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Why EHS Compliance Is a Moving Target

March 7th, 2023 by Dakota Software Staff

Why EHS Compliance Is a Moving Target

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently considering adding new regulatory requirements for a range of rules, from occupational lead exposure to heat illness to forklift construction standards.

What’s more, the U.S. Department of Labor has announced efforts to strengthen enforcement of workplace safety standards, expanding penalties in particular for repeat violators. Then there’s the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reverted to a more expansive definition of “waters of the U.S.,” with potential implications for industry.

Constantly evolving regulations—and rising stakes around EHS compliance—highlight both the difficulty and importance of keeping an up-to-date regulatory register. Without a complete, accurate picture of your compliance obligations, you’re exposed to numerous risks that include safety incidents, reputation damage and even criminal penalties.

Below we explore why EHS compliance is a moving target, and how EHS software can help you meet ever-changing requirements and minimize risk to workers and the organization.

EHS Regulations Are Constantly Evolving

In the past several years, companies have had to cope with a seemingly endless stream of new rules and updated requirements. Rules on beryllium exposure, crystalline silica exposure, process safety management and recordkeeping are just a few examples, all of which have had big implications for industry.

As regulations evolve, so must EHS processes in order to stay in compliance and protect workers. Take, for example, OSHA’s move to revise requirements around occupational lead exposure. Changes to this standard may impact requirements around processes involving lead-related work, which may include:

  • Medical surveillance requirements

  • Type of personal protective equipment (PPE) employers must provide

  • Maintenance and laundering frequency requirements for PPE

If and when a new rule is finalized, how can you ensure employees have access to the right PPE, or that it’s replaced at the required frequency? How do you know the right employees are being screened correctly, and that they are trained to the new standard? The answers lie within your compliance management process.

The Pillars of EHS Regulatory Compliance

While each company will have its own approach and processes, the pillars of EHS regulatory compliance are the same across many organizations. Some of the most critical elements are:

  • Maintaining a regulatory register: An updated legal register that identifies all requirements that apply to your site is the foundation of EHS compliance. That’s because when your legal register is outdated, your processes, training and more may also be out-of-date. Monitoring and tracking regulatory changes is essential to maintaining an accurate legal register.

  • Building a compliance calendar: A compliance calendar centralizes all of your compliance obligations, permits and reporting deadlines in one place. It gives you a high-level view of what’s coming so that you have enough time to plan, complete required action items and gather the data needed to document compliance.

  • Conducting audits and inspections: Audits and inspections are crucial to verifying compliance with EHS process documentation and standards. While they fill two distinct roles, each is necessary to proactively identify risks to employee safety.

  • Tracking issues and implementing corrective actions: When incidents occur or potential issues are identified, companies need a way to track them until they are fully resolved. EHS software provides a key advantage, allowing you to link audit findings and safety incidents to specific action items, due dates and review steps. Trends and metrics related to issues like open findings and time to closure also provide important insight into potential gaps and risks that need to be addressed.

  • Training employees: Training is a fundamental part of compliance and giving employees the necessary knowledge and skills to work safely. When regulatory changes occur, they need to be reflected in not just the legal register and process documentation, but also employee training. Otherwise, your processes have only changed on paper and not in practice.

  • Documentation, reporting and recordkeeping: As far as regulators are concerned, if you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. Companies must also comply with reporting and recordkeeping requirements for workplace injuries and illnesses. This includes recording incident data correctly on OSHA Form 301 and the 300 log, as well as reporting data annually to OSHA using Form 300A.

Staying Compliant with EHS Software

The benefits of effective EHS compliance management are wide-ranging, and are not limited to avoiding regulatory fines and penalties. Protecting workers also improves employee engagement and retention, improving operational efficiency while helping maintain a state of audit and inspection readiness.

Dakota Software’s ProActivity Suite gives companies the tools they need to ensure EHS compliance, including a built-in regulatory database maintained by in-house regulatory analysts.

Using decision tree logic, organizations can easily build site-specific compliance profiles based on a series of yes or no answers, with plain language explanations of all requirements. By compiling all applicable requirements in one place, EHS leaders can be confident that their legal registers are always up-to-date. Changes published in the Federal Register are highlighted, with guidance on action-forcing changes. In addition, Dakota sends daily regulatory alert emails for all proposed and final changes from the EPA, OSHA and Department of Transportation (DOT).

With a complete and accurate legal register in hand, companies can then use the ProActivity Suite to:

  • Create compliance calendars with key dates and requirements (e.g., EPCRA Tier II reporting, OSHA reporting, stormwater and NPDES permitting, and ISO certification planning)

  • Track tasks related to EHS compliance such as corrective actions, permit action items, and audit and inspection follow-up

  • Ensure employee training is aligned with applicable requirements and regulatory changes

  • Audit and inspect facilities against requirements and link any deficiencies to action items for follow-up

  • Generate and compile reporting data for submission to regulatory agencies (e.g., OSHA 300 forms)

  • Report on metrics and trends to monitor for risks and foster continuous improvement

  • Document OSHA compliance and EPA compliance for streamlined audits and inspections

Keeping up-to-date on evolving requirements is a must to avoid compliance issues, especially in EHS where the stakes are so high. Not only are changing regulations a concern, but also the fact that, as operations change, so may the regulatory obligations of your site.

Proactive compliance management pays dividends when it comes to protecting workers, reducing costs, and improving efficiency and productivity. EHS software can help, giving you an accurate picture of your compliance obligations plus the tools you need to create a closed-loop EHS management process.

View our Demo Library to learn how Dakota Software’s proactive EHS compliance products can help you stay on target.

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