being Australia, heatwaves are considered given the climate – something that countries like Canada or the United Kingdom likely aren’t going to add to their top ten occurrences lists.

As you have likely gleaned by now, most environmental incidents are typically classified via common sense. Suppose something is hazardous and does not belong in nature, save for naturally occurring. In that case, it becomes an environmental incident when exposure to the environment occurs.

Environmental Conditions And Safety

Maintaining safe environmental conditions at your business or organization is paramount to the safety and security of your team members. However, we need to consider more than just the safety of our team. We need to consider the protection of the environment.

Many companies operate on the premise that if not caught, it doesn’t matter if they break the rules (a little). However, environmental responsibility is something that you should not take lightly.

Mishandling of environmental incidents can lead to several negative consequences for the environment and your workers, as illustrated in the introduction. Similarly, they can also lead to devastating fines, bad press, and even incarceration of those responsible.

Let’s talk about how we can best manage environmental incidents at work and try to avoid some or all of the harsh consequences of mistakes (or inaction).

How To Manage Environmental Incidents In The Workplace

How To Manage Environmental Incidents In The Workplace by 1streporting.com
A team in Ukraine uses Ammonia in a fire drill exercise to prevent large environmental disasters.

Rescuers extinguish a burning tank with ammonia during exercises in the educational center of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in the Sumy region, Ukraine.

Preventing environmental incidents is the name of the game. With a strong focus on risk management practices, you can ensure your team and environment are looked after.

How Can We Prevent Environmental Hazards In The Workplace?

Ensuring that your organization meets environmental compliance and maintains workplace safety is vital to the ongoing survival of your company. Therefore preventing environmental hazards is of utmost importance. There are, however, several steps you can take to ensure you’re doing your due diligence.

  1. Provide complete and thorough training
  2. Provide simple systems of communication
  3. Implement regular equipment inspections, maintenance, and repair
  4. Review and analyze historical trends
  5. Include outside help 
  6. Create a robust environmental management plan

Provide Complete And Thorough Training

One of the essential things a company can do to prevent environmental incidents is provide complete and thorough training to their staff. This training should include identifying ecological hazards, preventing environmental incidents, and what to do when an environmental incident occurs.

Staff needs to be knowledgeable about the dangers posed by environmental hazards and how to respond safely and effectively appropriately.

Provide Simple Systems Of Communication

One of the best ways to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding environmental hazards is to provide a simple system of communication. It could be an email list, a mobile reporting app, or even just a bulletin board where employees can post updates.

This system should be easy to use and include clear instructions on reporting an environmental hazard. You should regularly update with new information so that team members can stay up-to-date on potential dangers.

For example, when an environmental incident occurs, like a chemical spill, staff need a way to document and report the incident quickly and effectively. Similarly, the mitigation of the threat and documentation of corrective actions taken are of equal importance. Therefore, a robust solution like the 1st Reporting app is a wise choice to manage your internal hazard documentation and communications.

Implement Regular Equipment Inspections, Maintenance, And Repair

Regular equipment inspections, maintenance, and repair are also essential in preventing environmental incidents. If equipment is not maintained correctly, it can easily break down and cause a hazardous spill or release. It is necessary to have a regular schedule for inspecting and maintaining all of your organization’s equipment.

Review And Analyze Historical Trends

Reviewing and analyzing historical trends can also help prevent environmental incidents. By reviewing past occurrences and qualifying results, you may see trends in your operations, like weaknesses in certain areas that allow incidents to occur.

For example, you might find correlations between using certain types of equipment and having environmental incidents like oil spills. In this case, an assessment and review of historical incidents can point to the culprit as a particular type of equipment that tends to rupture an oil line.

By examining past trends and data, we can ascertain better ways to mitigate future occurrences or, even better, to avoid them altogether.

Again, we see that utilizing a robust digital reporting solution for this scenario is preferential to combing through piles of historical paperwork. After all, having an app that can sort through and provide trends via automated reports will be so much faster than your assistant or yourself, for that matter.

Include Outside Help 

Expert testimony from observing environmental incidents is easily recorded using the 1streporting.com application.
Marine biologist analyzing water test results and algae samples after an environmental incident recorded on the 1st Reporting app.

