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EHS Experts Roundtable

29 Sep
EHS roundtable

Environment / Safety / Technology Enabled Business Solutions

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We recently sat down with three of KTL’s environmental, health, and safety (EHS) experts, Becky Wehrman-Andersen, Liz Hillgren, and Jake Taylor, to talk about all things EHS. The three Senior Consultants shared what they are seeing in the marketplace, as well as some of their best advice and lessons learned for managing EHS compliance.

What are some of the biggest EHS issues you see your clients facing right now?

Collectively, there are a few trends we see time and again, which generally can be tied back to many EHS “departments” (which often consist of just one person) lacking the resources—financial and personnel—to manage the sheer number of EHS requirements they are required to comply with.

We find that EHS personnel are being asked to manage a lot—and often in areas that may be outside their education/expertise/experience. So while they may have knowledge, in part, of EHS regulations, they often don’t have a comprehensive enough knowledge to always even know what they are missing. Add to this the fact that there is almost “too much” information available, and it can very quickly become overwhelming to determine what is applicable and what needs to be done to comply.

We see this creating several common scenarios:

  • Entire compliance programs are being missed because customers do not realize they are subject to some requirements. In some cases, companies just don’t know what they don’t know.
  • Frequently, companies may not understand the thought process of what needs to be in place to satisfy a standard’s requirements. For example, they may have OSHA training programs in place to meet requirements; however, they do not have the accompanying site-specific written programs and/or documentation that are also required for compliance.
  • Often customers do not take the time or have the knowledge to identify the riskiest chemicals or processes onsite, which leads to elevated challenges in keeping employees and the surrounding environment safe.

How have you seen COVID impacting industry/your clients?

The majority of our clients have really adapted and responded to COVID as best they can. Many have remained busy and are doing just fine. However, the pandemic has resulted in operational challenges—from expanding shifts to separate people more, to having more “virtual workers,” to managing internal safety cost increases, to developing plans to juggle outbreaks. In some cases, this has slowed some policy/program development and impacted company culture. In addition, we are seeing a few companies experiencing supply chain challenges but to a lesser extent than anticipated. Understandably, there is also an element of frustration as guidance remains in flux, as well as concern as facilities “button up” for winter due to the elevated risks associated with closed spaces with little air circulation.

At the same time, companies are learning how to work with fewer people and conduct some business activities virtually. And many have been pushed into using technology that may have been available in the past but was never a necessity of doing business. Even though there have been some “bumps” in the road, people are catching on. In fact, KTL has been conducting audits, assessments, and training virtually, and our clients are seeing the benefits of a virtual approach on many levels. We anticipate some of this will continue as the new norm due to the business efficiencies it presents.

Are there any recent regulatory developments (or any on the horizon) that industry should be preparing for?

EPA has a provision as part of the 2016 Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule that will be affecting small quantity generators (SQG) in 2021. The Agency is now requiring SQGs to renotify EPA or their state agency about their hazardous waste activities every four years. The first renotification is due by September 2021. Since this is the first time EPA is requiring this of SQGs, many are not as aware of the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements regulations and this specific renotification requirement. It is one that will impact many. Read more from EPA.

Other regulatory changes on the forefront will likely depend largely on the outcomes of the election this November, and it is just too soon to predict.

Based on your experience, what are some best practices you would recommend to help companies ensure ongoing EHS compliance and meet business objectives?

  • Conduct a comprehensive gap assessment to ensure you are meeting the requirements of all applicable EHS regulations. This should be the starting place for understanding your regulatory obligations and current compliance status.
  • Organize your records. Know what records you need. Document your inspections and your training. Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) so people know what to do.
  • Seek third-party oversight. Having external experts periodically look inside your company provides an objective view of what is really going on, helps you to prepare for audits, and allows you to implement corrective/preventive actions that ensure compliance.
  • Perform a comprehensive onsite risk assessment with associated risk minimization planning and plan/conduct annual spill drills to practice emergency response for hazardous chemical incidents.
  • Create an integrated management system (e.g., ISO 9001/14001/45001, Responsible Distribution) by finding commonalities between the standards and leveraging pieces of each to develop a reliable system that works for your organization. 
  • Develop a relationship with someone you trust to do things in your best interest, understanding that EHS should be a process of continuous improvement. Use them to help you understand what regulations apply. Let them help you prioritize your compliance plan. Use them to do your annual training. Rely on them as a part of your team.
  • Get senior leadership commitment. It is often clear how an organization prioritizes EHS with little digging. Even with the best EHS personnel, the organization and its EHS system will only be as good as the top leadership and what is important to them.

Do you have any good “lessons learned” to share about what to do when it comes to EHS compliance?

Just start! It is better to do some than none. Get organized. Determine what you need, break it down, set a schedule, use your consultant to keep you on target, and just get started. Something is definitely better than nothing.

KTL has coached several companies from a “zero to compliance” status and has also actively assisted in OSHA and EPA penalty negotiations. One company went from an anticipated $300,000 – $500,000 in penalty to ZERO penalty, reduced their generator status from large quantity generator (LQG) to very small quantity generator (VSQG), and achieved a more than 70% reduction in waste management costs simply through process changes and risk reduction strategies. 

How important is technology when it comes to EHS compliance?

EHS personnel are starting to see the possibilities of how incorporating technology solutions can help them become more efficient in their operations and compliance processes. As stated above, COVID has pushed some technology innovations to the forefront as a means for companies to continue operating in different ways.

For example, technology tools can be very helpful with tracking requirements and documents—but it also requires good organization and communication. Custom apps for conducting inspections and regular checklists can be a simple way to create operational efficiencies, particularly for smaller organizations who may lack the initial financial resources to undertake an entire system implementation. Once that initial investment is made, companies often see the value of technology and the potential to implement a centralized compliance information management system to help manage and track compliance obligations, activities, and performance/status.

With technology, it is no longer a question of IF, it is just a matter of WHEN companies decide to jump on board. Technology and “Big Data” can—and should—be a focus of any EHS compliance program. The investment will pay off in the end.

What value do you see KTL providing?

We serve as an extension of a company’s EHS staff—from completing small tasks that never seem to get done to identifying large gaps in compliance and building systems to resolve those non-compliance issues. We are there to support, answer questions, provide technical knowledge, and help our customers achieve compliance. We are teachers, trainers, a sounding board, and an EHS support system. We have a great team of experts who know EHS, understand industry, and excel at creating solutions and tools to meet our clients’ needs. Trust is critical and we strive to be trustworthy. That is who KTL is.

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