All posts by westward

If we don’t conserve, we’ll be fish out of water

If We Don’t Conserve, We Will Be Fish Out of Water

Up to 60 percent of our bodies are made up of it, and our beautiful blue planet boasts over 70 percent of it—water—without it, we would cease to exist. Even though we live on the water planet, only 3.5 percent is fresh water. That is why it is so important to conserve this vital and life-giving resource.

According to the  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, about 30 percent for outdoor uses, but in places like Texas, that number can skyrocket to 60 percent. Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling to nearly 9 billion gallons per day.

Not only is water a precious natural resource, it is one that comes with a price tag. To reduce your household’s usage, plant native shrubs and vegetation that traditionally do not need a lot of water to thrive. Check out the EPA’s free guide to landscaping tips.

Another way to save water is from Mother Nature. Water harvesting offers an excellent source of high quality water for potable and non-potable use. Unlike groundwater pumping, rainwater harvesting does not use a lot of energy. Generally, rainwater is collected from a house’s roof and filtered into a storage container. One inch of rain can equate to more than 1,000 gallons of water on a 2,000-square-foot roof! You can use the online Texas A&M Rainwater Calculator to estimate how much rainwater you could collect at your house.

Looking for one small change that can make a big impact on reducing your home water usage? Swap out old toilets for new versions. The EPA says toilets are the main culprit of water usage in the home and account for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water consumption. Older toilets can use as much as 6 gallons per flush. By installing new, efficient toilets, you can save nearly 5 gallons per flush that translates to a yearly savings of $110 and 13,000 gallons of water!

By incorporating native plants in your landscape, collecting rainwater, and installing new toilets, we can all reduce our water footprint.

What Makes Fireworks Red, White and Boom?

What Makes Fireworks Red, White and Boom?


Happy Independence Day! Ever wonder how all those wonderful patterns and colors are made?  Rocks.

More specifically, minerals.  Certain kinds of minerals.  Much like painting or sometimes even using crayons, the mixing of minerals and mineral compounds creates additional colors.  For example:

  • Bright Greens – barium
  • Deep reds – strontium
  • Blues – copper
  • Yellows – sodium
  • Brilliant Orange – strontium
  • Silver White – titanium, zirconium and magnesium
  • Purple – copper and strontium

As with colors, certain effects are also created by combining certain minerals.  Each mineral has specific physical characteristics and behaves differently under heat or other conditions.  Iron fillings and some charcoals make gold colored sparks when subjected to heat.  Magnalium (magnesium-aluminum alloy) can produce a small series of tiny silvery-white flashes.  Larger chunks, like granules or flakes, make the effect last longer.

Fireworks were discovered in ancient China.  The understanding and know-how of fireworks has progressed tremendously over the centuries.  Although fireworks are an absolute wonder to watch and sometimes use, safety first must be the requirement.  Some of those flash effects we just discussed?  The temperature at which some of those reactions occur can be in excess of 700 degrees.  Some of the most costly accidents, in terms of life, occur in firework factories.

Just like most everything else in our everyday lives, we couldn’t have fireworks without mining.  Having said that, what is there in our everyday lives that does NOT come from mining?

Firework Safety Tips

Firework Safety Tips

In 2017, eight people died and over 12,000 were injured badly enough to require medical treatment after fireworks-related incidents. Of these, 50% of the injuries were to children and young adults under age 20.

Over two-thirds (67%) of injuries took place from June 16 to July 16.

An estimated 1,200 injuries were from less powerful devices like small firecrackers and sparklers. Additionally, fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires each year, including 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires and nearly 17,000 other fires.

If You Choose to Use Legal Fireworks

  • Never allow young children to handle fireworks
  • Older children should use them only under close adult supervision
  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol
  • Anyone using fireworks or standing nearby should wear protective eyewear
  • Never hold lighted fireworks in your hands
  • Never light them indoors
  • Only use them away from people, houses and flammable material
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person
  • Only light one device at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting
  • Never ignite devices in a container
  • Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks
  • Soak both spent and unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby to fully extinguish fireworks that don’t go off or in case of fire
  • Never use illegal fireworks

Sparklers can be Dangerous

Every year, young children can be found along parade routes and at festivals with sparklers in hand, but sparklers are a lot more dangerous than most people think.

Sparklers burn at about 2,000 degrees – hot enough to melt some metals. Sparklers can quickly ignite clothing, and children have received severe burns from dropping sparklers on their feet. According to the National Fire Protection Association, sparklers alone account for more than 25% of emergency room visits for fireworks injuries. For children under 5 years of age, sparklers accounted for nearly half of the total estimated injuries.

Stay Safe Everyone!


Summer Heat Safety

Stay Safe & Cool This Summer!

