Wednesday, December 17, 2014

70,000 Worker Deaths in China Last Year

In China, "about 70,000 people died in work safety cases last year."--  Policy Watch, China Daily (August 26, 2014).  Mind you, China's population was 1.37 billion people in 2013, the US population was about a third of that last year, and one sixth of that in 1971.

Why is 1971 important? Because before OSHA was formed in the USA in 1971, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job that year. The US population was $207 million in 1971.

The point? If I've done the math right, the US worker-death rate was worse in the US in 1971 than it was in China this year, if reported numbers are reasonably accurate. As terrible as 70,000 worker deaths is, it's not as unsafe as our own working conditions not half a century back.

Much safer today

Today, US workplaces are much safer, from 38 fatal injuries a day in 1971 to 12 per day, about 4400 per year. Which of course is too many, but relatively speaking it's a good number. (But tell that to the deceased's relatives.) There are a lot of layers to this.

Under new amendments, in China, employers responsible for accidents could be fined as much as 20 million yuan, or just over $3 million.

It's notable that the Chinese government is trying. The world will be watching to see to what extent the penalties are imposed.

Because as we know, from instances in say mining penalties unpaid, here in the States, just because there could be a high price to pay doesn't mean companies actually pay up.

Wan Li, Brent I. Clark, and Craig B. Simonsen break down the details on China's efforts in this great blog post on the subject here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Misleading Infographics, Misleading Charts

Everyone is clamouring for Dashboard views in software, especially software churning large amounts of data. It's understandable. When you're dealing with, say, a gigantic database of data about chemical composition, dashboards are pretty. Infographics are pretty.

But they are often pretty misleading.

Take this dashboard type graphic below. At first glance it seems to serve up sensible, serene numbers that anyone can use and understand.

Unfortunately, it makes no sense. What do the colors mean? Why the inner circles? No one will ever know. If you look at it for a few moments you will truly find yourself laughing. What the chart actually shows is that "dashboard graphics" can make data less comprehensible, not more.

Here's an example from Harvard Business Review:

The chart on top, for instance, is colorful and it sure looks like an infographic. "But it's nearly incomprehensible," says the Harvard Business Review. See how much clearer the information is in the simple bar graph below it.

It's not dead: long live the bar graph!

No point to pretty without function

Infographics and dashboard charts are often poor examples of data overview. Here's why you should focus on data that the message is conveying rather than the presentation: because many charts, graphs and infographs are junk. That's right, junk charts.

For 27 examples of charts that had lofty goals but actually mean very little, please see this hilarious survey of the 27 worst charts of all time, a slideshow from Business Insider. Not only will the point be made abundantly clear, there's a lot of humor in the finding out.


So this is why, when worrying about whether your next technology solution has a "dashboard" or not, it makes more sense to worry about whether the data is reliable in the database. Then you can customize your own reports / pie charts / graphs as you go. Always the best solution!

Predictive Risk Assessment's New Online Tool

Looking for the next thing in predictive risk assessment?

On the European Chemical Agency or ECHA website, there's a new tool available. It is called PACT, for Public Activities Coordination Tool. It lists the substances being considered for risk management.
Next generation data


Advanced notice about substances being considered enables companies to consider their business strategy. Early awareness that a substance may be taken down a risk management route could encourage companies to assess how they are using the substance and whether it's possible to replace it with a safer alternative.

For the first time, PACT lets you see what substances are being analysed for possible further risk management before they become part of a formal risk management process, say, for example, harmonised classification and labeling, or identification of substances of very high concern (SVHCs) or restriction.

GC3 retailer portal

The point of the PACT tool is to provide advanced notice about substances being looked at for risk management. Another tool for this is from the Green Chemistry Council (GC3), based in Massachusetts, USA. It's called the Retailer Portal. This is a collection of solutions that may be of interest to companies, depending on what they're trying to do in particular.

The tools included in the Retailer Portal are either free or commercially available. The tools are designed to help retailers evaluate chemicals or chemical-containing products for potential human health and environmental impacts, and to identify chemicals or materials that are regulated or are of concern and not yet regulated but are likely to be.

