Regulatory compliance refers to the regulations that companies are required to comply with to protect the environment and people from harm resulting from business operations. EHS Compliance, a subset of EHS Management, refers to the activities, procedures and policies implemented by employees to achieve and verify regulatory compliance.
The objective of EHS compliance programs is to ensure that a company complies with relevant regulations; the ultimate goal of EHS compliance is to optimize the health, safety and environmental performance of your organization.
You may come across terms EHS compliance, HSE compliance and EHSQ but they are essentially interchangeable.
Why Manage EHS Compliance?
The simple answer is that companies are required by government agencies such as OSHA, CCOHS, and EU-OSHA to operate in compliance with applicable environmental and occupational health and safety regulations. This legal requirement, enforced by regulation, underpins a basic humanitarian obligation to prevent loss of life or injury in the workplace and our social responsibility to protect the natural environment.
From a purely financial perspective, the case for managing compliance is equally compelling. The penalties for non-compliance quickly exceed the cost of managing compliance due to fines, legal action, employee absence due to injury, and brand or reputation damage. In the United States, the National Safety Council estimated that in 2019 workplace injuries resulted in a cost to society of 171 billion dollars. OSHA reports that the direct costs of workplace injury costs employers almost 1 billion dollars per week.
The financial case for managing compliance is clear and extensively documented.
The ROI (return on investment) for EHS compliance is however more subtle than simply eliminating the cost of avoidable non-compliance events or EHS incidents. To understand the broader business value, please read our article about the ROI of EHS Management.
Staying Compliant with Regulations and Procedures
EHS regulations are extensive and constantly changing. Consequently, many companies use environmental or health and safety consultants to stay abreast of evolving regulations and to design or implement compliance programs and procedures. In some cases, consultants provide compliance as a service; they conduct routine inspections, identify areas of non-compliance, recommend appropriate corrective action and deliver training to employees.
However, even when compliance is outsourced, internal employees are still required to identify, manage, coordinate and audit compliance-related activities, record-keeping and reporting. Front-line employees are required to comply with policies and procedures designed to keep a company compliant with EHS regulations. This information management and workforce coordination responsibility can be especially challenging in sectors like real estate where buildings and employees are geographically distributed and EHS obligations vary significantly by asset type or by jurisdiction.
Ultimately the challenge of regulatory compliance is information management, coordination, and training. In multi-facility organizations, this is where enterprise EHS information management software is invaluable in identifying patterns of regulatory, procedural, or operational non-compliance. Information management platforms bring efficiency, transparency, focus and coordination to important compliance activities.
Who Regulates and Enforces Occupational Health and Safety?
Occupational health and safety (OHS) regulations are set and enforced by various national and state or provincial government agencies. Part of the challenge of ensuring that a company is compliant is that not all regulations apply to every business and that regulations are constantly changing. Companies often hire H&S consulting companies to stay abreast of ever-changing regulations and to conduct scheduled assessments to ensure that a company is complaint with regulatory requirements.
Here are a few links to government agencies responsible for occupational health and safety legislation:
- United States: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- Canada: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
- Europe: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA).
Who Regulates and Enforces Environmental Protection Regulations?
Environmental protection regulations are set and enforced by national government agencies. As with employee health and safety regulations, the challenge of ensuring that a company is compliant is that not all regulations apply to every business and that regulations are constantly being revised and extended.
Here are a few links to government agencies responsible for environmental protection legislation:
- United States: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Canada: the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA)
What are the Top 10 EHS Compliance Violations?
The answer to this question varies by industry and by country. However, in the United States, OSHA publishes this annual summary of the 10 most frequently cited health and safety standards. This reference site is searchable by industry. Use this page to find the top 10 most cited compliance violations for the real estate sector (NAICS code 531).
Implementing Compliance Management Systems
As we mentioned earlier, implementing compliance management for multi-facility organizations is particularly challenging. The challenge is a result of the unique attributes of the facilities and the distance between facilities. The distributed nature of large portfolios adds to the complexity of team coordination and to the management of compliance information and record keeping.
However, EHS compliance is not optional. So how do we decompose the problem into elements that can be incrementally included in a scalable management program? How do we think about compliance so that if we have one building or one thousand buildings, we can manage compliance with confidence and consistency?