Disclaimers in Environmental Audit Reports

Have you ever hired a consultant to prepared an environmental audit or assessment and get a report that has many pages of disclaimers in it? There is always a tug of war between the client and the consultant as to what sort of disclaimers are appropriate in such a report. If a report disclaims everything, it is not going to be of much use to the clients. On the other hand a consultant should not have to bear responsibility for certain findings in the report or not in the report depending on certain circumstances.

There are basically three types of disclaimers that often arise in an assessment or audit report. The first one is certification. This issue is easy to deal with. No sane or rational environmental consultant will “certify” or “guarantee ” that a site for which an environmental assessment audits has been prepared is “clean”. The only certification that makes sense is a certification process that states that the assessment was conducted in accordance with generally accepted industrial standards.

The consultant should not be expected to guarantee or warrant the accuracy of any documents, records and reports that had been prepared by others. The best a consultant can do is to state that due care has been taken to verify or confirm the accuracy of such reports. The steps taken to verify or confirm should be clearly stated in the report.

The third issue pertains to the consultants ability to disclaim any knowledge of any environmental condition that are not apparent at the time the assessment or audit is conducted. This is reasonable. For example if somebody moves 10 drums of hazardous waste to the site AFTER the audit has been prepared, the consultant clearly should not be held liable for such omission.

Aside from these three areas of legitimate disclaimers, the consultant should be expected to be held accountable for the findings on lack of findings in the report.


2 responses to “Disclaimers in Environmental Audit Reports

  1. Great summary, Norman. I’ve seen a trend where large consulting firms to send out their junior staffer to collect data and then use these disclaimers as a “shield” against data gaps/inconsistencies.

    • I have seen that trend too – as early as 10 years ago. It seems that the larger the consulting firm, the longer the disclaimers. It may have a lot to do with their deep pockets. I once got a report from a big firm that had so many disclaimers in it basically saying the findings are meaningless. I was sorely tempted to pay them in meaningless Monopoly money. They also used junior consultants to do the auditing and then billed us for “senior review”. This is like someone charging you a lot of money for a defective toaster and then billing you for repairing it.

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