Sometimes it just seems like a system or process has been around forever when in fact it’s a relatively recent development. That’s the case with Hazardous Material Management Systems (HMMS).
For almost 30 years, U.S. military branches and various federal agencies have used HMMS to manage the copious amounts of waste produced from their massive hazardous inventories.
HMMS has evolved users over the past three decades, few people know its true origin and the incident that led to its development.
In the late 1990s, a worker at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, was diagnosed with an uncommon form of cancer, one that was typically caused by exposure to materials known to contain carcinogens. An investigation found a hole in the core process of chemical inventory management, issuance and control. A Thought at the time that the use and handling of such materials was regulated by U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration policies to protect contractors and service members, the incidental exposure to those materials was not tightly controlled.
Since it’s inception, HMMS has been more than a software product.”
Further, given the manual processes and often unmanned chemical storage areas at military facilities, it was often too easy for anyone to take a material needed for a task without the assurances that person had been properly trained to handle and use hazardous chemicals while taking measures to eliminate exposure.
In the incident at Hill, the person who had contracted the cancer filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force, claiming his cancer was a direct result of exposure to known carcinogens and that the Air Force had failed to property protect him from exposure to the hazards. While it was widely believed at the time that the person did not work in an area where there were carcinogens or that the tasks he performed included using hazardous materials, the Air Force could not prove that the person had not been exposed to any carcinogens. As a result, the Air Force was required to pay significant damages to the individual to compensate him for his illness.
This incident exposed the need for the development of a basewide system of records for the tracking of hazardous materials, and their associated waste stream. Funded by the Air Force, the mandate was to develop a solution that could allow for a cradle-to-grave tracking of all hazardous materials that covered the purchase authorization, inventory receipt and management, the check in/check out of chemicals to authorized material users, tracking, management of quantities and areas of use, and their subsequent introduction into the waste stream. And HMMS was born.
Since it’s inception, HMMS has been more than a software product. Unique to environmental solutions, HMMS was initially created and today is still managed as a program under a U.S. Defense Department agency.
Today, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is the program management office, and under its leadership and direction, the HMMS solution is constantly evolving at the direction of its users. Sphera provides for the development and support of HMMS, while the DLA coordinates the product roadmap at the advice—and voting prioritization—of its user community.
Vincent Kinsey, Sphera’s vice president of government solutions, has a unique perspective on HMMS and its history. Prior to joining Sphera’s predecessor in 2009, Kinsey was principal investigator with NASA Dryden (now the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center). He also served as a longtime HMMS administrator and leader in the user community.
Kinsey explained, “While working for the safety mission assurance organization, I discovered the monotony of routine can lead to disaster. Constantly being aware of your surrounding is something you learn working daily in a safety culture, and it is through experience people can identify potential problems. We placed a high value on safety and continual improvement to identify opportunities and recommend improvements around product quality, employee communication, work environment, resources and customer satisfaction. HMMS evolved to meet these mission critical challenges.”
As we enter the fourth decade of HMMS, Spherions are constantly thinking about the reason that HMMS exists not only to handle the U.S. government’s chemical and waste inventories needs but also to help ensure the safety of service members, contractors and civilians. They already sacrifice enough for their country, so they shouldn’t have to worry about potentially getting sick just doing their jobs.
Chris Homer formerly served as a Sphera group vice president.