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Thursday, 24 March 2011 17:35

Environmental Management Strategies and Workers' Protection

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The Evolution of Environmental Response Strategies

In the past thirty years there has been a dramatic increase in environmental problems due to many different factors: demographic expansion (this pace is continuing, with an estimated 8 billion people by the year 2030), poverty, dominant economic models based on growth and quantity rather than quality, high consumption of natural resources driven particularly by industrial expansion, reduction of biological diversity especially as a result of increased agricultural production through monoculture, soil erosion, climate change, the unsustainable use of natural resources and the pollution of air, soils and water resources. However, the negative effects of human activity upon the environment have also accelerated the awareness and social perception of people in many countries, leading to changes in traditional approaches and response models.

Response strategies have been evolving: from no recognition of the problem, to ignoring the problem, to diluting and controlling pollution through a top-down approach—that is, the so-called end-of-pipe strategies. The 1970s marked the first widely relevant local environmental crises and the development of new awareness of environmental pollution. This led to the adoption of the first major series of national legislation, regulations and international conventions aimed at the control and regulation of pollution. This end-of-pipe strategy soon showed its failure, for it was directed in an authoritarian way to interventions related to the symptoms and not the causes of environmental problems. At the same time, industrial pollution also drew attention to the growing contradictions in philosophy between employers, workers and environmental groups.

The 1980s was the period of global environmental issues such as the Chernobyl disaster, acid rain, ozone depletion and the ozone hole, the greenhouse effect and climate change, and the growth in toxic wastes and their export. These events and the resulting problems enhanced public awareness and helped to generate support for new approaches and solutions focusing on environmental management tools and cleaner production strategies. Organizations such as UNEP, OECD, the European Union and many national institutions started to define the issue and work together within a more global framework based on principles of prevention, innovation, information, education and the participation of relevant stakeholders. As we entered the 1990s there was another dramatic increase in awareness that the environmental crisis was deepening, particularly in the developing world and in Central and Eastern Europe. This reached a critical threshold at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Today, the precautionary approach has become one of the most important factors necessary to take into account when assessing environmental policies and solutions. The precautionary approach suggests that even when there is scientific uncertainty or controversy on environmental problems and policies, decisions should reflect the need to take precautions to avoid future negative implications whenever economically, socially and technically feasible. The precautionary approach should be pursued when developing policies and regulations, and when planning and implementing projects and programmes.

In effect, both the preventive and precautionary approaches seek a more integrated approach to environmental action, shifting from an almost exclusive focus on the production process to the development of environmental management tools and techniques applicable to all forms of human economic activity and decision-making processes. Unlike pollution control, which implied a limited, react-and-retreat approach, the environmental management and cleaner production approach is aimed at the integration of a precautionary approach within broader strategies to create a process that will be assessed, monitored and continuously improved. To be effective, however, environmental management and cleaner production strategies need to be carefully implemented through the involvement of all stakeholders and at all levels of intervention.

These new approaches must not be considered as simply technical instruments related to the environment, but rather should be seen as holistic integrating approaches which will help to define new models of an environmentally and socially sound market economy. To be fully effective, these new approaches will also require a regulatory framework, incentive instruments and social consensus defined through the involvement of institutions, social partners and interested environmental and consumer organizations. If the scope of environmental management and cleaner production strategies is to lead to more sustainable socio-economic development scenarios, various factors will need to be taken into consideration in policy-setting, in the development and enforcement of standards and regulations, and in collective agreements and action plans, not only at the company or enterprise level, but at the local, national and international levels as well. Given the wide disparities in economic and social conditions around the world, the opportunities for success also will depend on local political, economic and social conditions.