As summer temperatures spike, it’s more important than ever to stay cool on the job. OSHA emphasizes three key words during summer: water, rest, and shade. Here are some OSHA-approved tips for how to stay cool in hot weather while working outside:

  • Water is not an option—workers should consume at least 8-15 ounces of cool water every 20 minutes and avoid energy and caffeinated drinks. OSHA suggests drinking about a quart an hour.
  • Avoid frequent in and out actions of air-conditioned environments. That said, if you feel overheated, take a break and look for shade or A/C to stabilize your core temperature and revitalize your body.
  • Wear light colored, loose-fitting clothing that wicks away sweat and heat from the body while blocking harmful UV rays. Check out cooling apparel – vests filled with liquid designed to stay cool and are stored in a freezer or hard hats with cooling systems built in. Or you can go old-school by using wet bandanas from the freezer. Keep a few in your ice chest on the job site and rotate them throughout the day.
  • Adjust the construction schedule. Strenuous and hotter jobs should be scheduled in early mornings or late evenings.
  • Many Texans and those in warmer climates have high heat tolerances, but it is best to know what the heat index is to protect yourself and your team. Download OSHA’s app at: to monitor heat indexes and give reminders about protective actions to take.

Respirable Crystalline Silica: Establish and Implement a Written Exposure Control Plan (ECP)

Respirable Crystalline Silica: Establish and Implement a Written Exposure Control Plan (ECP)

It has almost been one year since OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) began enforcement of its final rule regarding Crystalline Silica Exposure (June 23, 2018). As stated in an article that ran in Texas Asphalt Pavement Association‘s (TXAPA) publication, Texas Asphalt Magazine, this ruling has implications for general industry, maritime, and construction. Westward Environmental’s Bob Huddleston and Natalie Pless paint a picture of why crystalline silica can be a stealthy health risk if not properly and proactively addressed.

This article is to help employers establish and implement a written control plan that identifies tasks involving silica exposure and methods to ensure workers are protected. Each component of the plan needs to ensure compliance and must follow state and federal regulations.

The standards set a new Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (50.0μg/m3) as an 8-hour Time-Weighted Average (TWA) and an Action Level (AL) of 25μg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA. Employers must assess the 8-hour TWA exposure for each employee who is or may reasonably be expected to be exposed to respirable crystalline silica and ensure no employee is exposed above the AL. If employee exposures are above, or may under foreseeable conditions be above, the AL the standard requires the employer to establish and implement a written Exposure Control Plan (ECP). Not covered under the standards are tasks and operations where exposures will be below the AL “under any foreseeable conditions.”

An ECP for construction, maritime, or general industry, must contain, at a minimum, the following elements:

  • A description of the tasks in the workplace that involve exposure to respirable silica. The plan must identify all tasks that could possibly result in any exposure to silica. The description should also include any workplace factors that may affect the potential for exposure for each task. For example, it could describe the types or amount of silica contained in any materials used in the task; if weather conditions could affect exposure levels, or the location of each task (indoors, outdoors, etc.), and the type of equipment used to perform the task. The detail used to describe a specific task can be minimal but using a generally broad term to describe a task as “construction” or “demolition” will not be enough detail to pass as a description.
  • Engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protection used to limit employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica for each task. The silica standards include requirements for the use of engineering controls and workplace practices to keep exposure levels at or below the new PEL. Employers may not rely on respirators as the only means of controlling employees’ exposure. Employers must make efforts to keep silica out of the air, and these efforts must be described in the ECP.

For each task that could involve silica exposure, the plan should describe the engineering controls the employer uses to minimize or eliminate silica exposure. Controls may include ventilation and vacuuming systems, isolation, processes for watering down workplace operations, and any other means of keeping silica out of the air. The plan should also include effective work practices for using these control systems, such as instructions for operating the dust controls on a certain piece of equipment used to perform the task, schedules for conducting maintenance checks, and specifications for any required respiratory protection.

  • Housekeeping measures used to limit employee exposure. Housekeeping requirements only apply where cleaning “could contribute to employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica.” In the housekeeping section employers must describe cleaning methods that are acceptable, cleaning methods that are unacceptable, and special instructions that may be necessary to limit exposure to silica while employees perform housekeeping tasks. Specifically, employers should include descriptions of:
  • Cleaning methods the employer permits and prohibits to minimize the generation of airborne silica. Activities, such as dry sweeping, dry brushing and using compressed air, are generally prohibited in areas where they may generate airborne silica. The silica rules require employers to wet sweeping or use filtered vacuuming and other appropriate cleaning methods. The rule does provide some flexibility and the employer may use otherwise prohibited dry methods where no other feasible methods are available;
  • Special instructions for cleaning methods (for example, using local exhaust ventilation if compressed air must be used);
  • Hygiene-related subjects (such as not using compressed air to clean clothing) could also be addressed in this section; and
  • Whether employees must wear a respirator or take any other special precautions while performing a particular housekeeping method.

When there is a change in production, process, control equipment, personnel or work practices, a reassessment of exposures is required. To learn more about silica exposure, visit: