Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Investigation-derived waste

I haven't had any field rants recently, so I spent a couple minutes brainstorming, and I realized: I haven't complained about investigation-derived waste (IDW), one of my biggest management headaches! How did that happen?

So. When we do an environmental investigation, we are poking around for sample material - anything from scratching the surface with a trowel to drilling boreholes hundreds of feet deep to install monitoring wells. Inevitably, we will end up with stuff that came out of the ground which may be contaminated. Depending on the jurisdiction and the level of contamination (and how much we know about the site already), we may be able to discharge water to the ground surface or dump the soil back in the hole we got it from. We may not. So it gets put into drums or stockpiles or tanks for characterization and disposal.

The real problem is with the smaller sites, which have much less room for this stuff and aren't on any contractors' priority list because of the small volume involved. For smaller jobs, you wait until the end of the field project, so that you aren't generating more stuff after characterization. So you try to arrange the characterization (sampling for disposal), get it all approved with the client and the regulatory regime and the disposal place, and try and get someone with signing authority who will be available at the same time as the transport/disposal people. By the time all these pieces are in place,  the IDW has been sitting quietly in a corner with nobody around to keep an eye on it, because all the active work has finished. And inevitably, neither the signing person nor the transport/disposal contractor have been to the IDW storage area before, and there will be some sort of access or technical problem (the drums froze overnight! The ground thawed and the drums disappeared into a frost heave! A fleet of trucks is parked in front of the drums! Something got mislabeled and your drum count is wrong!) that causes everything to grind to a halt.

I have had more headaches with trying to get IDW properly staged for disposal, approved, and carted off site than with any other phase of an investigation.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

accidental remediation on the web

I occasionally trawl through the web to see what (if anything) is being said about this blog. It's always interesting to see what pops up in searches. There are a bunch of blog aggregators (like this one or this one) that include accidental remediation, but those aren't unexpected.

A few highlights:

A UK-based operation has determined that this blog is worth £302.34 (down from a peak of almost £400 a while ago - a consequence of my recent hiatus, I guess) and is about airborne hazards and driving.

I got props on my writing from someone who liked the word "thwack!"

I picked up a banned books meme from En Tequila Es Verdad and somehow ended up in a compilation of blog posts about Ray Bradbury's Farenheight 451.

I was mistaken for a man.

I was recognized as a female STEM blogger.

I got onto a blog aggregator for "toe boots". Maybe I need to stop talking about my feet.

Fellow bloggers, have you gone down the rabbit hole and found your blog cited in some unexpected places?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

field branding

If you are are in the environmental biz, how important is it for you to wear "branded" field clothing?

This has varied considerably in my experience. I've worked at places where all of your PPE (personal protective equipment) had to have the correct logo, but nothing else mattered; places where essentially all of your clothing and PPE had to have the logo; and places where not only did management not shell out for branded stuff, but if you somehow acquired and wore something with the organization's logo, you were looked down on as sort of a management shill.

Most of my skilled labor contractors (excavation/construction, drillers, waste disposal) wear all company-branded stuff all the time: hard hat, safety vest, shirts (from button-downs to summer t-shirts to sweatshirts) and jackets. Most of the consultants I know will have the logo on at least safety vests, because they're generally cheap, interchangeable, and easy to put a logo on. Many of the specialty firms I've worked with don't seem to have any branded stuff.

Using company-branded stuff is convenient if it means that you don't have to buy/maintain stuff that you wouldn't otherwise wear. But the problem is when you're not a standard size, or you need stuff with better performance than whatever is being handed out. For example, I'll happily wear the corporate t-shirts. But when you're a lady with short arms and you need some more technical gear for cold/rain/strenuous activity, getting corporate stuff that actually fits is a bit of a crapshoot. When I have worked for institutions that required logos for all field gear, I did what I could. But once the weather became beastly, all bets were off. I wasn't going to get hypothermia over a logo.

Friday, October 14, 2016

some pruning and an addition

It's been more than a year since my last blogroll update.

First, the deletions:

Geokittehs apparently went private at some point when I wasn't looking.

