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Articles about quality, environmental and safety compliance issues.

From Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/30490987@N04/6023900703/

A recent publication in Bloomberg shows that the renewable market continues to grow at a staggering rate. This growth is adding to pressure on fossil fuel prices and could very well be ushering in a new era for Clean Energy. Denmark was recently cited as having obtained 50% of their energy through Wind Power and as a company based in Québec, Canada, Nimonik is proud to say that Quebec is 100% clean energy – mostly hydro and a little bit of wind. The growth in renewable energy is all the more remarkable considering the  cost of oil, which continues to stay low due to geopolitical events such as the removal of sanctions on Iran.

With backers as large as China, and as humble as small-town investor, Bill Gates, the clean energy industry shows no signs of slowing down (Even the Eiffel Tower has gone green). Renewable energy has outpaced traditional energy, and is set to make significant gains on its progress already as US Lawmakers have agreed to extend tax credits for the solar industry for another five years.

The growth of renewables due to increasingly affordable cost, might encourage governments and municipalities to seek alternative sources of energy, such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro/tidal power. This may in turn lead to further drops in demand for fossil fuel based energy. Analysts are predicting a huge boost to the global GDP by $1.3 trillion dollars if market shares of renewable energy double. Germany has even gone so far as to say that renewable energy has won the technology race.

As the industry matures, rules, regulations and quality control processes are being put in place. Regulatory requirements will likely grow as as new materials and technologies emerge to help harness, capture, and grow this budding industry. Nimonik is working with a number of renewable energy organizations to provide them with legislative updates and tools to help audit their operations and ensure safety, security, quality, and environmental compliance.

If your organization is looking for tools to help increase compliance efficiency, start with a 20-day trial with Nimonik and see our plain language updates and powerful tools in real time, or contact us at info@nimonik.com and see how we can simplify compliance for you.


In Paris this last December, 195 countries and the European Union signed an international agreement that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a “historic, ambitious, and balanced agreement to fight climate change”(1) and US President Barack Obama called “a powerful signal that the world is firmly committed to a low-carbon future”(2). The Paris Agreement (the “Agreement”) emerged from the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Many excellent outlines of the Agreement have been written including the Gowlings law firm article and Dentons law firm piece. In this first of a series of posts, I would like to address some of the underlying questions that may arise for readers trying to understand the Agreement. Part 1 aims to answer the most basic question: why has the global community come together to limit global warming?

Let us begin with the essence of the Agreement. Article 2 states, that in order “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change,” the signatories will hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.” So the Agreement is, at its core, an agreement to limit the increase in global temperature. Why is an increase above 2 °C (3.6 °F) harmful enough to warrant an international agreement?

First, it is important to understand that global temperature average is different from local temperature average. The global temperature average is the annual average across the planet. The global temperature average for 2014 was a surprisingly low 0.75 °C because it includes temperatures from extremely cold areas like Antarctica and from all four seasons. A global two degree increase does not mean a uniform increase of two degrees in climates across the world. Rather, temperature increase will be distributed unevenly. Certain regions, such as Canada’s far north, will be effected more strongly than others.

Evidence from the Earth’s climate history, along with predictive climate models, demonstrates that minor increases or decreases in global temperature average can lead to dramatic climate changes. During the last ice age, when glaciers covered most of Canada and parts of the United States, the global climate was significantly different from today’s. However, as found on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) website, the global temperature average during this ice age was only around 5 °C lower than the global temperature average of today (3).

This magnified effect of global temperature average on global climate comes about because climate emerges from the interaction of many factors. The global temperature average, the amount of sunlight, and the water cycle, to name but a few, all influence each other and create the climate we experience on Earth. NASA (4), the US Environmental Protection Agency (5), and the Canadian Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (6) identify the following effects of increasing temperature on global climate systems:

Extreme weather, in other words, weather that is outside the historical norm. As the parameters of the climate change, some weather events will increase in frequency or force. Hurricanes and droughts are two such examples.

