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Working sustainably
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What is the environment? Some people think of it as the whole of nature - in other words, the entire planet. Other people think of it as just their immediate surroundings. The fact is, it's both. The environment is everywhere, which is why things that happen in one place can have such a significant effect somewhere else.
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What does it mean to work in an environmentally sustainable way? Basically, it's all about employing work practices that use up less natural resources and produce the minimum amount of waste and pollution. The aim is to make sure that our activities don't hurt the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and enjoy a good quality of life.
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In this unit, we'll look at some of the work practices that can have a negative effect on the environment, and suggest ways of improving the way they're carried out. We'll also examine the regulations that apply to environmental care, and how these translate into your own work processes. And we'll discuss methods you can use to look for improvements in the environmental care practices you follow at work.
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Resources used at work
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A resource is any material or energy source that goes into producing an item or achieving an outcome. The most obvious resources used by floor layers are the physical products that go into the finished floor. But there are many other resources consumed in the process of manufacturing these products, transporting them to the warehouse and packaging them for re-sale.
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Taking a step further back, there are thousands of other resources involved in providing the infrastructure that makes the whole process possible, such as the production machinery required to make the products, the factories that house the machinery, and all the administrative services that support the operation. In this section we'll look at some examples of resources used by floor layers, and itemise the raw materials that go into their production.
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Identifying resources
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Whether you're involved in manufacturing, warehousing, sales, or on-site installation, you will use a wide range of resources at work. Let's take a typical example of a flooring installation, and look at the resources used in the process of laying a tongue and groove solid timber floor onto a concrete subfloor.
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Timber strip flooring - materials and energy requirements The links below will take you to a set of lists that show the breakdown of materials and energy requirements in a typical strip flooring installation. The basic structure of this type of flooring installation is shown in the drawing at right.
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You can see from these lists that we are already getting a very big collection of materials and energy sources, and we haven't even started on the resources involved in manufacturing the products. On top of that, there are resources used in organising these activities, carrying out business transactions, and transporting the products from one stage to the next. But staying with our on-site installation, let's trace each of the items needed for this project back to the basic resources that came from the natural environment. Click on the links below to see the natural resources used in each of four different categories.
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Measuring usage levels
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Working sustainably is all about making the most efficient use of natural resources, and producing the least amount of waste and pollution possible. But before you can look for ways of improving efficiency, you need to have some idea of your current resource usage. This gives you a benchmark to compare any improvements against. It also allows you to see how much you are saving, and which production methods work best and are the most economical.
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It's not always easy to measure all the resources you use, especially when some of them aren't directly visible. For example, electricity consumption is hard to quantify unless you can put a power meter on every electrical item used in the job. Usage levels are also hard to pin down if only a small proportion of a resource is used in an installation or manufacturing process - such as wear and tear on tools. However, there are still ways of measuring the usage of various resources so that you can make comparisons between the quantities being consumed over time.
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Resource usage for a timber floor Let's see how we could quantify the materials and energy supplies that go into the installation of a timber floor. Click on the links below to see the lists of resources we identified in the last lesson, together with their units of measurement and typical quantities used.
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For the sake of the exercise, we won't look at the details of the Non-process energy usage. However, at a management level, these forms of energy consumption are generally examined in close detail, because they can have a significant effect on the overall running costs of the company. We will look at practical ways of reducing energy consumption in more detail in Section 3: Improving efficiency.
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Just for fun
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Environmental issues
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Over the last few years, environmental controls and regulations have become increasingly strict. This reflects the growing understanding that we need to be more careful about the resources we use and the wastes and pollution we produce. Communities have realised that if we don't take more care, the way we live and go about our business can have an incredibly damaging effect on the natural world around us.
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In this section, we'll look at the main environmental issues that concern businesses in the furnishing industry. We'll also discuss the effect that new laws and regulations have on the way a business operates, and the obligations they impose on employees as they carry out their day-to-day work.
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Air quality
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Clean air is something that most people take for granted. But on building sites and in manufacturing workplaces there are many contaminants that can pollute the air if they're not kept under tight control.
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Volatile organic compounds Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that can evaporate into the air and cause serious environmental problems and chronic health conditions. They include formaldehyde, adhesives, paints, protective coatings and other solvents. The best way to limit the amount of evaporation when you're not using these substances is to keep the containers well sealed.
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Dust One of the most obvious airborne problems is dust. Some types of dust are toxic, particularly if they contain formaldehyde glues or other chemicals. Even common forms of dust can produce fallouts in the neighbourhood. And if people are exposed to them for a long time, they can cause health problems. There are two main ways of managing dust that is generated in the workplace: good housekeeping, and collecting the dust as close to its production source as possible.
