ENVIRONMENT: Taking baby steps toward environmental compliance

In this increasingly competitive world, businesses must evaluate the impact of their decisions against the bottom line. Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) compliance is something that every business is concerned about, and the decisions made here are no different. EHS issues drive questions like: what must we do to ensure compliance, worker safety, and yet maintain our bottom line? How will these decisions impact the business in the short term and long term? Are we protective enough? Are modifications necessary?

These are broad questions that understandably make some managers want to bury their heads in the sand. There is a three-step approach that can help sort through these questions, and provide direction on compliance assurance while ensuring that decisions made are economically the best choice. This approach consists of: process assessment, needs analysis, and continuous improvement.

Process assessment:

This involves mapping out the process in the plant, from incoming raw materials to outgoing product. Most businesses have process flow diagrams, and it’s usually just a matter of expanding on these diagrams to accomplish this assessment. Included on this map should be a list of environmental impacts at each step of the process. At this stage it’s important to just list impacts, whether these impacts are controlled or not. To list these impacts, certain questions mustbe asked.

First, what environmental impacts are involved in this operation?Are there land, water or air issues? What about incoming raw materials? Are these materials hazardous? Is environmental compliance assured on incoming products? The important thing in this process is to keep the assessment concise, and not get bogged down trying to determine how these issues are being addressed.

This same system is utilized at each step of the process for health and safety issues. Examples might include incoming truck bays–are there space concerns? What about ventilation for truck fumes? Again, at this point, don’t focus on how these concerns are being addressed.

It’s important to carry the impact list to the point where the business is no longer “owner” of the product. For example, if the business produces hazardous waste, the analysis should be carried all the way through to the off-site facility where the waste is delivered.

Do not limit the analysis to the process itself. Include in the analysis administrative areas, as the same questions need to be asked in these areas. For instance, who follows new environmental regulations for your industry? Who ensures that worker safety is in check? Again, it’s not important to solve the problems at this stage,just to understand the impacts.

Needs analysis:

For all of the impacts listed in the previous process, thequestion to ask at this point for each impact is whether it’s addressed or not. If the impact is addressed, list out how it is addressed. Once this determination has been made, each item should be ranked using a system that designates a range of importance. By doing so, the company will have a prioritized list of impacts that need addressing.

At this point, it often becomes apparent as to what the best management choices are. If there is a significant number of non-compliant items, the company likely needs to consider alternative forms of managing environmental, health and safety issues. On theother hand, a company may be able to assure themselves they are managing the issues properly, and can focus on their primary business.

Continuous improvement:

The company is now in a position to analyze how best to addressthe environmental, health and safety impacts of their processes, andat the same time, since they are prioritized and categorized,determine how the solutions can mesh properly with the overallcompany objectives.

At this step, there are potential economic benefits, as companiesoften find improvements in resource utilization and processoptimization to minimize the environmental, health and safety impactsof the process.

There is also a high potential for risk reduction, therebyavoiding potential fines and legal costs, and sometimes leading toinsurance reductions. Finally, employee morale potentially canimprove, as most employees appreciate an employer who is concernedabout EHS issues.

Since the process has been mapped, a system to check new processesas they are added, and to keep the overall system in check, should beestablished. What this amounts to is taking small steps andconstantly pushing forward.

Once a company researches impacts and begins to improve theirsystems, they usually find better ways of maintaining compliance, areable to take advantage of strategic opportunities for improvement,and can concentrate on adding to the bottom line.

Diane Lundin, of Environmental Solutions Inc., has 13 years ofdirect industrial experience ranging from production engineering toenvironmental management. She holds a master’s in paper science andengineering from the Institute of Paper Chemistry. Her backgroundwith industrial processes and exposure to multi-media environmentalissues supports clients with a range of environmental needs.BIZNEWS