Research at a snails pace refocused a bit and moved here, but the last post was more than a year ago.

Adventures in ethics and science last posted more than two years ago and now doesn't play well with my computer browser.

And one addition:

I was sad to see lovely listing go a few years back, but McMansion Hell has taken up the cause of pointing out horrible houses (and with architectural justification!).

Feel free to suggest new reasonably frequently updated, non-commercial blogs - preferably ones somewhat related to geology, fieldwork, or the environmental biz!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

dear sirs

It is the year 2016. You cannot assume in your business correspondence that any and all respondents are male.

If you have a vending or contracting relationship with a business, and your business contact is a female person, and you would like to continue to have a business relationship in which she arranges to pay you on a regular basis, it would behoove you not to address that person as "Dear Sirs" on your submittals.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Another inconvenient death.

I recently mentioned that I had a bunch of stories in my back pocket that were aging so that they wouldn't be quite as fresh in the memories of others. This is one of them.

A long time ago, I wrote about inconvenient deaths and fieldwork.

Sometimes life happens and you wriggle out of what you were doing to take care of it. Sometimes life happens and it's not that easy.

When my favorite person died, I was in the field. I couldn't just drop everything and go, because we were in the middle of nowhere and there was one truck. I may have tried to make other arrangements, but we only had one day left (I got the phone call at night after I got back from the hotel), so we were checking out anyway.

So there I was, trapped with a bunch of balky equipment and a long day in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of coworkers, and all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there and go home. But the best way to get out was to finish the job. I asked my coworkers to ignore me as much as possible, took the sampling locations that were as far as possible away from other people/bystanders, and spent the entire day snuffling over the equipment. I was a wreck. Part of my distress was that I'd realized that I'd been somewhat cavalier about going back for visits, because I didn't think that GF could go downhill that quickly after being sick and then mostly better for so long. 

We'd had a short week, so I had office work planned for the day after we got back. That following morning, I showed up in all black, announced that I was leaving for a wake that afternoon in x state, and hit the road without giving anybody at work a chance to do anything about it. I pretty much cried the entire way there. But I did make the afternoon wake.

The whole episode - the death, the fieldwork, the run back for the wake - crystallized for me the realization that I did have limits, that I wasn't going to sacrifice my most important relationships for a job, even during a lousy local recession. After the funeral, I took a hard look at what I was doing, my finances, and where I wanted to be in life. And I made some pretty drastic changes (not at once, but over a couple of years) to get back to a work/life balance I could live with. It's been working out so far.

Monday, October 3, 2016

tablet redux

I was looking back through my paltry list of blog posts this year, and the post on smartphones reminded me of this post regarding tablet usage in the field.

It's amazing what a difference a few years makes.

Environmental consulting always seems to run on tiny margins. I've worked for multiple organizations, and I've never had access to the newest and shiniest things. We only get technology if we can make a strong business case for it, and often it seems to be that a business case is "geez, it seems like everyone else has it, and now the clients expect it." I wasn't surprised to see that the exploration folks were using tablets before us.

But by now, all of the field people I know either have their own tablets assigned, or have access to a generous pool of them. Tablets are cheap, durable, and small enough that they can replace most paper forms and ancillary equipment, and it's becoming much easier to input data (photographs, field notes, calculations) or to have our instruments log data and send to our tablets automatically. Once collected, that data can be sent  back to the field team leader so that the investigation is managed in real time - far easier and less time-consuming than poring over a pile of papers after the field staff have finished for the day. If a piece of equipment is misbehaving or we're getting strange results, it's easy to send data or photos/videos immediately, so that the project technical/management folks can adjust the project as needed.

I don't see the fundamental activities of fieldwork changing with technology, though. Regardless of how much we automate, there are certain tasks inherent to fieldwork: sending out people to troubleshoot, collect samples, shoo away destructive wildlife/curious passerby, and observe details that would be otherwise missed. And there are tasks inherent to keeping staff safe, accounted for, and working toward the correct goal. Regardless of how we collect data, we'll still need to meet and coordinate in a shared space regularly to make sure that the project is on track, that project roles are understood, and that everyone is ok.