Find out more about GC3 green chemistry tools here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hey Now! Hey Now! ISO ISO 14000

There's an old song from New Orleans called "Iko Iko" and I always think of it regarding discussions of ISO standards. "Iko" is a sung in Mardi Gras parades. For real, no one knows what the words are, nor what they mean.

Revealing ISO standards
Which is, if you think about it, similar to confusion around implementing ISO programs!

We aim to change that here today with a review of how to conduct an  Environmental Review for ISO 14001. As they sing in the Iko song, "Hey now! Hey now! Iko iko wan dey!"

Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Let's see if it is.

Preparatory Environmental Review (PER) or GAP Analysis for ISO 14000 Standards

The ISO 14000 family of standards addresses various aspects of environmental management. It aims to provide practical tools for companies and organizations looking to identify and control their environmental impact and constantly improve their environmental performance.

A preparatory environmental review is where the parade begins, as it were. It's an investigative exercise, a structured piece of detective work. The goal is to indentify the organization's environmental performance and aspects. Preparatory environment review is not mandatory and cannot be audited during the assessment and yet, if it is not performed, the whole environmental management system has no ground zero, no starting point. Benchmarks are our friend! Unless an organization knows where it is now with regard to its interaction with the environment, it may not be able to move in the correct direction in controlling and minimizing its environmental impacts. Thus, a snapshot of current performance should be taken.

The preparatory environmental review may not be an auditable item on the external auditor’s checklist but, by examining the review, the auditor will get a measure of the environmental competence of the organization and an indication of the level of understanding of environmental issues by the organization. In short, a prep review will give the auditor confidence. That confidence will encourage smooth conduct in the assessment process.

If an organization decides to undertake this preparatory review, there are two options:
  1. Perform the preparatory environmental review using internally available resources
  2. Perform the preparatory environmental review using external consultants
These options are considered below.

Internally available resources

Performing the preparatory environmental review using internal resources has its merits in that the organization can use personnel experienced in its operations and processes and, of some importance, costs can be somewhat better controlled. Several options exist for this approach. One option is to send out questionnaires —  consider an automated, custom email campaign —  to each department head, requiring individuals in charge to complete a series of questions, for example:
  1. What materials are used?
  2. What quantities of materials are used?
  3. How much energy is used per month / quarter?
  4. The amount and type of waste streams?
  5. Possible emergency situations?
  6. Any notable abnormal situations (frequency of start-ups and shut-downs, maintenance, breakdowns and incidents)?
  7. Any history of 'out of the ordinary' incidents?
  8. Any areas of training required?
This will establish a baseline to work from after analysis by management.

Possible flaws in this approach are that staff employed to perform this task may not have the necessary expertise to carry out a meaningful review. That's why you use a automated system with carefully crafted survey questions. These questions are created by experts. And if a manager ignores the email, they get a second one after a period you specify, say three days. If that second email is ignored, a third, less friendly email can be automatically triggered. If the survey is still ignored, an alert is sent to the program manager, and the folks ignoring the survey get a phone call. Have to keep things moving...!

Review and analysis of the answers in these completed questionnaires does not have to take a long time if the right people are doing it. Getting the data will be the hard part, which is why a program like Material Disclosure from Actio can be very helpful. (More on managing material disclosure here.) The questionnaire answers will indicate many things, including the level of training required in the personnel completing them. Management tools such as brainstorming, although they can be of value, will not give the same answers as hard data collection and some investigative detective work.

On occasions, organizations have made the mistake of basing their preparatory review on environmental projects that are currently up and running. The rationale there is that if such projects are current, then they must be important, must focus on the significant environmental impacts of the organization and, therefore, must be a sound basis to start from. Unfortunately, just because a program is running does not mean it is important. We all know that while some projects may have been started with the best of intentions, they may be based upon previous initiatives (for example, a project that was topical at the time, or a project that looked easy to execute but wasn't in fact). Frankly, some projects may have been devised largely to bolster the profile of an individual, or of the organization during a marketing initiative at that time. Or again, it may have been a project which tied in with everyone's work schedules and was easy to manage, and with which everyone was comfortable because of the feeling that they were 'doing something for the environment'.

