The importance of understanding your legal requirements is really key for having a strong management system. A management system is a tool for supporting your efforts in achieving compliance to your legal requirements. It is amazing how many companies I audit that take such a lackadaisical approach to managing their regulatory compliance issues.
When it comes to any of the management systems out there, whether environmental, OH&S, energy or even quality, the basic steps are the same.
- Identify your legal requirements
- Whether you do this, or get help, you need to thoroughly identify all of your legal requirements.
- Start by identifying all of your processes. And systematically identify where there are applicable legal requirements. Sometimes this may mean performing a complete chemical review to identify any substances within a chemical you may purchase that may be reportable or controlled.
- Understand why the legal requirements are applicable to your organization.
It’s not good enough to just list the legislation. Yes, your registration auditor will probably accept that reluctantly, but you want a robust system.
- Why is the legislation applicable?
- Is it applicable, but you are exempt? Maybe not enough man-hours worked, maybe not enough chemical used. But you could exceed your limitations one day and then you are no longer exempt. You have to keep on top of that and continue to monitor your activities, particularly as a result of a change. It doesn’t have to take a big change.
- Keep up to date on changes with the legislation.
Requirements may change, and you want to be proactive with those changes. It’s easier to plan for change when you have the maximum amount of time, rather than a time crunch.
- Subscribe to newsletters, industry magazines, go to seminars.
- Keep up to date with changes within your facility.
A new chemical introduced to the process could open up an entirely new stream of legislative requirements.
- Do you have a strong management of change process? You should be finding out about changes before they are implemented in order to identify any potential regulatory issues, such as the need to apply for a permit.
- Keep up to date with your neighborhood.
With the building boom, are you aware of all of the re-zoning going on around you facility? An industrial zoned area may become a mixed use zone that allows condominiums. Without following up, and negotiating with the builder you may find apartments with balconies looking over your plant and a string of complaints related to noise and/or odors.
- Make sure that you have access to your legal requirements.
- It’s getting easier and easier to get up to date access on all of your legal requirements.
- The majority of requirements are available on line, you just need to know what they are in order to find access to them.
- Make sure it is a reliable source and find out how often they update it. A lot of the time, going directly to the government websites are your best bets.
- There are subscription services out there that provide everything you need. Verify their processes before you proceed.
- Implement procedures and other controls to ensure that you systematically implement those requirements.
If monitoring and reporting is required, write a procedure describing who is responsible for collecting the data and writing the report. Describe how that information is collected and the requirements of the report. Even come up with a standardized template for the report to ensure consistency and that nothing is missed. A solidly defined process will ensure that nothing is missed and the procedure will be completed.
- Evaluate your level of compliance.
Conduct a compliance audit. You can bring in someone externally or have someone internally conduct it. An external person should be competent and that can be evaluated through solid referrals and references. An internal person needs to be diligent and will have to conduct a lot of preparation and/or attend training.
Ignorance of the law is never an accepted defense if anything ever goes wrong. It is your responsibility as an organization to know what you are liable for.