It goes by many names, including EHS and SHE in North America or HSE in Europe, but all work towards the same goal. Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) regulatory compliance manages the rules, regulations, policies, programs, and training intended to prevent adverse impacts on the health and safety of workers and the environment.
Regulatory compliance isn't just a legal and moral obligation; it's also good for business. A well-executed EHS compliance program can improve the bottom line in the following ways:
Avoid fines, penalties, and costly incidents: EHS non-compliance can be expensive, and according to the National Safety Council, the average workplace injury requiring medical attention costs employers around $44,000, while a workplace fatality costs $1.3 million. Those numbers include regulatory fines, increased insurance costs, lawyers fees, medical bills, disruptions to productivity, loss of reputations, and loss of future business.
Improved company culture and reputation: People want to work for a company they respect, and that values them and their efforts. By putting worker safety first, organizations demonstrate to their employees that they care, which fosters a strong workplace culture that can support employee well-being, improve retention, and boost productivity. Accidents can hurt an organization's reputation. Something that takes years to build can be destroyed instantly by a high-profile accident that brings negative media attention.
Commitment to people and environment: The most unfortunate result of companies failing to uphold their EHS responsibilities is the physical and emotional toll on workers and their families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4,764 fatal workplace injuries in the United States in 2020, many of which could have been preventable if employers had followed safety regulations. Many industries can also adversely affect the environment if left unchecked, and EHS is there to reduce their impact on the environment and surrounding communities.
Unfortunately, there isn't a one size fits all plan for regulatory compliance, but there are a few fundamental steps companies can follow.
Identify applicable requirements: Understanding which industry, federal, state, and local requirements apply to your organization and its processes can be challenging, but it's one of the most critical steps to take towards compliance. Relevant regulations will vary and change as your business and processes evolve, so make sure your policies change with them.
Monitor regulatory changes: Regulators often create, eliminate, or modify regulations. EHS is dynamic, and the subject's rules change as new information and best practices develop. Companies that want to stay within compliance must keep their eyes open for changes affecting their operations. Staying proactive and creating regulatory alerts to changes in your industry is the best way to do this. Also, make sure to communicate changes to workers. If you miss this crucial step, policies and procedures may change on paper, but your workers are performing tasks out of compliance.
Create a compliance calendar: A compliance calendar helps organizations stay on top of compliance by consolidating and tracking all their essential regulations, permits, reporting deadlines, and information in one place. It centralizes the process, which means you'll forget fewer obligations and reduce your company's likelihood of non-compliance. In addition, a compliance calendar lets you know what's coming, giving you adequate time to plan, collect what you need, and be ready when the deadline arrives.
Conduct and track audits and inspections: You can't fix what you don't know about. That's why regularly conducting workplace audits and inspections is important for EHS compliance. Identifying potential risks and fixing them before they have the chance to result in an accident or injury is the best way to be proactive with safety. The difference between a poor or average safety record and an excellent one often comes down to proactivity. The top performers are not waiting for accidents to happen; they are taking steps to prevent them. Also, ensure that you track all audit findings because they can provide valuable information about EHS trends that you may not be aware of.
Track and investigate incidents and issues: Getting to the bottom of an accident or a near miss is one of the best ways to prevent reoccurrence. Digitally tracking incident findings can give you valuable insight and help you identify trends that may help you identify gaps in your safety program and where additional focus and training may be needed.
Implement and track corrective actions: Identifying issues isn't enough; someone needs to fix them. By creating action items and following them to completion, the organization can be sure things are fixed. This also gives you insight into your company's compliance because you can see what has been improved and is overdue, helping you focus your attention where it's needed most.
Train employees: Employees trained on how to identify and mitigate the hazards in their workplace are less likely to be injured. If no one has taught us, we are more likely to be blind to the dangers in our environments. Companies must adhere to mandatory training minimums, but adding additional training relevant to the environment is a good idea. Update training as regulations and conditions change, and refresh employees on training as needed.
Maintain records and document compliance obligations: If you didn't document it, it didn't happen. For example, if you performed a class on bloodborne pathogens, but did not have a roster and collect signatures, how can a regulator be sure the course occurred? They will not take your word for it; they want proof—document everything.
Record EHS events and report to agencies: EHS incident reporting and recording requirements will depend on your organization, but let's use OSHA as an example. OSHA wants to know about serious, recordable, work-related injuries and illnesses and must be notified within 8 hours of any work-related fatality and within 24 hours for an inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or the loss of an eye. If your company has had a workplace accident and classified it as recordable, then the next step is to record the incident on OSHA Forms 301 and 300 log. Finally, Form 300A summarizes recordable injuries or illnesses that occurred during the year and must be submitted to OSHA by March 2nd.
Managing EHS compliance and all the documentation it entails can be a considerable undertaking. Thankfully, EHS software can make things more efficient by digitizing your processes and centralizing your EHS obligations, tasks, audits, and related information. Unfortunately, the efficiencies gained from software can quickly be offset if our teams are spending too much time just keeping the system up-to-date as regulations and your operational footprint change.
That’s where Dakota Software comes in. Our compliance management software products include a fully integrated regulatory database that is maintained by our team of inhouse experts. Not only can this database help your site leaders identify and outline their regulatory obligations, it can ensure that they are always aware of changes.
Watch our EHS compliance planning demo video for more information on how Dakota can help you achieve and maintain EHS regulatory compliance.