Such projects may well have been reducing environmental impacts and this is no reason to abandon them. Unfortunately, however, because of the haphazard nature and methodology of such projects they will, in all likelihood, not be focusing on significant impacts fundamental to ISO 14001 philosophy.

External environmental consultants

Quite often the individual chosen to lead the environmental management team and implement ISO 14001 in-house is the quality assurance manager. Reasons for this choice are not always valid.

Those quality assurance managers who have taken on this task invariably perform well, but usually after a painful and steep learning curve. Just because the two Standards, ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 are now very much aligned, ISO 9001 implementing experience may not bridge the shortfall in the required environmental knowledge required by the individual tasked with implementing ISO 14001.

There are of course commonalities between quality systems and environmental systems and a quality manager will certainly be comfortable in the areas of operating to documented management systems: the concept of objectives and targets and continuous improvement; the requirement for self-policing (auditing); the value of reviews; and a corrective and preventive action system to allow  improvements to occur. But this does not necessarily equip the manager in question with the knowledge and skills in environmental issues required for ISO 14001.

That said, the requirement for in-depth environmental knowledge from within the organization need not be onerous, and much of course depends upon the complexity of the organization's  environmental aspects.  However, to commence from a standing start into the complex world of environmental issues and perform a meaningful preparatory review is something not to be undertaken lightly. In such cases, the organization is well advised to use the services of an consultant and ask them to perform a preparatory review prior to ISO 14001 implementation.

A well-executed preparatory environmental review will generate a Specification Report for the organization which sets out very clearly what steps are required. This Specification Report forms the foundation for deriving a meaningful environmental policy and developing a robust EMS, capable of demonstrating environmental performance improvement.

Steps to take – a checklist approach

The approach taken in your review should considers four key areas:
  1. Legislative and regulatory requirements
  2. Identification of significant environmental aspects
  3. Examination of existing environmental practices and procedures
  4. Assessment of previous incidents
  5. Legislative and regulatory compliance
A fundamental requirement of ISO 14001 is that the organization complies with environmental law as a minimum standard. The review should identify which areas of the organization are covered by which laws. Any areas where there are breaches of legislation should be set as priority action areas.

We found this downloadable checklist that covers features you'd want to look for in software to support a ISO 14001 review. Thing is, the features and principles apply to elements of an ISO 14000 program whether there is software involved or not. So use the checklist to guide your process. The checklist is free, an instant PDF download. Save for your reference:

Many thanks and kudos to Pretesh Biswas, Quality Consultant at APB Consultancy for his efforts drafting articles like this. You can find out more about this work here.

See you at Mardi Gras.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Science of a Thanksgiving Meal

Happy Thanksgiving! Use plastic! I found a blog post itemizing many exciting ways to use plastic, yes, plastic, in your Thanksgiving holiday meal.

This story wasn't nominated for a Pulitzer, or used across the news wires. But the American Chemical Society (ACS) liked the story so much it's featured on the ACS Happy Thanksgiving page.

So the rest of the links on the ACS Happy Thanksgiving page, now suspect, had to be explored. Most articles were more useful. Here are the top three.

Turkey Day Chemistry (Popular Science)

Wonderful article includes the Science of Mashed Potatoes:
  1. Select a type of potato that is "mealy," such as Idaho or Russet potatoes. 
  2. Potatoes contain an enzyme in their cell walls, activated at 120 degrees, the enzyme helps potato cells resist breakdown. So science's best answer for mashed potatoes is to precook chunks of either Russet or Idaho potatoes at 130 to 140 for 20 minutes to activate the enzyme and keep the cell walls strong. Drain them and then re-cook. When they are tender, drain them again and return them to the pan to dry off any extra moisture.
  3. If you've ever had the not-so-great idea of making mashed potatoes in a food processor, then you know what happens when cells get too broken down and too much starch is released. You make glue. Instead of a rough ride, proceed to smooth out your potatoes with a "gentle mashing." 
And *that* is how to make mashed potatoes.

