August Mack Newsletter | July, 2018

Solutions to the Environmental Sword of Damocles: EHS Audits and the eCAP Program.
by Shawn Woll

What is the environmental sword of Damocles? Roman philosopher Cicero popularized this ancient saying “sword of Damocles” in his book “Tusculan Disputations” written in 45 BC. The story centers on the tyrant king Dionysius II, who ruled over the Sicilian city of Syracuse during the 4th and 5th centuries BC. Dionysius II was powerful, wealthy, and above all else very unhappy with his life. During his reign he acquired many enemies and lived in constant fear of assassination.

One day Dionysius II’s frustrations came to a head when a courtier, Damocles, lavished the king’s lifestyle. Outraged, the king told Damocles that if he liked the lifestyles so much he may have it. Damocles was seated on a golden couch, servants fed him the finest meats, and he was graced with the finest ointments and oils. However, above Damocles head hung a razor sharp sword suspended only by a single horse hair. While the lifestyle was lavish, the constant fear of the sword prevented Damocles from enjoying it. After a short time, Damocles was pleading with the king to return to his old lifestyle.

Today, when we refer to the sword of Damocles we are referring to a situation that is precarious and can have grave consequences. The environmental sword of Damocles is a situation where environmental impacts can have major consequences such as human health impact and regulatory violations leading to financial and reputational damages. Unfortunately, too many organizations do not realize, until too late, that the sword of Damocles was hanging above their heads the whole time.

If we recognize some warning signs we may be able to sheath this metaphorical sword. How do we know if the sword may be above head? Answers to the following questions can shed some light. Are you or whomever is in charge of EHS an environmental professional with a background in EHS? Are you more competent in environmental than health and safety or vice versa? Do you understand the OSHA, EPA or state regulations? Are you overwhelmed by the regulations? Are you wearing too many hats and cannot focus on EHS? Does your organization have an EHS culture? Have you addressed passed violations or audit findings or employee complaints?  Have you missed permit deadlines? Have you read your permits or plans? Can you find your permits and plans?

The answers to the above questions may start to shine a light on problems that may need remedies. However, you may work at a facility with a full EHS staff, running at full efficiency. There is no way that the sword is above our head, right? That may not be the case. Ask yourself, when was the last time that you walked the floor to make sure those plans and permits you labored over are being implemented? Are you sure that no new regulations have come up? Have there been changes to operations you were never informed about? Does everyone know exactly what they are to be doing? Are they doing it? Is there a plan for succession if you were to leave or retire? Is every plant location under your responsibility following EHS guidelines, permits, and plans?

If the answers to the above questions have left you peeking skyward to see if you can spot the sword above your head, have no fear. There are solutions to the problem and the first, and hardest, step is out of the way: seeing that there may be some area that need improvements. The next steps would be to do a full-scale EHS audit of your facility. After the audit, you can then address the areas of concern. August Mack’s eCAP program is specifically designed to help in some of these situations. 

Shawn Woll is the Business Development Representative for August Mack Environmental, Inc. in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania office. He has industry experience in geologic field services, sustainability, and, design and installation of renewable energy systems. Shawn heads the business development in the Pennsylvania office focusing on compliance, transaction, and eCAP clients. Shawn earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Geoscience from The Pennsylvania State University. Shawn can be reached at 717.399.9587 ext. 227 or via email at

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