Globalization, the liberalization of markets and structural adjustment policies, will also create new challenges to our capacity to analyse in an integrated fashion the economic, social and environmental implications of these complex changes within our societies, not the least of which will be the risk that these changes may lead to quite different power relationships and responsibilities, perhaps even ownership and control. Attention will need to be given to ensuring that these changes do not lead to the risk of powerlessness and paralysis in the development of environmental management and cleaner production technologies. On the other hand, this changing situation, in addition to its risks, also offers new opportunities to promote improvements in our present social, economic, cultural, political and environmental conditions. Such positive changes, however, will require a collaborative, participatory and flexible approach to managing change within our societies and within our enterprises. To avoid paralysis, we will need to take measures which will build confidence and emphasize a step-by-step, partial and gradual approach which will generate growing support and capacity aimed at facilitating more substantial changes in our conditions of life and work in future.

Main International Implications

As mentioned above, the new international situation is characterized by the liberalization of markets, the elimination of trade barriers, new information technologies, rapid and enormous daily capital transfers and the globalization of production, especially through multinational enterprises. Deregulation and competitiveness are the dominant criteria for investment strategies. These changes also, however, facilitate the delocalization of plants, the fragmentation of production processes and the establishment of special Export Processing Zones, which exempt industries from labour and environmental regulations and other obligations. Such effects may promote excessively low labour costs and consequently higher profits for industry, but this is frequently accompanied by situations of deplorable human and environmental exploitation. In addition, in the absence of regulations and controls, obsolete plants, technologies and equipment are being exported just as dangerous chemicals and substances which have been banned, withdrawn or severely restricted in one country for environmental or safety reasons are also being exported, particularly to developing countries.

In order to respond to these issues, it is of particular importance that the new World Trade Organization (WTO) rules are defined so as to promote socially and environmentally acceptable trade. This means that WTO, in order to ensure fair competition, should require all countries to fulfil basic international labour standards (e.g., basic ILO Conventions) and environmental conventions and regulations. Moreover, guidelines such as those prepared by OECD on technology transfer and regulations should be effectively implemented in order to avoid the export of highly polluting and unsafe production systems.

International factors to be considered include:

  • international trade in equipment and plants
  • financial mechanisms and technical assistance
  • WTO regulations
  • raw material pricing
  • tax systems
  • transfer of technology and know-how
  • transboundary migration of pollution
  • multinational companies’ production strategies
  • development and implementation of international conventions, agreements, guidelines and regulations
  • involvement of international organizations of employers, workers and relevant environmental groups.

 

Developing and other countries in need of assistance should be given special financial assistance, reduction in taxes, incentives and technical assistance to help them implement the above-mentioned basic labour and environmental regulations and to introduce cleaner production technologies and products. An innovative approach which deserves further attention in the future is the development of codes of conduct negotiated by certain companies and their trade unions with a view to promoting the respect of basic social rights and environmental rules. A unique role in the assessment of the process at the international level is being played by the ILO, given its tripartite structure, and in strict coordination with other United Nations agencies and international financial institutions responsible for international aid and financial assistance.

Main National and Local Implications

An appropriate general regulatory framework also has to be defined at both the national and local level in order to develop appropriate environmental management procedures. This will require a decision-making process which links budgetary, fiscal, industrial, economic, labour and environmental policies, and also provides for the full consultation and participation of the social actors most concerned (i.e., employers, trade union organizations, environmental and consumer groups). Such a systematic approach would include linkages between different programmes and policies, for example:

  • The taxation system should provide incentives which will encourage the penetration of environmentally sound goods and raw materials into the market and penalize those products, economic activities and collective or individual behaviour which are environmentally unsound.
  • Adequate policies and resources should be available to promote research and development of environmentally and socially sound technologies, production processes and infrastructure.
  • Advisory, information and training centres for cleaner production technologies should be established to assist enterprises, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, to procure, adapt and use the technologies safely and effectively.

 

National and local industrial policies should be designed and implemented in full consultation with trade union organizations so that business policies and labour policies can match social and environmental needs. Direct negotiations and consultations at the national level with trade unions can help to prevent potential conflicts arising from safety, health and environmental implications of new industrial policies. Such negotiations at the national level, however, should be matched by negotiations and consultations at the level of individual companies and enterprises so as to ensure that adequate controls, incentives and assistance are also available at the workplace.

