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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

Are You Noticing These 3 EHS Compliance Red Flags?

Posted by Alex Chamberlain

Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.

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Is your Environmental, Health & Safety department showing signs of distress? Despite your best efforts, compliance management could be creating inefficiencies in your EHS department, resulting in missed deadlines, increased fines, and headaches for everyone on your team. 

We don't want that to happen to you, so we're sharing the top three red flags that most EHS Managers notice right before compliance management becomes an ongoing issue.

Ask yourself: are you noticing any of the following red flags? If you are, follow our tips to avert an EHS compliance tailspin.

1. Your Reporting and Data Collection is Done by Hand

Let's get straight to the point: if you are writing reports by hand, you aren't just doing things the hard way, you are doing them the inefficient way.

Collecting data and writing compliance reports is time-consuming work - and when compliance deadlines start to overlap your EH&S Department is sent spiraling into a time crunch. Compliance tasks start piling up and soon you have to decide which deadlines to meet and which fines to absorb, or how much money you're willing to throw at the problem to get everything done on time. Most EHS Managers recognize this is a lose-lose situation.

The real tragedy here is that most of that labor could be automated, letting your team spend a fraction of the time on compliance reporting and spending the rest of the time on compliance assurance measures to protect your business and your bottom line.

Writing an accurate and reliable compliance report relies on:

A) Having good, raw data, and

B) Knowing which calculations to apply to that data to get the right results.

Both of those elements can be easily handled using an automated system. An automated approach means that raw data from your equipment, chemical inventory, and control devices is diretly sent to your database, where you or any of your EH&S specialists can access and review it. No more chasing down data from chemical vendors, or manually taking readings from equipment.

And once you have that data in place, a reporting tool can easily process it and write it into a compliance report in just a few minutes. All of the necessary calculations can get built in so that writing a compliance report can be as simple as telling your computer which sources and/or emissions to report for and clicking a button.

Here's how you can begin focusing on meaningful compliance tasks with automation:

  • Centralize your data. If all your data for different sources or facilities is stored in different databases, it's more difficult for your staff to find the data they need. If you plan on automating data collection, one centralized database is essential so that you aren't trying to connect a dozen different systems.
  • Get online. A surprising number of businesses still rely on database systems like spreadsheets (see our next Red Flag!) located on someone's hard drive for storing and tracking emissions. At the very least, your databases should be accessible online through a secure shared network. That way your team can get the information they need from any device. When it comes time to automate, your system will need to be able to remotely access that data too.

2. You're Using Spreadsheets or a Bulky Legacy System

Spreadsheets are useful for a lot of tasks... but Compliance Reporting is not one of them

The main problem with them is that you'll end up spending most of your time managing the spreadsheet instead of managing your business. In other words, your EHS staff become spreadsheet specialists instead of environmental experts, and that's not a good use of their talent, skills, or time.

Spreadsheets don't come with the built-in calculations or other functions needed to account for emissions or EHS Compliance. That means you have to manually program the calculations and adjust them everytime a new source or control device is added or upgraded. It becomes an endless cycle.

The other main issue is that spreadsheets make your department vulnerable to the "Gatekeeper Effect" - where the person responsible for building that spreadsheet becomes the only person you can count on to accurately write reports with its data. If that person leaves, becomes ill, or goes on vacation, you can no longer trust that the data in that spreadsheet is producing accurate reports.

The same Gatekeeper Effect can occur if you're using a legacy system that was internally-built years ago. What typically happens when a business decides to build their own custom Compliance Management System is that it fits the compliance needs of the year it was developed perfectly, but never gets updated as compliance needs change over the years. That's because maintaining a compliance management system usually requires a full-time staff of software technicians and compliance specialists - a difficult task unless you're already a software developer.  

Your in-house compliance management system might have worked for you at one time, but today... it's probably not performing how you need it to. Letting go of a legacy system might be one of the hardest choices you'll make as a manager, but an objective analysis usually shows that it's worth it in measurable dollars and hours.

Key corrective actions:

  • Implement Standards for data management. Even if you're still using spreadsheets, make sure that all of your staff are entering data in the same way, in the same place every time.  
  • Start assessing your options. There's no shortage of tools available for tracking EHS performance, and if you're starting to see compliance red flags it's a sign it's time to start investigating your options. But beware those solutions that are just spruced up "EH&S" spreadsheets - they will present the same problems as traditional spreadsheets.

 3. You're Forced to Hire Consultants Just to Keep on Track

One of the most drastic signs that your compliance management is in distress is that you are forced to hire external consultants just to keep your EHS department on track with upcoming deadlines and other projects. If you're using the right tools and allocating your resources properly, the EHS Department should be able to handle tasks in a reasonable amount of time. Certainly, meeting reporting deadlines and managing data should only take a fraction of the department's time.

Relying on consultants to see you through rough patches is, at best, a band aid solution. It might help your EHS team meet deadlines, but they aren't any better equiped for next year. If everything is getting handed to consultants, no one on your team will know exactly where the data they used is stored, or exactly how to process the report next time. It creates a cycle of dependence

And on top of that, it costs more too.

There's nothing wrong with seeking advice or people who can help your EHS department improve - but it should always leave your department better off and more able to handle the next hurdle on its own.

Time to say goodbye to external consultants? Try this:

  • Take a systems approach: the problem isn't your staff, it's the systems and tools that have been implemented for them. What systems do your consultants use? Chances are, there's a similar tool that you can implement in order to cut the consultant fees for the same results. And it's more cost-effective to get a new system in place in the long run.
  • Improve task management and scheduling. If your EHS department is finding that it's always in time-crunch mode, it might be because upcoming regulatory deadlines, internal to-do tasks, and assigned roles aren't being tracked or managed. However, compliance task management can be automated. You can set reminders and notifications to be automatically sent well ahead of time to ensure that compliance tasks are being given the ramp-up time needed.

If you've noticed any of these red flags in your compliance management, remember that it's never too late to start taking the steps that will transform and fully automate your EHS compliance managment so that issues don't become recurring. 

The tips we've provided are a good place to start, and if you're serious about making your EHS department as efficient and cost-effective as possible download your free copy of our Data Automation ebook. You'll learn everything you need to know about putting the essentials of automation to work for you.

 Also, learn about the upcoming GHS transition here:

View Guide on GHS Business Risks & Opportunities

Image courtesy of Rutger van Waveren