Tips for Tracking EHS Legislation

Sep 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Environmental Management

Tracking environmental, health and safety (EHS) legislation as part of a company’s management system is hugely time-consuming because law-making powers for EHS are shared between federal and state or provincial governments. What’s more, governments in each jurisdiction want to build their respective EHS regulatory frameworks in a way that suits their specific industrial profile. Inevitably, this tends to produce a complex and often confusing patchwork of regulations. It comes as no surprise then that one of the most common findings during EHS management system audits is a company’s shortcomings related to monitoring EHS legislation.

That’s why most companies, especially those with operations in multiple jurisdictions, rely on consultants and lawyers to fill them in on the confusing patchwork of applicable laws, regulations, workplace standards, permits and best practices.

Typically, these consultants and lawyers will be tasked with creating or updating a company’s legal register of potentially applicable rules and regulations, all with a view to helping the company meet the requirements of management system standards such as ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001, as well as procurement requirements of influential clients or internal corporate standards. The imperative for getting this done often coincides with preparations for an upcoming certification or audit, at great expense to the company.

The trouble is that few certified companies keep their registers up to date beyond a few months. Depending on where the company operates, however, there could easily be up to two or three EHS changes or notices issued by the government per week. Before long it’s audit time, and the EHS manager will be calling up the lawyers to refresh the legal register again.

Improving Legal Registers

Legal registers are essentially lists of laws and regulations that apply to a business or an individual facility. Traditionally, these were prepared by hand, but now technology allows legal registers to be delivered more cheaply, efficiently and quickly than by hiring lawyers and consultants. Hiring lawyers for this task is like using a bazooka to kill a fly.

We see three main approaches for reducing the workload related to EHS legislative monitoring.

1. The Information Route

There are a variety of services that offer information on EHS changes, but the level of interpretation of obligations varies greatly between providers. Costs for these solutions also vary quite a bit depending on the level of detail that the service offers, from one-size-fits-all newsletters to more tailored information. While this approach allows EHS managers to avoid consulting government websites on a weekly basis, it lacks a critical element: interaction. You are just getting information with no tools to manage it. If you do not act on the information or do not demonstrate action, it won’t take long before you have an outdated register, which will be marked as a finding at your next audit.

2. The Tool Approach

A number of online EHS management tools claim to offer functionality to manage your legal obligations. However, these software suites are typically offered without any content. You need to manually input your legal obligations and then manually update them. While the tool itself helps you bring a more rigorous approach to monitoring changes, it does not reduce your workload. In fact, it probably adds to it.

3. A Mix of Information and Tools

At NimonikApp.com, we believe that the holy grail of EHS legislative tracking is a website that offers digested, easy-to-understand information combined with a suite of seamless tools to track changes, assign review responsibility and receive important reminders. That way, those who are responsible for EHS legislative tracking will be best equipped to do their job right from the start, as they are regularly being fed legal updates, which can be easily added to the company’s legal register with the click of a button. By combining information and great tools you can increase your efficiency at work and significantly reduce your risk of letting your legal register become outdated. Because of its unique needs, we also believe that legislative tracking deserves its own dedicated software, not a simple add-on to an existing product. Also, when you are buying software, we recommend trying out the software and ensuring that the eventual end-users of the system make the final purchasing decision.

Case Study

Both large and small businesses are using this last approach to reduce costs and improve performance. For example, Transcontinental Printing, Canada’s largest printer, operates 35 facilities across the country. Each Canadian province has specific EHS requirements that are constantly changing. To manage all of this information and make it available to their employees, Transcontinental relies on software as a service. With their account at https://www.nimonikapp.ca/, they can quickly access their environmental requirements, receive updates and track which users are reviewing which changes. In addition, by storing all of their data in one location, they are building institutional memory that does not disappear with staff turnover.

About the Author

Jonathan Brun is the co-founder of Nimonik.ca, an online services company that helps keep companies up to date on environmental regulations and conduct audits on the iPad and iPhone. Contact Jonathan for product demonstrations and a free trial account.

Other articles by Jonathan Brun in the EHS Journal: Audit and Verify on the iPad or iPhone

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3 Comments to “Tips for Tracking EHS Legislation”

  1. As you have noted, companies must be aware of changes in regulations. But what good is a tracking tool if the change notification does not apply to that particular site. The company referenced has 35 different facilities and potentially 35 different “regulatory profiles” because as you wrote, one size does not fit all. Did a consultant or lawyer create the register for those sites? I think that would result in the site have a “list of regulations” without understanding why they must adhere to them.

  2. Lori says:

    Since this appears to be a Canadian company – does it only work for Canadian regulations? What about US – and then each State/County etc. within the US?

  3. […] Tips for Tracking EHS Legislation by Jonathan Brun. […]

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