Mother Nature Doesn’t Give a Damm

In the beginning God created heaven and earth.  He created all living things.  He created mankind, male and female; instructed them to multiply and subdue the earth and rule over every living creature.  Mankind has vigorously pursued His commands and has indeed populated the earth and subdued all living creatures.  All of this was laid out in Genesis.  However, and unfortunately, nothing was proclaimed on how all this was physically going to work.  Left unspoken were the natural rules/laws that were necessary for general order and rationality to all things.  The overseer and enforcer of these natural rules/laws, I’ll call “Mother Nature”.

mother nature

Mother Nature’s rules/laws encompass what we call science.  An example is the Law of Gravity.  Without gravity there would be no world as we know it. Many others include the basic requirements for life such as oxygen, water, food and shelter.  Reactions between various chemicals, radiation, sound and light plus many other set rules are in place and can’t be altered by man.

On the plus side, Mother Nature is very predictable and consistent.  Imagine a world where Mother Nature arbitrarily changed the rules.  What if Mother Nature changed the Law of Gravity from time to time.  One day you might weigh 500 pounds, the next 50!  Also, any change in gravity would result in major changes of the moon’s orbit as well as rearrange the universe.  There would be no water if Hydrogen and Oxygen would no longer bind.  Examples continually surround us, dictate our every action, and set in place the penalties for any transgression.

defining the boundaries of Mother Nature’s rules

For only the last 100 or so years, Health, Safety and Environmental [HSE] scientists and professionals have been trying to define the boundaries of Mother Nature’s rules.  What’s the maximum angle for a ladder resting against a wall?  What is the safe concentration for a worker exposed to asbestos?  What is the maximum concentration of CO2 we can tolerate in the atmosphere?  Unlike gravity, many of these boundaries are not clear cut.  Due to human variability, they are fuzzy.  Not all workers get an occupational disease at a specific concentration.

Society attempts to define these boundaries via laws, regulations and national standards.  Unfortunately, many of these standards are one or two decades behind the state of knowledge when promulgated.  It’s an unending learning curve and we have a long way to go before the standards catch up.  The gap between today’s standards and where we should be is the area where EHS professionals are the most valuable.

It’s important to remember that Mother Nature is not a political party.  It always amuses me when someone responds to an environmental issue [global warming, etc.] and proclaims that, “We can’t do that because it costs too much.”  Mother Nature doesn’t care how much it costs.  If we don’t do it someone/something, sooner or later, will pay the price. 

HSE professionals have an important role

The HSE professionals have an important role in mitigating these costs.  It’s difficult and many times frustrating because you seldom see the results of your work.  How do you quantify the number of accident-related injuries or occupational diseases your actions have or will prevent?  At some level, the question is unanswerable.  However, history has shown that HSE professionals’ efforts to stay within Mother Nature’s rules have paid off in many areas.  To my knowledge, no new cases of asbestosis have been reported in years.  However, the knowledge and the motivation to follow Mother Nature’s rules is not genetically transferred to the next generation!  Every generation must learn for themselves and we have a responsibility and opportunity to be an educator/facilitator for the next generation.  Our work is never done.

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