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Four Key Challenges of Hazardous Materials Management

For ages, hazardous substances were constitutive elements of the industrialized, global economy and key contributors to growth. But as environmental and health science has improved, we’ve by in large reassessed the use of hazardous waste in industry and installed thoroughgoing regulatory regimes to safeguard the health of our workers, especially in heavy industry.

Worryingly though, hazardous wastes are trending upwards in many countries, whether due to the effects of new substances, legacy wastes, or both. And businesses, whose workers lie at the heart of the statistics, find themselves with significant legal exposure under the terms of work health and safety laws in jurisdictions that impose upon firms a primary duty to ensure the safe use, handling, and storage of hazardous substances.

Further complicating the hazardous waste management issue for businesses is the fact that regulatory compliance alone isn’t the only challenge they face. Here are some of the key challenges of hazardous waste management:

  • Misalignment. Companies often lack visibility and collaboration within teams, which creates serious misalignments. For example, Property Services might be responsible for identifying and removing hazardous materials, but an altogether different entity, often external specialist contractors, will be called in for removal.
    If that’s not enough, Work Health and Safety actually bears the full, regulatory consequences of worker exposure. By law, it’s WHS that must have access to relevant information on the matters that can affect the health and safety of their workers, for example asbestos exposure data and the asbestos register. Too often though, Property Services and WHS find themselves out of sync, especially during the crucial discovery and identification stages of the hazardous substance life cycle.
  • Financial toll. As you can imagine, the price tag for removing hazardous substances, especially multiple substances at once, can be hefty. Teams will need to collaborate in order to prioritize removal, create a risk matrix to mitigate exposure, as well as put a range of controls in place (prior to removal).
    Moreover, sensing a potential economic advantage, businesses might undertake hazardous waste reduction proactively. That strategy will introduce upfront costs, i.e. the cost of research and development required prior to implementation of new waste management technologies, capital investment required for new raw material or additional equipment, energy requirements and the potential for energy recovery, possible decline in process efficiencies, and general waste management cost increases.
  • Threat of penalties. In most jurisdictions, it’s an offence to export, import, or transit hazardous waste to, from, or through the jurisdiction without permit. In Australia, the maximum penalty for malefactors is up to $1,000,000 for a firm or up to five years in prison for an individual.
  • Technology. The asset management or risk management technologies most companies use in hazardous materials management processes aren’t sufficiently granular to record all (or even most) of the information a firm will need to efficiently manage hazardous waste in compliance with work health and safety statutes. That is, of course, when companies actually adopt technological solutions. Many simply rely on manual tools, like Excel, which are wholly inadequate to deal with a complicated hazardous waste environment.


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