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A dust extraction system is the easiest way to control dust at its source. The equipment can either be connected to a centralised unit, or individual machines can have their own systems. You can also control dust build-up by sweeping or vacuuming the area.
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Note that some dusts require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) while you're exposed to it. If you're not sure whether you need to wear PPE, ask your supervisor before you begin to clean it up.
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Burning Burning off waste products or rubbish can cause serious air pollution, especially when the waste contains plastics or other chemical compounds. Even ordinary paper and other wood-based products can be responsible for problem emissions and smoke haze.
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In general, open air burning is not allowed by local councils, particularly in metropolitan areas, unless you've got a permit. Apart from the emissions it creates, open air burning can be a serious fire hazard in the hotter months of the year.
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Every time it rains at your workplace, the water washes over the outside areas, and either soaks into the ground or disappears down the stormwater drains. These drains generally come out at the local creek or canal, and eventually discharge into a river, harbour or beach.
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Unlike sewerage, stormwater isn't treated to remove any pollutants that are in it. So if it's contaminated with litter, wastes, grease, oil or other chemicals, these will find their way into the natural environment, where they can have a serious effect on the fish, plants and other life forms living in that ecosystem.
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That's why it's an offence to allow stormwater to become polluted. This includes placing substances in a position where they can fall or be blown into a local waterway, gutter or drain. It also includes allowing silt to wash into the stormwater and send it murky, or 'turbid'.
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Simple things you can do There are many simple things you can do on a day-to-day basis to stop rainwater from becoming polluted as it runs off into the stormwater drains. These include: making sure that contaminates aren't allowed to accumulate in areas where they could be washed away by rain, especially near drains keeping driveways and yard areas free of litter providing containers for cigarette butts keeping drains clear, to allow the free flow of water when it rains.
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Trade wastewater
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Trade wastewater is any wastewater produced by a commercial or industrial activity. It doesn't include sewerage from toilets or sinks, but does include the run-off from industrial sprays and cooling systems. Wastewater isn't always toxic, but even non-toxic wastewater can be harmful if it's put straight into the sewer without the problem substances being removed first.
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Before you let wastewater go into the sewerage system, you need to remove the contaminants, and your company needs to get a wastewater permit from the local water authority. This permit will specify the treatment process required and any other standards that may apply.
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But not all businesses need to put their wastewater into the sewerage system. Some companies recycle the wastewater on-site, and treat it so it can be used in other production processes or for watering the garden. Other companies collect the wastewater in drums, and have it taken to a waste disposal station. But remember that if you're sending it to a waste facility, the transportation must always be done by a licensed contractor.
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Hazardous substances
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Hazardous substances are any substances that might be harmful to people's health or cause damage to the environment. They range from common household products like solvents and pesticides through to thousands of other liquids, gases and materials used in workplaces.
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Some hazardous substances, such as gas and diesel fuel, are classified as dangerous goods. Their storage, transportation and use are controlled by law, because of their potential to cause fires or explosions.
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Every hazardous substance is required to have a material safety data sheet (MSDS), which is published by the manufacturer of the substance. The MSDS is designed to give you important information on how to use the product safely, how to store it and transport it, and what to do if the substance spills.
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Dealing with spills Spills can be a real problem when they involve a hazardous substance. They should always be cleaned up straight away, no matter how small they are. Quite apart from any safety risks involved, you don't want the spill to escape into the stormwater system or soak into the ground and cause contamination.
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If you have a serious spill at your workplace, or if you're worried about safety, call the fire brigade on 000. Note that if a spill occurs that might harm the environment, you must tell the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) or local council as soon as you become aware of it.
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General guidelines on handling and storage Here's some general guidelines to follow when you're handling or storing hazardous substances. 1. Store chemicals in their own area, away from stormwater drains and out of the weather.
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2. Never use plain drink bottles or other unmarked containers to store chemicals.
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3. Clearly label all containers with the name of the product it contains if it is no longer in its original packaging.
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4. Keep 'incompatible' chemicals well away from each other, that is, chemicals that are likely to react with each other.
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5. Dispose of hazardous waste properly, using a licensed contractor to take it to a licensed depot.
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6. Make sure that all vehicle activity is carried out well clear of the chemical storage area.
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Laws and procedures
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In each state the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), or its equivalent body, oversees the laws concerning environmental care. One of their main functions is to regulate the activities of large industries and issue notices if companies do the wrong thing. If the offence is serious enough, they will prosecute the company.
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Local councils also play a role in environmental protection, and regulate smaller businesses and industries through planning controls, notices and prosecutions.
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Obligations on employees Generally speaking, the company you work for will have already built the relevant environmental laws and regulations into the policies and procedures you follow every day at work. But it's worth keeping in mind that some laws go beyond the obligations placed on the company, and extend directly to all employees and contractors working at the site.
