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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

Assured Compliance Management: Principles of Efficient Compliance

Posted by Alex Chamberlain

Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.

whiteboardThe success of your compliance management style is measured along two lines:

  • Is compliance demonstrated on time?
  • Are your management practices producing results within or under budget?

Regardless of whether you are an EHS Manager in charge of overseeing an entire EHS department, or a compliance expert in charge of ensuring compiance for a certain set of facilities or outputs, you're looking to not only stay in compliance but do it in a shorter amount of time, at less cost, and ultimately with less stress.

What your looking to achieve is compliance assurance - confidence that your compliance tasks will always be met on time and effectively. 

And the way to achieve compliance assurance is by having a Compliance Management System in place. We're talking about an organized set of standards and practices, merged with technology your compliance team uses to get things done. Many businesses, for example, have set themselves up with spreadsheets for tracking and creating compliance reports (not always a great idea. Read why here) - that's a very basic form of Compliance Management System.

Some businesses, recognizing that a Compliance Management System is essential, go so far as to design and develop complex in-house software solutions. However, if you aren't familiar with the principles of efficient compliance then building and maintaining an in-house system becomes more of a burden than a help. That's why most businesses choose to use a third-party solution from developers with decades of experience in compliance systems and technology

If you understand and obey the following principles your Compliance Management System could become your new secret weapon. 

Automated Data Collection from Sites and Vendors

If there's one concept that's repeated over and over again in these principles of efficient compliance, it's automation. The more you can make your system handle time-consuming tasks like data collection, the faster and easier your compliance will be. If there's one thing your compliance management system must do, it's automate your work.

And since the foundation of all your compliance reporting and tracking is emissions and material data for your sites and sources, automating EHS data collection should be your first goal. 

There's several methods to do this, and the more you implement, the better:

  • This step is essential: centralize your EHS database. Automating and connecting dozens of separate systems is simply unfeasible, unhelpful from a human perspective, and will cause slow runtimes. Compared to many databases for air emissions, chemical data, and other EHS metrics, a single, standarized database that everyone understands the rules for is superior. 
  • Connect your system to Continuous Emissions Monitoring (CEM) and Continuous Parametric Monitoring (CPM) devices (this will require that your system can read and "understand" the digital outputs of these types of technologies).
  • Collect data directly from your chemical vendors and add them to your chemical inventory database without requiring a team member to manually type in data. This typically requires a secure online portal and shared database system between your vendors and your EHS department. At the very least, you should develop a shared template for communicating chemical data.
  • Create a secure network for your EHS department and sites. Get all your sources, sites, andemployees on the same page - and give them the ability to access what they need from any site through your network. An EHS compliance management system accessible only through one manager's desktop creates bottlenecks, and puts all the responsibility on one person. A more advanced Compliance Management System will be able to create different levels of access to protect your data while still keeping things centralized.

Smart Reports that do the Work for You

Compliance reporting is another EHS task that typically follows a repeatable series of steps and procedures, and can be automated by programming those procedures into a Compliance Management System. After all, your regulators have written regulatory requirements so that they follow standardized rules for each industry, and there's a rule for every scenario - that means these rules can be converted into programming language.

Automating your reporting with a Compliance Management System delivers multiple benefits, all of which keep your EHS department under budget, and meeting targets in a fraction of the time:

  • When report authoring is automated and handled by an electronic Compliance Management System, it can be complete in just a few minutes. All that's left for you to do is review and sign it. 
  • Reports can be schedule to auto-complete themselves, so that you can have the finished report in hand the moment you want it. Say goodbybe to late reports or last-minute reporting under a tight deadline.
  • Reports generated in outputs that are compatible with e-reporting tools from your regulators - use your own compliance management system to report instead of having to master a dozen different systems. Upload to your regulators' online tools in simple steps, saving time for more meaningful tasks.
  • Less labor hours required per report - that time goes to profit-creating projects instead. 
  • Ability to create Smart Reports that can roll-up your data any way you might need it, externally and internally, in just a few minutes. Break down your entire business' EHS metrics by source, by facility, by vendor, by emission type, by cost center... you're only limited by what you can program (or what your Compliance Management System provider develops for you).

Smart reporting that takes care of itself can cut down your annual reporting time by over 80%, which translates to a huge reduction to your operating costs and increase in time available for sustainability projects and other inititatives.

Creating smart reporting capabilities in your Compliance Management System requires insider knowledge into both compliance reporting and programming. And full-time experts dedicated to monitoring reporting requirement changes and to maintaining the program. If you don't have constant maintainence of both, the system you build will only be useful until the next regulation change (even a small adjustment will require a program change). For those reasons, most businesses looking for a Compliance Management System choose to implement a solution from a provider with experience in both that already have a proven system - it saves them having to create an entire new division of software programmers and removes the burden of constant software maintainence.   

Automate Task Management

Assured Compliance also means that your department runs efficiently, with everyone knowing their role and deadlines. Even if your reports and data collection are both automated, there's a human element that is essential to all your compliance management tasks.

Task management, like assigning tasks, getting reminders about deadlines, scheduling safety audits, answering questionnaires, and following-up on tasks all form the backbone of this human element of compliance - and all of them can be automated to a certain extent using a Compliance Management System.

If employee contact information is stored within your centralized database, you can auto-schedule the Compliance Management System to send email reminders about upcoming tasks to responsible parties, as well as notifications to managerial staff so they can verify that tasks have been assigned.  

You can also use your Compliance Management System to deliver, complete, and submit compliance documents like questionnaires, audit findings, and process safety management maps. All these documents,along with compliance reports and permits, should be stored in your centralized database for at least 5 years.

Track Data History for Transparency

Whenever data moves in or out out of your centralized database, or an employee completes a compliance task, it's important that your Compliance Management System tracks when it was completed, who was responsible, and where the data originally came from. 

At the most basic level, this capacity is essential for basic operational transparency and accountability in your employees. Part of executive decision making is the ability to see who is meeting targets and where data originates from. 

But above and beyond that, building in automated data tracking and audit trails provides other benefits:

  • Knowing where data originates from (whether that's a piece of equipment or a vendor) helps you troubleshoot at the source of any issues. You'll know if a vendor is sending you incorrect data or if a particular source stops working properly just by looking at your database.
  • Increased transparency in the EHS department increases brand value and customer appeal. It will also improve the department's standing within the business as a whole.
  • Audits from your regulators will be completed in less time and will require less work for your department overall. Nothing impresses an auditor more than being able to provide verified data in an instant to prove your compliance is on track.

Achieving Assured Compliance 

The four principles outlined above form the foundation for Assured Compliance - a state of EHS success in which you're confident that your compliance needs are accounted for. 

But implementing these priniciples in your EHS department requires a systematic approach: a Compliance Management System that ties all four together and makes them physical processes.

Most businesses attempt to cobble something like a Compliance Management System out of spreadsheets,or perhaps take on the monumental challenge of building a maintaining an in-house legacy system. However, the emerging trend among businesses that understand the bottom-line value of EHS are turning to providers that specialize in Compliance Management Systems.

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Image credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg