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Dakota Software's Blog for EHS and Sustainability Professionals

4 questions to consider during an environmental audit

July 15th, 2019 by Dakota Software Staff

4 questions to consider during an environmental audit

An environmental audit is a key compliance effort for businesses across the modern economy. This critical process allows organizations to address legal requirements related to responsible operation in the context of their impact on the environment, as well as associated health and safety impacts on stakeholders.

Strong compliance, effective environmental management, attention to the details of relevant regulations and many other considerations are all involved in a successful environmental audit. Keep these four questions in mind as you prepare to conduct your next audit.

1. Are relevant, specific and updated objectives in place?

No two work sites are the same. The location of facilities affects the specific jurisdictions it falls under and environmental rules it has to comply with. Different workflows and processes mean a core compliance concern at one site might not even be a tertiary issue at another. Business leaders and EHS specialists must make sure they have a complete and accurate understanding of the work done at each location, as well as which laws and rules cover them. With that information in hand, it's far easier to develop an effective process for auditing each site that doesn't waste resources on concerns that are irrelevant or of low priority.

Audit reports should focus on the unique concerns of each worksite. For example, audit reports shouldn't focus too strongly on hazardous wastes at a location where no such materials are created, handled, transported or processed. Similarly, an audit needs to touch on specific compliance issues that arose in the past, such as a lack of proper permitting or problems with systems controlling air emissions. This issue seems simple in the abstract, but it's easy for businesses to lose sight of specific objectives unless a strong plan for developing, tracking and updating them is in place. Companies must also have a dependable management system that allows them to conduct the audit and identify any gaps in the current process.

2. How does my company prepare for the environmental audit process?

Developing and following protocols is absolutely vital for a successful environmental audit. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pointed out that technical criteria are a foundational element of effective audits, and an audit protocol is an effective way to establish and follow specific criteria. Protocols are especially useful in this context because they don't only provide a basic workflow for identifying and documenting compliance issues. Instead, they allow internal audits to benefit from detailed instructions that leave no questions or confusion for the EHS specialists and other staff members leading this process.

The EPA offered a five-step process for developing specific audit protocols outside of those included in existing standards or generic templates. They are:

  • Specifically identify the area, work site, facility or other equivalent as well as the critical topics for each, in the context of the audit's scope as well as its frequency.
  • Create a list of all relevant regulatory requirements at the three governmental levels: local, state and federal. Use this information to adjust the checklist of audit protocols.
  • Review and consider internal needs and desires, such as company rules and procedures, and consider if these elements should be included in the audit.
  • Determine if any management practices or related issues need to be audited in addition to adherence with regulations and laws.
  • Revise the source document that details all of the actions taken during the auditing process, including records review, interviews with key stakeholders and inspecting physical elements.

3. Does my organization have a firm grasp on the audit's scope?

"Scope must be carefully considered for an efficient audit."

The amount of time involved in an audit, as well as the number of documents and records to review and interviews to conduct, must be considered and understood early on in the process for an effective result. Underestimating the resources needed to successfully complete the audit can lead to incomplete results that expose a business to consequences like fines and penalties. Creating an accurate scope for each audit means determining the best use of time and resources for everyone involved in the process, minimizing waste and ensuring audits can meet the major goals of being documented, periodic and objective.

Determining scope internally can be successful, but there are many instances when the complexity of establishing scope internally can lead to complications and mediocre results. Preparing for and conducting the audit can be significantly easier with the support of a dependable, proven EHS auditing platform. With the right auditing system in place, businesses can do everything from build site-specific audits based on regulatory profiles to manage their audit data and create corrective action plans.

4. How well does my organization understand the objectives and goals of environmental auditing?

The most basic goal of environmental auditing is to maintain compliance with the laws and regulations that govern many facets of operation. Some meaningful reasons for compliance include:

  • Avoiding the fines that come along with a lack of compliance, as well as the more serious operational penalties that can arise when companies show a willful or continued disregard for environmental laws.
  • Reaping the benefits that come along with an environmentally compliant facility, such as a positive reputation in the local community and with other stakeholders inside and outside of the business.
  • Maintaining and improving internal standards that go beyond environmental regulations, as well as limiting waste, potential damage to facilities and danger to employees.

Companies that find it difficult to maintain compliance and complete audits efficiently may find themselves only focused on the most basic goal of heading off financial penalties and increased attention from regulatory agencies. A strong overall approach to EHS compliance, including auditing as well as compliance planning, preventative and corrective action management, allows businesses to do more than the bare minimum. This leads to a more holistic and cohesive strategy and more positive results overall.

Finding a dependable solution to provide guidance at key points in the environmental audit process, as well as in the many other aspects of EHS compliance, is vital for success in this area. Dakota Software's Auditor application enables organizations to easily and effectively verify a site’s compliance status. It helps identify relevant EHS regulations and presents EHS auditors with the appropriate checklist questions. Auditor can also be used to conduct management systems audits and to measure other business processes.

Contact us to learn more or request a product demonstration.

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