Environment, health, and safety (EHS) managers know that theirs is a profession of constant change. EHS is founded on a cycle of continuous improvement, and moving beyond compliance is a perpetual goal towards which to strive. However, EHS should expect a greater than usual level of regulatory change in the coming months and years—and it’s imperative that we prepare accordingly.
Regulatory agencies and leaders in government, as well as company shareholders, executives, employees, and the general public, are prioritizing environment, health, and safety considerations more now than any other time in recent memory. This added interest and increased valuation of the issues associated with EHS will spark relatively quick action.
Here’s an overview of what might be expected and how EHS can take proactive steps to not just survive but thrive amid a choppy sea of fast-paced changes.
Change Is Not a Matter of ‘If,’ but ‘When’
The Biden administration is pursuing aggressive regulatory change and stronger enforcement related to matters of safety and the environment, as well as more well-defined standards regarding environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures. Here are a few of the actions that signal these changes are on the way:
- Executive Orders have directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to protect worker health and safety during COVID-19 and also addressed climate change.
- On the environmental side, the confirmation of EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, followed recently by the EPA rescinding rulemaking related to guidance documents as well as the Benefit-Cost Rule, indicate a preparation to either roll out new regulations or reinstate repealed ones.
- On the health and safety side, the nomination of Doug Parker to lead OSHA in the wake of an embarrassing report faulting OSHA for reduced inspections during the COVID-19 pandemic likely will result in increased workplace safety vigilance and associated enforcement.
- On March 4, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced the creation of a Climate and ESG Task Force in the Division of Enforcement, one of several actions taken in the first quarter of 2021 to update its requirements related to ESG disclosures.
The foundation for change has clearly been laid, making new EHS compliance challenges not a matter of if … but when.
No Excuse to Be Caught Off Guard
With this new landscape clearly visible on the horizon, now is not the time for EHS to take a “wait and see” approach. Instead, professionals and managers must take steps to ensure that they are prepared to track and keep pace with regulatory change.
Another reason that there is no excuse to be caught off guard is that while this latest push for EHS regulatory change addresses new challenges, it is not wholly unprecedented—and time-tested strategies continue to help ensure compliance success. A 2017 report from the National Association of Environmental Management (NAEM) provides insight into such key strategies, including the following five:
- Rely on relevant expertise.
- Tap into technology.
- Leverage staff capacity to manage risks.
- Establish strong internal standards.
- Demonstrate proactive leadership.
This proactive leadership requires EHS managers to ensure they are aware of recent changes, both enacted and proposed, as well as the actions they must take to satisfy their regulatory obligations. The same NAEM report outlines five important skills required for effective tracking of emerging EHS regulations:
- The ability to analyze and understand complex technical problems;
- Thinking strategically to identify the ramifications of a new or proposed regulation;
- Interacting comfortably with employees at all levels of an organization;
- The confidence to make sound, defensible decisions, often on short notice; and
- The ability to communicate clearly and frequently with both technical and non-technical personnel.
Naturally, it is more cost-effective to develop these skills with in-house EHS personnel rather than relying on third-party consultants. However, even the most skilled EHS manager still needs the right tools in order to stay informed.
Stay Informed and Compliant Amid Complexity
Amid regulatory change, staying informed can be a complex process, but the benefits are very much worth the effort. For example:
- Effective compliance management can help avoid fines and penalties. Of course, effective EHS compliance management goes far beyond avoiding the negative consequences of enforcement. But every asset that contributes to the bottom line helps an organization—and also helps gain buy-in from executive management.
- Strong compliance programs create a foundation for operational success. EHS teams can play a key role in positioning their companies to better achieve their growth goals while staying in alignment with ESG goals.
- If you’re prepared for external enforcement, you’re prepared for internal policy. Along with regulatory change tracking, companies must ensure that internal policies are being updated in accordance with federal, state, and local compliance. This in turn ensures that organizations have processes in place to ensure that audit protocols are up-to-date and employee training meets current standards.
Technology can assist in the pursuit of all of these goals. Dakota Software’s compliance management products feature a library of EHS requirements that are constantly updated by our in-house team of experts. This includes in-product regulatory notifications as well as facility-specific Regulatory Alert e-mails.
To help the global EHS community prepare for the coming changes, we’ve recently made these e-mail alerts available to all EHS professionals, and you can sign up here. Each Regulatory Alert e-mail provides a plain-language summary of the latest proposed rules, final rules, and other changes that may require action on your part, a list of affected standards, and hyperlinks to the full-text regulations to provide additional context.
While this regulatory guidance is most useful when integrated with EHS compliance planning and assessment tools, we hope that it will also help EHS professionals prepare for inevitable regulatory changes.
What Good Is a Library Without Books?
An EHS management system that requires you to manually track regulatory developments is like a library without books … a costly library without books. Manual tracking processes are woefully inefficient, and compliance is far more difficult to maintain if all of your organization’s facilities are approaching it differently. Therefore, companies looking to create a strong foundation of compliance must centralize regulatory tracking and documentation—and Dakota Software has been helping companies address these exact challenges for more than 30 years.
Our EHS compliance solution is a unique combination of software and curated regulatory content, where EHS regulatory alerts accompany the high-quality regulatory content that fuels our EHS compliance planning and audit management software. Please let us know if we can help you and your organization with your EHS compliance needs and request a demo today!