Time series of global mean sea level (deviation from the 1980-1999 mean) in the past and as projected for the future. https://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/faq-5-1-figure-1.html

Changes in precipitation – increases in some areas and decreases in others. This can lead to flooding and droughts.

Annual precipitation in a higher greenhouse gas emissions scenario.

http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/details.cgi?aid=4028

Sea level rise. As the temperature of the oceans increases and glaciers melt, sea level rises. Strongest effect is on coastal communities and island nations.

Time series of global mean sea level (deviation from the 1980-1999 mean) in the past and as projected for the future. https://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/faq-5-1-figure-1.html

Ocean acidification. As ocean temperature rises and oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, the oceans become more acidic. This affects the basis of the oceanic ecosystems by dissolving corals and impairing the ability of shellfish to form shells.

In a lab experiment, a sea butterfly (pteropod) shell placed in seawater with increased acidity slowly dissolves over 45 days. Credit: Courtesy of David Littschwager/National Geographic Society http://ocean.si.edu/ocean-acidification

Extinction and migration of species, including migration of pest species into new regions.

The brown and red trees in this picture have been infested by mountain pine beetles near Winter Park, Colorado. http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts/forests.html

Some changes such as longer growing seasons in some areas and increased development in the North from the opening of the Northwest Passage, can be positive for humans. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) has pronounced that, “Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.”

The IPCC is one of the many organizations devoted to the assessment of climate change impacts. Despite the global scientific effort, however, the actual impact of global temperature average increase can be predicted with only limited accuracy. Predictions are uncertain and there exists a possibility that increasing temperatures will lead to truly catastrophic effects.

As Harvard economist Martin L. Weitzman and his pupil Gernot Wagner argue in their book Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet, the risk of global catastrophe is the most important reason to take international action to limit global temperature average increase. They write that:

If you had a 10 percent chance of having a fatal car accident, you’d take necessary precautions. If your finances had a 10 percent chance of suffering a severe loss, you’d reevaluate your assets. So if we know the world is warming and there’s a 10 percent chance this might eventually lead to a catastrophe beyond anything we could imagine, why aren’t we doing more about climate change right now? We insure our lives against an uncertain future–why not our planet? (4)

This combination of likely net damage costs of climate change and the risk of catastrophe has generated political will to address the problem and led to the signing of the Paris Agreement.


Nimonik is happy to announce another new app upgrade for our auditors and inspectors around the world. This upgrade provides some fantastic new features to increase audit efficiency.

  • More easily find and assign auditors and auditees in with an Address Book style selector;
  • Filter your audit questions by status – complying, non-complying…;
  • See your audit score while in offline mode;
  • A powerful search to locate the correct Facility for an audit;
  • Better detection of spotty wi-fi and synchronization over weak connections;
  • Smoother keyboard typing;
  • Easily add and remove auditors and auditees from an audit; and
  • Better synchronization of your Tasks for scheduled audits and corrective actions.

Location: Mile-End, Montréal, Canada

Description:

You will be working with the CTO and CEO of a small, but self-funded and growing company in the B2B SaaS space. We work on mobile and web and have a UX professional. We are focused on the application of machine learning and NLP technology to environmental, health and safety regulatory information. Our team consists of lawyers, engineers and scientists who are passionate about applying technology to law to make it practical to use in industrial settings.

Our website is http://nimonik.com

Start date: immediate, remote contract or moving to Montreal.

Requirements

– 3+ years of programming experience

– 1+ years of Ruby/Rails

– Javascript

– test-oriented (rspec/capybara/cucumber)

– git proficiency

Nice-to-have (should meet at least one of them):

– experience with at least one Javascript MVC framework (preferred Backbone Marionette)

– UI/UX design/validation experience

– experience with serving public APIs (optimizing, versioning)

– proficiency with caching Rails apps

Our products stack:

– Rails 4.2/Ruby 2.3

– JSON API serving iOS and Android client apps

– MySQL/Redis/Solr

– Backbone Marionette + jQuery + Foundation on the client side

– Continuous integration setup with RSpec/Cucumber/Jenkins

– deployment with capistrano and puppet

– staging and production servers hosted Amazon EC2 as Ubuntu 14.04 LTS instances

About Nimonik

Established in 2008, Nimonik inc. is a growing Montréal based company that sits at the intersection of law, web technology and industrial operations. We offer services to mining, manufacturing, real estate management and other business to help them manage their environmental, health and safety legal obligations.

