If you work in environmental health and safety management (EHS) then I guess it is highly likely that you have at one time or another, like it or not, come across a management system! In this post I thought we could take a look at environmental management systems. I have developed many EHS management systems and a lot of my work like training and auditing is spun off from management system requirements, they do therefore, play a key part in practitioner day-to-day work life.
Overview of Management Systems
Management systems provide a framework to control and improve performance. In the case of EHS management systems, we are looking at improving EHS performance. They are often based around the Deming cycle of Plan – Do – Check – Act. In essence what they are trying to do is provide structure and consistency, not leaving performance and control to chance. They can be developed to provide management of many workplace issues such as environment, occupational health and safety, quality, security and sustainability.
A management system can be developed to a recognised standard, a well known and common environmental management systems (EMS) standard is ISO 14001:2015 (don’t forget the date as standards do change). If you develop your EMS to this standard you can get it certified by an external body. These are technically known as certification bodies. They are specialist companies that check your management system and see if it complies with the standard, examples being LRQA, BSI and SGS, although there are many others. Although not a legal requirement, certification bodies can be accredited by a national body. In the UK for example this is the United Kingdom Accreditation Services (UKAS).
In the vast majority of cases an EMS is NOT a legal requirement; however I have seen on rare occasions that installations operating an integrated permitted installation are required to operate a standardised EMS.
Many companies have developed ISO 14001 certified EMS’s. They do this for various reasons, but they can be beneficial as they help meet customer requirements, give them a competitive edge, improve legal compliance, reduce costs etc.
Environmental Management System Requirements
The most well know standard for EMS is ISO 14001:2015. The standard has been around for a long time with the first version being releases in 1996. The current iteration was released in 2015; there were some fairly big changes to the standard taking into account changes that have occurred in environmental management, such as more emphasis on life cycle thinking. The structure of ISO 14001 can be seen in the diagram below:
As you can see ISO 14001 is based around the Deming Cycle that we discussed above. It is providing more specific detail on the cycle that is relevant to environmental management. Briefly the key requirements of the standard are:
- Policy – a policy statement must be developed that covers the requirements of ISO 14001, for example a commitment to fulfil compliance obligations and to continual improvement.
- Aspects and impacts – the risk to the environment of an organisation’s activities must be determined.
- Compliance obligations – organisations must understand the laws and other requirements (such as contractual obligations) that apply to their activities.
- Objectives – there must be improvement objectives set for significant risks and other key issues.
- Training and competency – an organisation must ensure that those who have the potential to cause a significant impact are competent.
- Documentation – there are requirements in the standard for items to be documented such as the policy.
- Operational control and emergency preparedness – to closely related items, operational control is basically the implementation of measures to reduce risk, whereas emergency preparedness requires the development of emergency plans.
- Performance evaluation – there must be mechanisms implemented to check environmental performance at various levels. This must be achieved through auditing, monitoring and a strategic review by management.
- Improvement – a formalised way of dealing with faults must be developed (often know as preventative and corrective actions).
The above requirements are not exhaustive, there are many more. Implementing an EMS to ISO 14001 therefore is not a task that can be completed in a short period of time. Generally, if a company is starting from nothing then it can take around a year to develop a fully-fledged ISO 14001:2015 system.
Integration of Management Systems
It is common in industry for organisations to integrate management systems, indeed ISO standards are designed such that this can occur in a relatively easy way often using a similar language or structure. In practice, quality and occupational health and safety management systems are often integrated with environmental requirements. The level of integration varies but common areas that are integrated include: risk assessments, policies, competency assessments and operational controls.
That is a basic summary of EMS. As you can see its whole purpose is really to provide structure and not just leave environmental management to chance. Just about every general environmental practitioner needs to understand EMS, some more than others and as such it is a key requirement on all our environmental training courses.
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MSc, MIEMA