Climate change: How safety paperwork is contributing to the problem

- November 24, 2019

Climate change is everyone’s problem. No matter your age, occupation, or where you live in the world, every single person has a duty of care to our planet. We can all do more to help the environment.

That being said, if you work the field of safety and health, there are some very specific things you can do, starting today, to help save the planet. One of the major changes you can make is the choice to cut down on using paper.

Why is the use of paper so devastating to the environment?

According to the Paper Recycling Coalition when paper is not recycled, 80% of it ends up in landfills. Decomposition of the paper in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide (CO2).

If paper is recycled, it doesn’t end up in the waste stream, headed for a landfill where it will degrade and generate methane. Simply put, the less paper landfilled, the less methane emitted.

Additionally, the more paper we use, the more we are contributing to deforestation, which has devastating and permanent effects on the environment.

How can safety professionals cut down on using paper?

Paperwork is, unfortunately, a fact of life for most safety and health professionals. In fact, there always seems to be endless piles of it everywhere.

Although it may not be practical to cut it out altogether, cutting down on paper usage, recycling your paper or choosing to use recycled paper in your daily work, is a huge step towards environmental awareness.

Here are some tips to cut down on your daily paper usage: 

  1. Only print when you need to. If you can download a PDF to your mobile device or laptop/pc instead, then choose that option rather than printing unnecessarily.
  2. If you do need to print, then use both sides of the paper. Set your printer options to print on both sides, so you’re saving paper wherever you can.
  3. Add a note to your email signature. Remind others to only print your email or attachments if absolutely necessary.
  4. Opt for recycled paper. There are plenty of options available for purchasing 100% recycled paper, rather than new. Using recycled paper is the environmentally-sound choice. A simple Google search will bring up a list of suppliers in your local area.
  5. Cancel as much paper correspondence as possible. Does your bank still send paper statements? Do you still get letters from your insurance company or your solicitor? Put in a polite request to be sent all correspondence by email.
  6. Don’t waste paper on writing notes. If you jot a note down on paper, then be sure to use the rest of the sheet for your notes. Or better still, use a notes app on your tablet or phone.

Why safety paperwork is actually costing your business money

According to the SiteDocs blog, a total of up to three minutes, on average, is spent per person handling per piece of safety-related paperwork, each and every day. What does ‘handling’ mean? Printing, photocopying, signing, handing-out, filing, etc.

This means, if one person handles up to 15 pieces of safety-related paperwork, then that’s half an hour a day.

SiteDocs suggests that across your entire company (at all job sites), based on an average wage of $30 per hour, each person is costing you $3750 per year, just to move paper. Now that’s a sobering thought.

So, what’s the alternative?

Start working with digital forms, health and safety apps on your mobile device, sharing more things digitally with your colleagues and clients, and working towards a paperless health and safety environment. Soon, you’ll start to see immeasurable benefits to your environment and to your pocket.