Environment / Safety / Technology Enabled Business Solutions
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Companies committed to environmental, health, and safety (EHS) compliance face a complicated array of federal, state, and local regulations that may vary by industry sector, facility size, setting, and location. Technical EHS compliance has undergone significant changes over the last several of years—and more is likely to come in the foreseeable future. The evolving EHS landscape presents some significant challenges that companies must address to remain in compliance.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted EHS, as it has other operations. There are probably few organizations that have not implemented operational changes on some level to respond to the pandemic—whether that has involved more remote working situations for staff, increased or decreased production, or updated travel and health and safety guidelines.
Changes such as these have had a cascading impact on the way organizations and EHS operations work. With more staff working from various and often remote locations, Cloud-based access EHS and facility documents, records, and shared applications has become essential. Employees need access to everything regardless of location. Along the same line, virtual monitoring methods have also become a necessity. With new guidelines for travel and who may be allowed in a facility, in-person monitoring, assessing, and auditing to meet EHS compliance requirements may not be possible for some facilities.
After over a year of adjusting to a new way of operating through the pandemic, resuming “normal” operations can present additional challenges. Workplace culture has undoubtedly changed. Defining what the culture is as individuals may (or may not) return to the work environmental will requirement management of change and, likely, training. It is important for organizations to address workplace changes and expectations and to evaluate new ways of doing business.
EHS department understaffing has long been reported as an issue. In a 2016 study done by Triumvirate, 72% of companies reported EHS understaffing. Many organizations do not have dedicated EHS resources, and many EHS departments often consist of one individual who fulfills multiple roles. Internal resource growth as operations resume is questionable, as EHS expertise can be expensive. This presents an even bigger issue with many experienced workers—often those with the facility EHS background—electing not to return to the workplace full time. This is an area where EHS compliance efficiency and tracking tools are becoming essential to allow companies to do more with fewer resources.
Not surprisingly, EHS regulations—climate change, air, waste, water—are undergoing seismic shifts with the new Administration taking office. Some of these notable changes include the following:
- Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) new Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule
- Major Lautenberg Law Amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
- Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB’s) new Chemical Release Reporting Rule
- Latest Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements for facilities
On top of this, the differences between state and federal regulations are growing in many states. Organizations need to understand what requirements are applicable and what must be done to maintain compliance at all levels.
From 2017-2020, the U.S. experienced the lowest number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections in over 10 years—including fewer complex investigations. In this same period, the Agency also has had the fewest OSHA inspectors conducting inspections in 40 years.
Not surprisingly, COVID has stalled many enforcement activities and court cases. However, despite COVID, EPA issued approximately $3 million in fines in Q3 of 2020:
- > $1.5 million Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
- > $1 million in Clean Air Act (CAA)
- > $0.5 million in Clean Water Act (CWA)
With the new Administration and resumed business activities, the frequency of comprehensive multimedia environmental inspections appears to be increasing. EHS regulatory enforcement is regaining momentum and likely will continue over the next few years.
Facing the Challenges
Achieving and maintaining EHS compliance requires great management and expertise to ensure all aspects of a company’s technical compliance have been identified and are being actively managed. A management system can provide the organizing framework to enable organizations to achieve and sustain their operational and business objectives through a process of continuous improvement. Information technology (IT) can further help to carry out daily tasks, connect staff, manage operations—and play a vital role in managing compliance requirements.
A compliance information management system brings IT and management systems together to coordinate, organize, control, analyze, and visualize information in such a way that helps organizations remain in compliance and operate efficiently. A system like this will help provide operational flexibility, generate business improvement, and prepare organizations to address these and other EHS compliance challenges that will continue to surface.