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For example, the law states that if pollution occurs when you're doing something and it threatens or harms the environment, you must tell the EPA or the local council as soon as you can. This allows the authorities to take steps to minimise the impact of the problem before it gets out of hand.
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Just for fun
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Improving efficiency
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There are many things you can do to help the company use resources more efficiently. In this section, we'll look at some simple measures that can be carried out in the workplace at any time.
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You'll probably agree that all of these actions are commonsense, and you may already be doing some of them. But it helps to remember that each positive action makes its own contribution to a more environmentally sustainable workplace, and in the end, a healthier natural world.
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At an economic level, most of these ideas will also save your company money. You'll be using less materials, consuming less power and disposing of less waste. So you can be pretty confident that if you're not already making use of these ideas, your boss will support any new measures that have the effect of improving the company's efficiency and profitability.
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Using less power
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Reducing the amount of electricity you use at work will not only save your company money, it will also make a difference to the greenhouse gas emissions produced by power generators.
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Lighting The simplest ways to reduce artificial lighting costs are to: use natural light as much as possible turn off the lights that aren't needed.
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Equipment With equipment, you'll save power by: turning off the machine when you're not using it cleaning and maintaining equipment regularly replacing inefficient parts or machines checking air hoses and compressors for leaks.
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Using less water
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There was a time when people didn't give much thought to how much water they used at home and work, because it seemed that the supply was endless and it cost almost nothing. But those days have gone.
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Many manufacturing businesses now use rain water, bore water or recycled water to supplement their supply. They have also installed more efficient appliances and equipment where possible. However, there are various things that anyone can do on a day-to-day basis to reduce their consumption of this scarce natural resource.
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Firstly, of course, you need to comply with any local government water restrictions. This may include not hosing hard surfaces, and not using sprinklers. Secondly, use mulch on garden areas, to reduce the amount of outdoor watering you need to do. And thirdly, fix leaking taps or fittings, so you don't lose any water unnecessarily.
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Just to give you an idea of the savings these simple measures can make, here are some facts and figures on common water usages and wastages. - A dripping tap loses between 30 and 200 litres a day.
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- A leaking fitting, or a pipe with a 1.5 mm hole in it can lose 100 litres of water a day.
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- A leaking toilet cistern can lose from 35 litres a day, for water that is just visible in the pan, up to 260 litres, for water that makes a constant hissing sound.
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Managing waste
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It goes without saying that the easiest way to deal with the problem of waste is not to create it in the first place. But that's not always possible, of course, so the next best way to minimise waste is to try to re-use the materials wherever you can. If you can't do that, you then have to consider whether the discarded items could be broken down to their raw materials again and made into new products.
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This hierarchy of options is referred to as the 3 Rs - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Notice that disposal doesn't even rate a mention in the 3 Rs, because it is the last resort, and should only be used if you've already exhausted the other possibilities. Here are some practical examples.
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Reduce Try to use materials as efficiently as you can, and minimise the amount of reject stock you produce. If you need to cut certain materials to specific sizes, work out which stock sizes will give you the best recovery, and therefore the least amount of off-cuts.
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Reuse See if your suppliers can deliver their products in returnable packaging, such as pallets and drums. Then they can pick them up when they drop off your next order. The same thing applies to plastic containers.
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Recycle Many products are now recyclable, and some companies offer to pick them up for free, or even pay you by the tonne when they collect them. Recyclable materials include glass, aluminium, steel, plastic, paper and cardboard, and toner cartridges.
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Disposal If you need to store waste while it's waiting to be picked up and disposed of, make sure it is kept secure so that it doesn't blow away or escape into the storm water system. Remember, too, that you mustn't bury waste on-site - this constitutes a landfill activity and is illegal unless your company has an EPA waste licence.
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Never put liquid waste into the waste bin. Materials in the waste bin generally go to landfill, so it should only ever be used for dry, solid waste. Always drain and clean anything containing leftover fluid before you put it in the bin. Depending on the type of liquid it is, you can then either recycle or treat it, or put it aside for removal by a waste disposal contractor.
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Vinyl flooring In recent years there have been efforts made to collect and recycle old vinyl flooring products, rather than sending the waste material to landfill. These efforts have been supported by industry schemes such as the Vinyl Council's Product Stewardship Program and the Green Star Best Environmental Practice Guidelines for PVC.
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Polyflor was the first Australian commercial flooring manufacturer to achieve a certification under the Green Star system for its 100% recyclable flooring products. Some manufacturers are also starting to use significant amounts of recycled PVC in their new flooring lines. Armstrong flooring, for example, recycles old vinyl tiles and PVC bottles, and has two products - 'Eco Accolade' and 'Eco Terrazz' - that contain over 50% recycled material.
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Just for fun
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