As legal costs have grown exponentially over the past decade, companies are searching for opportunities to reduce their legal expenses while ensuring compliance. Everyone at Nimonik believes there is tremendous opportunity to help facility managers ensure compliance at lower cost. The application of Natural Language Processing, AI and other algorithms to case law, legislation and generated content offer the possibility to exponentially reduce the complexity of law. We are looking for an individual who shares our vision of the use of technology to help businesses better manage their obligations, while staying focused on their core business.

Contact jbrun@nimonik.com with CV, GitHub handle and motivational email


In the mid-1980’s an unlikely accord was made between the Liberals and the NDP in order to defeat the Progressive Conservative Party opposition. Under the agreement, Ontario premier Bob Rae asked the Liberal Party to help implement what was known as the “spills bill”.  Considered a landmark bill for its time, the spills bill amended the Environmental Protection Act (“the Act”) to add Part X- Spills and create a legal framework in the event of a discharge of contaminant into the environment.  Nearly 20 years later, this powerful legal framework is being considered by the Ontario courts for the first time.  Any Ontario business who has or who may have caused a spill should take note of this key decision.  In this post, we will discuss the basics of Part X and contextualize the ongoing interpretation by the courts.

Part X – Spills of the Environmental Protection Act deals exclusively with the abnormal discharges of a pollutant into the environment.  Implicit in Part X is the “polluter-pays” principle. Under this principle, the person responsible for the discharge of a pollutant into the environment is the person held responsible for the remediation of the contaminated site. A discharge occurs whenever something is added, deposited, leaked or emitted into the environment.  Defined like this way, a discharge becomes a common occurrence.  To reduce the scope of the definition, a discharge must be of a certain of type and quantity to be considered problematic and therefore labelled a “spill” and be subject to the spill provisions of the law. Once a spill has been made, Part X comes into play.

Part X  of the Act:

  • Defines what may be considered as a spill;
  • Enacts certain requirements dealing with spill prevention and contingency plans;
  • Provides a procedure for reporting spills;
  • Gives the duty of notifications in the event of a spill;
  • Creates a liability and compensation mechanism for the remediation of a spill;

The liability and compensation provisions of the Act is now being addressed by an Ontario court. The decision in this case has surprised many Ontario law firms and should be considered by anyone who may deal with spills.

“The Midwest decision is likely to spark an explosion of s. 99(2) claims in civil actions due to the Court of Appeal’s expansive interpretation of the statutory right of action it affords and the scope of damages that are recoverable under the section.” ¹

Here are the main players of the case:

The Defendant: John Thordarson and Thorco Contracting Limited who serviced petroleum handling equipment and stored various materials and wastes on their site.

The Plaintiff:  Midwest Properties, acquired an industrial property from Thorco Contracting Limited and John Thordarson.

The Issue: Midwest Properties discovered their site was contaminated and sued John Thordarson and Thorco Contracting Limited for selling them a property that was contaminated.  They argued that, according to section 99(2) of the Act, Thorco Ltd. should pay for the costs associated with the remediation of the site.

The Decision: The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed and held both the Thorco Ltd. and John Thordarson personally responsible for the contamination and its remediation.

The decision is significant because the court, invoking section 99(2) of the Act, awarded damages based on restoration rather than the diminution of property value.  Prior to this decision, courts usually quantified the amount owed by a person responsible for a contamination based on the diminished value of a site.  In this decision, however, the court is requiring the owner of the spill to pay the cost of the remediation of the site.  In essence, the focus is on the environmental state of the land and not on the market-value of the land.

