What are compliance obligations
‘Compliance obligations’ is a term that was introduced in the latest 2015 version of the environmental management system standard ISO 14001. It is a term that essentially incorporates two categories of things that an organisation must comply with. These are firstly, law, depending on where you are this will be different, but in the UK it largely incorporates Act and Regulations, for example the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulation 2016. Included in the definition are also ‘other compliance requirements’. These are not law but are obligations that can be just as important such as contractual requirements and voluntary standards and codes of practice. Here’s looking at you ISO14001!
Don’t underestimate the importance of ‘other compliance requirements’ . Sometimes these can be just as important as legal obligations. Not doing what your customer requires can have some very serious repercussions for a business. However, not complying with law can cause your business to have to pay a hefty fine or on occasion result in a prison sentence. You can understand therefore how important it is for organisations to have systems in place to comply with these important environmental obligations.
Develop a compliance register
Managing environmental compliance obligations involves a number of actions. Firstly an organisation should determine what compliance obligations are applicable to its activities. A good way to do this is to develop a compliance register (sometimes known as a legal register). Such a register is a summary of the environmental legislation and other requirements to which an organisation subscribes. Often this will be in the form of a landscaped table that states, as a minimum, the name of the requirements, a summary of the obligation and the action required for compliance. If a competent person does it properly, then it can be a very useful day-to-today tool for the environmental practitioner. It is really a must as there can sometimes be many applicable compliance obligations, so a summary of them is needed for functionality. A bonus of this approach that I have seen in some organisations is that the register can be useful as a basis for evaluation.
It is not enough to know what laws are applicable to an organisation, the level of compliance with them must be determined. This is important and sometimes forgotten about. For example, it is stated in ISO 14001:2015 clause 9.1.2 that a process should be developed to evaluate compliance obligations. This can be undertaken in numerous ways. Perhaps the most common I have seen is to audit against them (the compliance obligations being the audit criteria). Compliance should also be a key part of the management review. By carrying out compliance audits the weaknesses in compliance can be determined and rectified.
Horizon scan for changes
Unfortunately, compliance obligations change rapidly with time. New obligations will be released, others will be revoked, and current laws will be amended. An organisation therefore must check to see what has changed on a regular basis and subsequently update the compliance register and change the compliance obligation audit schedule, if needed. This can be a difficult task. Common sources of information to consult would include paid legal update services (examples might include CEDREC or Barbour), employ an external consultant, check governmental websites (a few examples from the UK being NetRegs, legislation.gov.uk and www.gov.uk ) and read the IEMA Transform magazine and website.
Well hopefully from reading the above you now understand the importance of having a process for compliance. If your organisation does not do this, then there can be some serious repercussions. Essentially it involves developing a compliance register, evaluating compliance and regularly checking for changes. This should give you some ideas of how you can manage the process in your own organisation.
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MIEMA
With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.