In summary, national and local factors to be considered include:

  • national and local regulations, guidelines, agreements and policies
  • industrial relations procedures
  • involvement of social partners (trade unions and employers’ organizations), environmental NGOs and consumer organizations in all decision-making processes
  • industrial policies
  • raw material pricing policies
  • trade policies
  • tax systems
  • incentives for research and development
  • incentives for introduction of innovative environmental management initiatives
  • integration of health and safety procedures/standards
  • establishment of advisory, information and training centres for the dissemination of cleaner production technologies
  • assistance for overcoming obstacles (conceptual, organizational, technical, skills and financial) to the introduction of new technologies, policies, regulations.

 

Environmental Management at Company Level

Environmental management within a given company, enterprise or other economic structure requires an ongoing assessment and consideration of environmental effects—at the workplace (i.e., the working environment) and outside the plant gates (i.e., the external environment)—as regards the full range of activities and decisions related to operations. It implies, as well, the consequent modification of the organization of work and production processes to respond efficiently and effectively to those environmental effects.

It is necessary for enterprises to foresee potential environmental consequences of a given activity, process or product from the earliest planning stages in order to ensure the implementation of adequate, timely and participatory response strategies. The objective is to make industry and other economic sectors economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. Most certainly, in many cases there still will need to be a transition period which will require pollution control and remediation activities. Therefore, environmental management should be seen as a composite process of prevention and control that aims to bring company strategies in line with environmental sustainability. To do this, companies will need to develop and implement procedures within their overall management strategy to assess cleaner production processes and to audit environmental performance.

Environmental management and cleaner production will lead to a range of benefits that will not only effect environmental performance but may also lead to improvements in:

  • health and safety of workers
  • rates of absenteeism
  • preventing and resolving conflict with workers and communities
  • promoting a cooperative climate within the company
  • the company public image
  • the market penetration of new green products
  • efficient use of energy and raw materials
  • waste management, including the safe disposal of wastes
  • the productivity and quality of products.

 

Companies should not simply focus on evaluating company conformity with existing legislation and regulations but should define possible environmental targets to be reached through a time-bound, step-by-step process which would include:

  • the definition of company environmental objectives and policy
  • the definition of short-, medium- and long-term strategies
  • the adoption of a cradle-to-grave approach
  • the allocation of appropriate budget resources
  • the integration of health and safety within environmental audit procedures
  • the participation of workers and trade union representatives in the analysis and decision-making process
  • the establishment of an environmental audit team with worker representatives.

 

There are many different approaches to assessing activities, and the following are important potential components of any such programme:

  • definition of flow diagrams for each operational unit
  • monitoring of process inputs by operational unit—for example, water, energy, raw materials used, number of workers involved, health, safety and environmental risk assessment, organization of work
  • monitoring of process outputs by operational unit—for example, quantification of products/byproducts, waste water, gaseous emissions, solid wastes for disposal on and off site
  • adoption of company targets
  • feasibility analysis of potential barriers (economic, technical, environmental, social) and adoption of consequent programmes
  • adoption and implementation of an information strategy
  • adoption and implementation of training strategy to promote worker awareness and full participation
  • monitoring and evaluation of performance/results.

 

Industrial Relations and Environmental Management

While in some countries basic trade union rights are still not recognized and workers are prevented from protecting their health and safety and working conditions and improving environmental performance, in various other countries the participatory approach to company environmental sustainability has been tried with good results. In the last ten years, the traditional approach of industrial relations has shifted more and more to include not only health and safety issues and programmes reflecting national and international regulations in this area, but also has begun to integrate environmental issues into the industrial relations mechanisms. Partnerships between employers and trade union representatives at company, sector and national level have been defined, according to different situations, through collective agreements and sometimes also have been covered in regulations and consultation procedures set up by local or national authorities to manage environmental conflicts. See table 1, table 2 and table 3.