Some of the most successful people in the world rely on a simple business management principle: hire experts to achieve the best results. The worst thing a company can do is rely on an incompetently educated or trained person to manage something mission-critical.

This situation calls for a professional. When your organization faces any environmental incident, even the potential, it is best to preemptively hire a professional to provide a proper risk assessment and a solution.

Create A Robust Environmental Management Plan

In order to prevent environmental incidents from occurring in the first place, we should be proactive and create an environmental management plan (EMP). The EMP should include all aspects of environmental safety, such as:

– How will potential spills be cleaned up?

– What are the steps to take if hazardous material releases into the environment?

– What are safe work practices for handling potentially dangerous materials?

– What is the protocol for emergencies and evacuations?

What Goes In An Environmental Management Plan?

Creating an EMP will ensure that everyone at your business or organization knows their role in an environmental emergency. It also establishes guidelines for ways in which to prevent environmental incidents.

The environmental management plan should, at the minimum, include the following:

– Details of all potential environmental hazards

– How to handle environmental emergencies

– What to do in the event of a spill or release

– How to respond to emergencies

– How to prevent environmental incidents

Having an EMP in place is an essential step you can take to ensure your team’s safe working conditions and safeguard the environment.

The best way to protect yourself from environmental hazards is by being proactive. Implementing good risk management practices will help you avoid many potential problems before they can occur. Some key steps you can take include:

– Conducting regular equipment inspections

– Having an effective maintenance program

– Planning for emergencies and evacuations

By following these simple preventive measures, you can help ensure the avoidance of hazards. You should include these programs within your EMP. To determine which programs your company needs, try assessing the operations from each team member’s perspective. This method often reveals most hazards, environmental risks, and environmental incident potentials.

What To Do If An Environmental Incident Occurs

In the unfortunate event that an environmental incident does occur, it is essential to remember to stay calm and take the following steps:

– Assess the situation

– Notify authorities

– Implement emergency procedures

– Clean up and contain the spill

– Take corrective action

Assessing The Situation

As soon as an environmental incident occurs, those on-site should assess the situation. It includes evaluating the potential risks to people, property, and the environment. It is essential to know which substances got released and their potential dangers. Once you have gathered this information, those in charge can begin implementing emergency procedures.

Notifying Authorities

It is necessary to notify authorities of an environmental incident in many cases. It could include local, state, or federal agencies. Notifying the proper authorities early on can help minimize the impact of the incident and ensure a coordinated response.

Implementing Emergency Procedures

Once you’ve assessed the situation and someone has notified the appropriate authorities, it is time to begin implementing emergency procedures. It will usually involve evacuating those affected and securing the area. Everyone on-site must know what to do for things to run as smoothly as possible.

Clean Up And Contain The Spill

The next step is to clean up and contain the spill. It can be a time-consuming and challenging process, but it is essential to minimize the damage. It is crucial to remember not to take any unnecessary risks and to follow all safety guidelines.

Taking Corrective Action

After containing the incident, it is then time to take corrective action. It could involve anything from repairing the damage caused by the spill to overhauling your company’s safety procedures. Whatever measures you take, it is essential to document them so that you can learn from the incident and prevent it from happening again.


Environmental incidents can occur in any workplace, so preparation is a necessity. In order to prepare, it is essential to have an environmental management plan (EMP) in place. An EMP should, at the minimum, include details of all potential environmental hazards, how to handle environmental emergencies, what to do in the event of a spill or release, and how to respond to emergencies. It is also essential to take preventive measures to avoid environmental incidents. By following these simple steps, you can help ensure the safety of your team and safeguard the environment.

The best tool at your disposal for managing incidents like environmental incidents is to implement a robust reporting app like 1st Reporting. The app allows users to easily and quickly document incidents of all types, including ecological incidents.

Utilized by managers across the country, this mobile form automation solution for business helps streamline and add greater efficiency to an organization’s internal reporting processes.

Automated notifications and customizable templates allow you to streamline your organizations’ reporting experience like never before. Try a demo today to see what so many other managers are raving about. Finally, a system to easily report everything from incidents to daily vehicle inspections is designed for businesses and organizations just like yours!

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