“The only constant is change.” While this phrase is something of a cliché, that doesn’t make it any less true—and it is especially true for businesses. While change can be exciting and productive for an organization, it also carries with it a certain amount of risk, and some of this risk is tied directly to environment, health, and safety (EHS) compliance efforts.
A metaphorical storm of change is always on the horizon for EHS managers, and this change approaches from two primary sources: Ever-shifting regulatory requirements as well as organizational change unique to individual businesses. Here are some of the biggest EHS compliance challenges to watch out for and how to manage them.
A Shifting Regulatory Landscape
EHS managers and professionals must be in a perpetual state of vigilance when it comes to compliance planning, as the shifting regulatory landscape presents many challenges. Some estimates put the number of “action-forcing” EHS requirements (i.e., those that may result in a citation or fine) under U.S. federal law at 100,000—with approximately 5,000 of these being revised every year. As if that weren’t enough, businesses must also consider:
- State laws and regulations (there are an estimated 3,000 state exceptions in the U.S. with approximately 1,000 changes per year);
- Management systems such as ISO 45001, which, while not mandatory, can be essential to both your compliance and cultural programs;
- Your own organizational policies; and
- Municipal permitting and/or additional regulation at the local level.
Of course, not every single one of these EHS regulations will apply directly to you and your organization, but this actually adds an additional layer of complexity to management of compliance efforts. Which requirements are your company obligated to meet, and how will this situation change as your organization evolves?
Organizational Changes Demand Due Diligence
In addition to tracking all of these regulatory developments, EHS managers must also be cognizant of all of the changes that are occurring at their individual organization, facility, or job site. Two changes in particular should always be on the EHS department’s radar:
- Business acquisitions. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are huge sources of organizational change throughout the business world. While M&A can provide excellent opportunities for growth, the following are a few considerations for EHS professionals during the course of an M&A.
- Does your new acquisition have any history of noncompliance, citations, or fines with a regulatory agency? If so, what was the root cause, was it addressed, and if it is still a problem, how can you remedy it?
- Do the new products and/or services related to the acquisition entail additional safety hazards or are they tied to regulated industries that may create any compliance complications?
- Beyond compliance, how can you implement corrective and preventive action throughout your newly acquired businesses? Are the safety culture, policies, and procedures of your newly acquired business all in alignment with your parent organization’s culture, policies, and procedures?
- New equipment and/or personnel. The arrival of new equipment and employees may be tied to M&A, but these developments can also happen as a result of your company’s organic growth—as the business succeeds and evolves, so too does its tools and resources. Some important EHS compliance considerations on this front include:
- Machine safety. Does the new equipment introduce any new hazards into the workplace? Do your lockout/tagout procedures need updating? How does it affect any of your other EHS procedures, such as fire safety or waste management?
- EHS training. Does your new hire onboarding include adequate training that will ensure employee safety and health, promote environmental compliance, and maintain a positive safety culture?
- Are the lines of communication open between EHS personnel and employees to ensure transparency and efficiency during the rollout of new required safety programs, training, and hazard analysis across your growing organization?
It’s a lot of due diligence for the EHS function. If your EHS department has a seat at the decision-making table (and hopefully it does!), it’s important to raise these issues before a new acquisition, purchase, or hire is made in order to make the changes as smooth as possible.
But any change, no matter how well-anticipated, is likely to have a few bumps along the way. So how can EHS professionals manage compliance in the midst of this atmosphere?
Weather the Storm of Change with Plan, Do, Check, Act
All of these changes can feel like a storm heading at EHS professionals from all directions. While requirements and change may seem chaotic, a proactive and strategic approach can bring structure and form to a complex situation. One proven method for success amid organizational change is what is described by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) as a plan-do-act-check (PDCA) approach:
- Plan: Recognize an opportunity (or, in this case, a shift in compliance obligations) and plan to make a change to address it.
- Do: Test the planned change by carrying out a small study. In the case of compliance, this could mean testing compliance within a new process by conducting an EHS audit.
- Check: Review your test study, analyze its results, and identify what you’ve learned. Does your planned change adequately address EHS compliance, and will it hold up to scrutiny from regulatory agencies?
- Act: Take action based on what you have learned. If your analysis indicates that your change supports compliance efforts, then implement it! If not, then see where your original approach needs improvement—and start again at step 1 with a modified plan to test.
The PDCA approach is the foundation of Dakota Software’s ProActivity Suite, which makes it easier for companies to achieve and maintain EHS compliance by taking a proactive analytical stance that is driven by a constantly updated library of environment, health, and safety regulations.
Of course, regulatory compliance is only part of the picture. EHS managers and site leaders must also respond to events and incidents at their facilities, analyze patterns, and take decisive action to reduce the likelihood of future events from occurring. By capturing leading indicators from the field, such as safe and unsafe observations and conditions, near misses, and training deficiencies, it is possible to create a cycle of continuous improvement that will help to weather the storm.
It will always be true that the only constant is change. While you can’t predict the weather, with the right management system and supporting technologies, EHS managers can be prepared for whatever changes may come their way.