Table 1. Actors involved in voluntary agreements relevant to the environment

Country

Employer/
State

Employer/
Union/State

Employer/
Union

Employer/
Works council

Netherlands

X

 

X

X

Belgium

   

X

X

Denmark

X

X

X

X

Austria

   

X

 

Germany

X

 

X

X

United Kingdom

   

X

X

Italy

X

X

X

X

France

   

X

X

Spain

   

X

X

Greece

 

X

X

 

Source: Hildebrandt and Schmidt 1994.

Table 2. Scope of application voluntary agreements on environment-protection measures between parties to collective agreements

Country

National

Branch (regional)

Plant

Netherlands

X

X

X

Belgium

X

 

X

Denmark

X

X

X

Austria

 

X

 

Germany

 

X

X

United Kingdom

   

X

Italy

X

X

X

France

     

Spain

 

X

X

Greece

X

   

Source: Hildebrandt and Schmidt 1994.

Table 3. Nature of agreements on environment protection measures between parties to collective agreements

Country

Joint declarations,
recommendations,
agreements

Branch-level
collective
agreements

Agreements on plant
level

Netherlands

X

X

X

Belgium

X

 

X

Denmark

X

X

X

Austria

 

X

 

Germany

X

X

X

United Kingdom

 

X

 

Italy

X

X

X

France

 

X

X

Spain

 

X

 

Greece

X

   

Source: Hildebrandt and Schmidt 1994.

Pollution Remediation: Cleaning Up

Cleaning up contaminated sites is a procedure which has become increasingly evident and costly since the 1970s, when awareness was enhanced about the serious cases of soil and water contamination from accumulated chemical wastes, abandoned industrial sites and so on. These contaminated sites have been generated from such activities as the following:

  • waste disposal sites (industrial and public)
  • abandoned industrial sites (e.g., chemical, metal processing)
  • mining activities
  • agricultural sites
  • major accidents
  • incinerator sites
  • industrial water discharges
  • small and medium enterprise zones.

 

The design of a remediation/clean-up plan requires complex technical activities and procedures which must be accompanied by the definition of clear management responsibilities and consequent liability. Such initiatives should be carried out in the context of harmonized national legislation, and provide for the participation of interested populations, for the definition of clear conflict resolution procedures and for the avoidance of possible socio-environmental dumping effects. Such regulations, agreements and plans should clearly encompass not only natural biotic and abiotic resources such as water, air, soil or flora and fauna but should also include cultural heritage, other visual aspects of landscapes and damage to physical persons and properties. A restrictive definition of environment will consequently reduce the definition of environmental damage and therefore limit actual remediation of sites. At the same time, it should also be possible not only for the subjects directly affected by damages to be granted certain rights and protection, but it also should be possible for collective group action to be taken to protect collective interests in order to ensure the restoration of previous conditions.

Conclusion

Significant action will be required to respond to our rapidly changing environmental situation. The focus of this article has been on the need for action to be taken to improve the environmental performance of industry and other economic activities. To do this efficiently and effectively, workers and their trade unions must play an active role not only at the enterprise level, but as well within their local communities and at the national level. Workers must be seen and actively mobilized as key partners in meeting future environment and sustainable development objectives. The ability of workers and their trade unions to contribute as partners in this process of environmental management is not dependent simply on their own capacity and awareness—although efforts are indeed needed and underway to increase their capacity—but it will also depend on the commitment of management and communities to create an enabling environment which promotes the development of new forms of collaboration and participation in the future.

 

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Contents

Preface
Part I. The Body
Part II. Health Care
Part III. Management & Policy
Part IV. Tools and Approaches
Part V. Psychosocial and Organizational Factors
Part VI. General Hazards
Part VII. The Environment
Part VIII. Accidents and Safety Management
Part IX. Chemicals
Part X. Industries Based on Biological Resources
Part XI. Industries Based on Natural Resources
Part XII. Chemical Industries
Part XIII. Manufacturing Industries
Part XIV. Textile and Apparel Industries
Part XV. Transport Industries
Part XVI. Construction
Part XVII. Services and Trade
Part XVIII. Guides