The article has a lot more to it than that, so worth checking out.


Cranberry sauce is one of the healthiest foods you can eat, provided it's not made with too much sugar. In fact, researchers have found that compounds in cranberries are able to alter E. coli bacteria, which are responsible for a host of human illnesses, in ways that render them unable to initiate an infection.

Do you double cooking time for a bird twice the size?

Not necessarily it turns out

The turkey has a width, a surface area, a volume, and a weight. It has a density, a heat conductivity (how well it transfers the oven's heat into its interior), and a heat capacity (how much heat it needs to climb one degree Celsius in temperature). A turkey has a lot of "its." Some of these factors change in going from a 10-pound turkey to a 20-pound turkey. In different ways. Blinded with science!

Anyway, the ACC page is here, if you want more of this: 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chemical Explosion in CA

In the wee hours of November 19th, nearly 40 people were taken to hospitals for decontamination and homes and businesses for a mile around were evacuated after a mysterious chemical mixture burst into flames at a Southern California waste facility, reports the Associated Press.
Safety in Data Management

A vacuum truck exploded into flames about 3:45 a.m. at the Santa Clara Waste Water Co. About 1,200 gallons of a mysterious waste chemical mixture spread across the area, fire officials said.
"As the liquid began to dry out, the (fire engine) companies on scene noticed that it was very unstable and reactive," Ventura County fire Capt. Mike Lindbery said. "And as they stepped on it, or tried to move their engine, it would spontaneously ignite under the tires of the engine or their boots." --
as quoted in

Safety, Sense and Sensibility

Specific reports on chemicals on premises and / or an itemization of substances onsite or being received is forthcoming. This event makes clear the need to be able to access raw material and shipment information quickly, with the click of a mouse, from anywhere in the world.

In this scenario, a qualified person at a corporate office should have been able to see immediately what raw materials would be in trucks at the time of explosion, and also see the chemical make up of those raw materials. That information would be culled to eliminate any unnecessary sharing of information (am all in favor of that!). But quickly, quickly, the report with key info that firefighters need as-it-happens should be at the fingertips of fire and safety personnel, not to mention passed to executive Human Resources folks so they can make fast decisions.

These days, chemical inventory and storage location information can be gleaned almost instantly as described above. If your facility manages raw supplies that are or contain dangerous chemicals, let technology do some of this work for you! For Heaven's sake. For one, all companies need to get a grip on their inventory anyway, for financial oriented reasons. But also to the point, Heaven doesn't need 36 (or 37) workers to arrive in heaven prematurely.

Not to be tedious but above is a screenshot of software I saw recently that is designed specifically for the purpose of tracking and labeling chemicals in small amounts, or large. It's a very competent product, you can learn more about it here: Actio Regulator software.

Till next time, be safe and may your substances be well-managed.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Halliburton To Buy Baker Hughes For $35 Billion

Halliburton will buy Baker Hughes for about $35 billion in cash and stock, creating an "oilfield services" company large enough to take on market leader Schlumberger NV, reported Fox News this morning.
Meanwhile, in the energy sector...

The merger is expected to raise anti-trust concerns. But Halliburton says that if required, the company is prepared to divest. Possible divestments include businesses that generate up to $7.5 billion in revenue, although Halliburton believes regulators would ask for "significantly less."

The acquisition will add to Halliburton's cash flow by the end of the first year after closing.

Halliburton's Chief Executive, Dave Lesar, will lead the combined company.

David J. Lesar made $20,700,000 in total compensation last year (2013).

What's in your wallet?

On a similar note, Richard D. Fairbank, Co-Founder, Chairman, CEO and President of Capital One, made $18,300,000 last year.

Occupy that.

That's not what he said.

(Will keep an eye on this for anti-trust drama. But like any soap opera, you pretty much know how it's going to turn out.)