As in the 1980’s, the present Wynne government is making major changes to Ontario’s environmental laws. With more legislative activity, staying up to date on environmental legal requirements will only become more critical to business success.

1.    Vizzaccaro, J. & Mullins, N, Section 99(2) of the EPA is a “new and powerful tool” for compensation for contaminated lands – Midwest v. Thordarson, Nov. 2015, http://www.gowlings.com/KnowledgeCentre/article.asp?pubID=4225&lang=0.


The Matson ship Lurline in the Port of Oakland. (Creative Commons photo by Eugene Zelenko)

The shipping and ports industry are essential to the global economy. With over 50,000 merchant vessels and 17 million containers in the world, the world economy would not function without shipping.

Like all large industries, the shipping industry creates a significant impact on the environment. Yet, it seems to be taking its responsibilities in hand and we can sense a change in culture through its various initiatives and efforts. For example, one of the major environmental impacts is the use of bunker fuel, a distillate from the crude oil refinery process, which is highly polluting and remains one of the top environmental issues for the marine transportation industry. As a solution, some vessels are moving towards liquid natural gas propulsion, which will result in substantial reduction in SOx, NOx and GHG emissions. The number of LNG vessels is expected to grow to over 1000 by 2020!

Changes to fuel-type are just one environmental initiative. In 2008, the North American shipping industry and ports came together to form a strategy to improve environmental performance, Green Marine. The program is outlined as follows,

“Green Marine is an environmental certification program for the North American marine industry. It is a voluntary, transparent and inclusive initiative that addresses key environmental issues through its 11 performance indicators. Participants are shipowners, ports, terminals, Seaway corporations and shipyards. The cornerstone of the Green Marine initiative is its far-reaching environmental program, which makes it possible for any marine company operating in Canada or the U.S. to reduce its environmental footprint by undertaking concrete and measurable actions.”

As part of this initiative, the first requirement is to ensure that the shipowners, ports and terminals meet regulatory requirements. The first level of the five level process outlined in Green Marine states, “Does the participant ensure have regulatory monitoring process in place?”. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but must be done efficiently, especially when operating in multiple jurisdictions.

The Green Marine program goes on to outline that participants must demonstrate concrete action concerning regulatory monitoring. The actions can include, but are not limited to

  • A software for regulatory monitoring;
  • Notifications from governments, associations, and standards associations; and
  • Environmental compliance audits.

This could be accomplished with a software service such as Nimonik, but it can also be done in other ways. In short, we are pleased to see that the first step of Green Marine is regulatory compliance and we hope that all of their members will use it as a stepping stone to the more ambitious environmental performance goals outlined in the Green Marine program. This is a promising project for the shipping industry and we hope it takes hold.


Tis the season! With the holiday season in full swing, our focus shifts towards what to offer family and friends and the preparation of delicious food. But we must not let the peppermint lattes and roasted chestnuts distract us from the all too present risks that follow every winter.

We have almost all fallen victim to a slip on the ice or a car that won’t start. These common issues can, at times, lead to serious risks and hazards. The heaviest burden lies upon professionals who work outdoors such as mail carriers, construction workers, electricians, and patrol officers. These occupations have an especially heightened risk of exposure to the dangers of colder temperatures.

For employers and individuals alike, bracing yourself for those four months of snow and ice can be a lengthy and demanding process. Winterizing the home, the car and the office should all be top priorities when gearing up for the cold. For employers, adopting a winter weather policy will be critical for minimizing the occurrence of slips, trips and falls. In addition to avoiding a nasty bruise or a hospital visit, winterizing your environment and being mindful of winter’s unpredictable challenges can significantly reduce costs. A winterized home or office can cut electricity and heating costs, giving you more disposable income to spend on your loved ones over the holidays!

Nimonik has put together a quick and easy winter preparedness checklist to help minimize the common environmental, health and safety (EHS) risks that come with this time of year. You can access the Winter Preparedness Checklist as well as download a trial account of Nimonik to use this checklist on your mobile device here. Just make sure you wear touchscreen winter gloves to avoid frostbite!

