Evaluating Environmental Compliance Programs and Processes

Environmental compliance programs are developed and documented in organizations to ensure that members are aware of their responsibilities regarding the expectations for following environmental rules and regulations and how compliance can be achieved. A documented program also indicates to the regulators and auditors that you intend to be compliant and have a process for your workers to share in the compliance burden for the company. These programs are documented in the form of policies or/and procedures. The policies and procedures outline the environmental regulations that are applicable to the business and the process and practices used to ensure compliance and safety of workers and the environment. One should be cautioned that developing a program that is not followed can be perceived as being out of compliance by auditors and regulators and an organization can be penalized for what is documented and not followed or implemented. A penalty can be imposed even if it is not a regulatory requirement.

A comprehensive assessment program is a key component of a demonstrated effective compliance program. Assessing your program is necessary because regulatory requirements change frequently and as such the organizations’ internal document program will change as well. Having a current program that is documented and understood by organizational members is important to the program being embraced and followed. In assessing the environmental compliance program (the documentation), some elements are important to include in the review.

The first basic step to assessing a company’s program is to perform a crosswalk between the regulation and the internal organization procedures for all laws and regulations that the organization is expected to maintain compliance. This review is to ensure that the documentation is in alignment with the regulations. The assessment can feel like a daunting task, depending on the amount of applicable regulations that must be followed. As such, it may be a good idea to develop an assessment schedule for assessing the various regulations and not attempt to complete the task for all regulations at once. Key areas to evaluate include:

  • • Identify any changes made to regulatory requirements that are not included in internal procedures.
  • • Asa result of regulatory changes, is there a need to change or develop new training for employees?
  • • Identify and ensure the workers needing training have the training requirement listed to their job demands profile.
  • • Are procedures and policies clear, easy to understand and followed?
  • • Are there any connected or referenced internal documents needing change as a result of changes in regulatory requirements?

Evaluating Implementation of Environmental Requirements

Implementation is where one would say ‘the rubber meets the road.’ Improper or inadequate implementation can result in a significant amount of noncompliances and financial penalties imposed on organizations. There are several methods that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of an environmental program. These methods involve taking advantage of internal resources and utilizing external resources having the appropriate level of expertise to provide program insight.

Internal: Each organization should have an effective assessment program, one that is designed to evaluate a program or process effectively and uncover inefficiencies and noncompliance. A comprehensive assessment program should include a process that allows for identification of issues, resolving issues, validating that solutions are appropriate to prevent reoccurrences, tracking and trending of issues, resolving of issues and a comprehensive lesson-learned program.

External: Inviting external agencies into an organization to assess performance is a good way to learn from the viewpoint and experiences of others. External agencies are often viewed as impartial and have the capability to report honestly on the status of an organization, outline the issues that need to be addressed to improve efficiency and communicate accurately without apprehension compliance posture and areas needing improvements.

Implementing environmental requirements in organizations is not an easy task, especially when the requirements are many. An organization must employ several means to inform them of their implementation burdens and status and to identify areas for improvement. Some of the ways that environmental requirements can be evaluated are:

  • • Through assessments
  • • Internal workers with knowledge in the regulatory requirements
  • • External agencies hired by the organization
  • • Regulatory inspections (least preferred method)
  • • Feedback from workers
  • • Focus groups
  • • Interviews
  • • Surveys
Regulatory metric example

FIGURE 9.2 Regulatory metric example.

The objective is to use all forms of assessments or evaluations in totality when evaluating a program and avoid focusing singularly on one piece of data. Focusing on one data source can lead to a false sense of security of ‘things are on fire.’ Data sources must be analyzed objectively to uncover the true status and development of the path forward. The graph in Figure 9.2 shows results for inspection of permitted air sources for three years performed by an internal team.

A point of note is that although an inspection program is in place and implemented, violations are still noted during the internal inspections at an increased rate yearly. When analyzing the graph in Figure 9.2, the following can be gleaned:

  • • The organization has an inspection program for permitted air sources that has been implemented for the past three years.
  • • A significant amount of the area is being inspected each year.
  • • Areas inspected increased over the years.
  • • Areas inspected increased as inspection days decreased.
  • • Conditions that can lead to a violation are not significantly observed.
  • • Violations are increasing over the years.

Just as important as having a process to evaluate performance, it is important to utilize the data and continue to improve programs and processes. Oftentimes organizations collect data and place them on the shelf or fail to use them appropriately. In order to improve the program and the results obtained from assessing permitted air sources, the following should be considered and explored:

• Does the inspection program for permitted sources need to be revamped? Are the correct metrics being used? This should be the last question asked, although they are presented as a first point to explore. One caution here is that don’t assume that the program or process is the problem and the data or the information discovered is not telling the correct story.

  • • Why is the amount of violations increasing each year albeit slightly? The first thought or question should be: Is program implementation decreasing? Effective program implementation should yield continuous improvement and there should be a decrease in violations. However, degradation in implementation can yield the results seen here.
  • • Are the right areas being inspected? The key is to ensure the correct areas are being inspected at the appropriate frequency - areas and sources where work is subjected to the requirements of the permit.
  • • Are the right sources being inspected? Ensure the appropriate components of the source are inspected. These components will include the parts of the source that contribute to or in some way impact emissions of a chemical or hazardous substance. Ensure that those critical parts are maintained and documented at appropriate frequency.
  • • Are the people performing the inspection knowledgeable? Ensure that the workers responsible for assessing programs and processes are knowledgeable of the operation parameters and the regulatory requirements. There are times when performing the assessment needs more than one individual to ensure that the appropriate level of knowledge is devoted to completing the assessment comprehensively.
  • • Is enough time allowed to conduct a meaningful assessment? Note that the inspection days decreased while the number of areas inspected increased may indicate that there is a rush to complete a task that is on the books. In such cases, the quality of the process is being impacted and perhaps quantity of inspections performed has taken precedence over program improvement.

Applied Learning

  • 1. What does a successful compliance program look like for a large organization? A small organization?
  • 2. List the comprehensive measures components. Explain each in detail.
  • 3. Which component of the performance measures components is most desired and why? Which component is least desired and why?
  • 4. Explain how to identify the important aspects of a business that should be monitored.
  • 5. What methods should be used to evaluate environmental program effectiveness and compliance?
  • 6. What methods should be used to evaluate implementation of environmental program effectiveness and compliance?
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