Tag Archives: EMS

Do HSE Management Systems Audits Support Regulatory Compliance? Not So Much…

A recent survey in the UK continues to demonstrate the gap between technical regulatory compliance and HSE management systems conformance.

An article published in the June 2013 the environmentalist (the journal of the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment, or iema) provided a short overview of research results that compared accredited certification bodies processes and “whether third-party audits of an environmental management system (EMS) could provide sufficient assurance of a firm’s legal compliance”.

The findings:

the competence of [EMS] auditors is generally limited to assessing the presence of procedures.

Clearly, assessing the mere presence of procedures is not the same as evaluating the content, adequacy, appropriate or effectiveness of those procedures. Not even close.

There was a notable divergence in opinions on the perceptions of how well EMS audits address regulatory compliance. Not surprisingly, 92% of the certification bodies were convinced their audits reflect regulator conclusions very well or quite well. Yet the regulators themselves hold a far different view with only 17% saying EMS audits address regulatory compliance very well or quite well.

We would call that a gap.

The article is also available online for iema members and subscribers.


Voluntary Environmental Management Standard Turns Into Third Party Whistleblower

It is not uncommon for EHS auditors to be asked (or ask themselves) “If you find a noncompliance during your audit, do you report it to the regulators?”

The answer depends on the company and audit program, but a recent news item caught our attention due to a variation on the theme.

We have no information other than what is publicly available here, but it appears that an organization managing a voluntary electronic waste management certification program found alleged significant non-conformities at a specific company seeking certification.  As a result, the organization declined to issue its certification to that company.

So far, so good, but the story doesn’t end there…

In its declination letter to the company, the organization states:

Further, there is substantial reason to believe that such exports may violate Public Act 095-0959 (Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act, recycler requirements) of the State of Illinois, the Federal CRT Rule, (40 CFR Parts 9, 260, 261, 271; Cathode Ray Tubes; Final Rule) as well as the waste importation laws of Hong Kong/China. Further, while it is not our policy to disclose the results of certifying body audits, we can state that the audit only further substantiated all of our concerns.

In an apparent contradiction to the “policy” referred to in the above statement, the organization’s cc’d “Selected news media”, the Illinois State Environmental Protection Agency and the US Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement on its letter, which can be seen below the signature block.

It is certainly possible that the company themselves had made prior disclosure to the regulators on this issue.  But this event may cause companies pursuing voluntary programs/certifications to carefully consider how the company and auditor will manage regulatory non-compliances that are found or alleged in the course of related audit activities.

UPDATE:  Reports today indicate that the company is taking legal action against the certifying organization stating that the allegations on which the organization based its decision – as well as its disclosure to the press and regulators – are false.

The Economist Intelligence Unit: Significant Improvements Needed in Environmental Risk Management

Last year, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the business research arm of the company that publishes The Economist magazine, published a survey about the concerns and trends for environmental risk management.  The survey, sponsored by ACE, KMPG, SAP and Towers Perrin, was sent to 320 executives globally, half of which represented companies with greater than US$500million in annual revenue.  All respondents had material involvement in risk management for their organizations.

The results of the survey provided a number of insights into perceptions of environmental matters within the context of overall corporate risk management.  A shortened list of the findings is reviewed below.

Three key findings were:

–       Only one-third of those surveyed include environmental within their overall risk management strategy.  The remaining two-thirds address environmental in an ad hoc fashion, outside of corporate risk management, or not at all.  EIU commented:

This piecemeal approach may enable companies to identify isolated problems, but without oversight it will be difficult for them to obtain an overall picture of the risks they face.

–       Three of the top four identified obstacles to effective environmental risk management illustrate this lack of an integrated approach and overall picture:

  • Lack of certainty about impact of environmental liabilities,
  • Cost of managing environmental risk, and
  • Difficulty establishing benchmarks of key performance indicators.

–       Forty percent of the respondents stated that the scale of their environmental liabilities had increased over the past three years, and a full 58% felt that the next three years would see more increases.  Similarly, 59% indicated the amount of time and money dedicated to environmental risk increased in the past three years and 75% anticipate increasing that over the next three years.

Taking these three points in context of each other, what is surprising is that companies anticipate investing more in environmental risk management even in the absence of

–       an internal integrated structure to manage the risk, and arguably the projected increase in attention/resources;

–       an understanding of how environmental risk impacts the company;

–       metrics for measuring effective risk reduction and the associated financial return on the current – and future – expenses.

Another interesting point may be seen as a sore spot for environmental and EHS professionals: the reputed growth in ISO 14001 and other environmental management systems (EMS), ostensibly integrating environmental management into business operations, appears not to have seen the holistic success envisioned.

Companies who see the need to increase environmental risk management efforts would be well served to first invest time in improving the connection between risk management and environmental management.  Those who rely on an adopted EMS may also benefit from reviewing the framework in the context of risk, metrics and ROI.

Read the survey.