By the same token, and in the spirit of Christmas, the Nimonik team has also created a safety checklist for the man with the big white beard, the can-do attitude and the ability to spread joy around the world in a single night: Mr. Claus himself! Click here to access Santa’s Checklist.

On behalf of Nimonik, have a safe and happy holidays.

 


Nimonik is thrilled to announce a new version of Nimonik’s EHS Audit tool for inspections on iPad and iPhone. This new version includes the following feature upgrades:

  • Quickly set audit finding status to red or green;
  • Better control of company template access;
  • Select multiple photos from your photo library and attach to an audit finding;
  • Force your iPad or iPhone to sync data to the server; and
  • other performance improvements and various fixes.

Nimonik is happy to announce the release of version 4.2 of NimonikApp, this release contains a series of new features to improve the management and update of ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 legal registers. Some of the features that help ensure legal and other requirements are up-to-date include:

  • Quickly identify the responsible person and send an email about an important legal update;
  • Link permits and certificates of authorization to activities and sub-activities in your Legal Register;
  • View all of your completed tasks related to updated and new legislation;
  • Richer updates on changes to environmental and health and safety legislation;
  • Link directly to sections of legislation in Canada; and
  • Quickly classify new legislation into existing Activities in your legal register.

As we round the corner on the year, employers looking forward to a productive and safe 2016 should be aware of important changes to OSHA’s enforcement regime that occurred in 2015. Prevention will be more important than ever in the coming year due to new accident reporting requirements that might bring OSHA inspectors to your facility. An increase in complex inspections will likely lead to more thorough examinations into workplace safety. Additionally, fines for non-compliance will rise sharply next year.

OSHA has already initiated roughly 3,000 inspections based on new reporting requirements that came into effect at the start of 2015, as Deputy Director of OSHA’s Enforcement Programs, Patrick Kapust, has stated. OSHA’s revised Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting regulation requires employers to report all employee hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye within 24 hours to OSHA. Nimonik reported about the change in September 2014 here.

As Jon Hyman recounts in his Ohio OSHA Law Blog, once OSHA comes to investigate an accident or injury, inspectors can cite the operation for any non-compliance issue they discover, even if the citation is unrelated to the reported accident.

Employers should also be aware that OSHA intends to conduct a greater number of complex inspections. The Administration has announced that it will be changing the way it strategically plans for inspections by “weighing” complex inspections with “Enforcement Units.” This weighing policy will allow the Administration to plan for more inspections “requiring greater resources — such as those involving musculoskeletal disorders, chemical exposures, workplace violence, and process safety management violations.” Although OSHA has not stated outright that employers can expect more thorough inspections in the future, the implication is clear.

OSHA’s fines for non-compliance are set to rise dramatically. Congress recently passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which included a provision to index fines under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 annually for inflation. OSHA’s fines have been static since 1990, so the coming “catch up,” yet to be officially determined, will likely be nearly an 80% increase on current penalty levels. The current maximum penalty of $7,000 for serious violations could reach approximately $12,500 and the maximum penalty of $70,000 for willful or repeat violations could be set to approximately $125,000. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 orders OSHA to set its new penalties no later than August 1, 2016. More information on the legal background of the new fines is available at Jenner & Block’s law blog here.

An employer’s best strategy to avoid workplace safety and health penalties remains prevention and training, and this is now doubly true. Fortunately, there are many tools to help achieve safety goals and meet compliance requirements. A good place to start is by conducting an internal audit to make sure that facilities meet the standards for OSHA’s top ten most cited violations in 2015. For more thorough internal inspections, Nimonik offers a United States Basic Health and Safety Audit protocol as well as state audit protocols. Nimonik’s mobile auditing platform works on iPhones, iPads or Android devices, and enables auditors to directly mark photographs to explain non-compliance findings, immediately assign responsible persons to address issues, and easily deliver audit reports. Finally, Nimonik’s plain language EHS Legal Updates help employers in diverse industries stay aware of the ever-changing compliance landscape.