A Blueprint for Environmental Compliance

Have you ever wondered why some companies never seem to get into trouble with the EPA or OSHA? You never see any bad press about them on TV or read about them in the newspaper. And then you see some other companies that seem to be constantly in trouble with the agencies for environmental violations. What sets these companies apart? Simple. The good companies do things that that bad companies don’t.


Here are some practical tips on how to avoid compliance nightmare.

  1. Make sure you have an environmental policy that is signed by the CEO and communicated to all your employees. You should post it on your company website. An environmental policy is a simple declaration by senior management on how it plans to conduct its business in the context of the environment. The latest buzz word is “sustainability”. It means do no harm to the environment and save it for the next generation.
  2. You should have a designated senior company officer whose job it is to oversee environmental and safety compliance. This person should have the confidence of senior management and can muster the necessary financial resources and institutional commitment to implement the company’s environmental policy and plans.
  3. Make sure that you have a simple and straightforward emergency response plan. The main purpose of such a plan is to tell your employees what they need to do when something goes wrong. It must be concise, realistic and easy to understand. Do not make the same mistake that a major oil company did with its Oil Spill Response Plan in the Gulf of Mexico that failed to identify the worse case scenario and was lacking in realistic responses. None of the efforts made by the company following a massive oil spill was contained in the original plan even though it was over 580 pages long.
  4. Make sure that your employees have ownership of your company’s environmental plans. In other words – the employees who have been charged with the responsibility of implementing an environmental plan should have been involved in some manner in the development of the plan. That is the only way they will have ownership of the plan and without ownership, nothing will be done.
  5. Be sure to perform environmental due diligence prior to shipping your hazardous wastes to your Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF). Check up on their compliance history by going to EPA’s Environmental Compliance History Online (ECHO) webpage. Never cede this responsibility to your transporter. If you ship wastes to a site that turns into a Superfund site, your company could be responsible for the entire cleanup cost of that site.
  6. If you are planning on leasing a piece of property, make sure you perform a baseline environmental study on the site to identify any pre-existing conditions. In this way, when you return the leased property back to your landlord at the end of the lease, you only need to return it in the same condition that it was in when you started the lease.
  7. Always maintain a good, cordial and professional relationship with the regulatory agencies. Do not waste your limited financial and human resources in constant battles with the agencies. Always negotiate with them in good faith.
  8. Train and retrain your employees. The companies that stay in compliance are the ones that make sure their environmental professionals receive the necessary training to do their job. The companies that are constantly having environmental violations are in that situation because their employees are not trained and equipped to do the job.
  9. Never automatically go with the lowest bidders when hiring vendors or consultants. Always go with the most qualified contractors to ensure compliance with environmental laws and safety standards.
  10. Designate an employee whose job is to review Material Safety Data Sheets prior to storing any new chemicals. Many chemical accidents are caused by mis-placement of new chemicals that are not compatible with existing ones.
  11. Stay on top of emerging new environmental regulations by subscribing to agencies’ free e-mail services. You can also subscribe to commercial services to keep abreast of the latest regulatory developments.
  12. Always know your chemical spill reporting requirements before the actual spill occurs. Many states have additional spill reporting requirements that are more stringent than the federal requirments. Do your homework. You should match your inventory of chemicals against EPA’s List of Lists and determine the reportable quantities of each of these chemicals. So when you actually do have a chemical spill in the middle of the night, you will know exactly if the reportable quantity has been exceeded thereby triggering a reporting obligation.
  13. Instruct your employees to never lie to an agency inspector. Tell them they should always be forthright with an inspector. Answer all questions truthfully when asked but never volunteer any information or speculate.
  14. Be very careful with your e-mails. Always assume that your e-mails will appear on the front page of your local newspaper the next morning. If you do not want people to know about something, don’t put it in your email. For example, if you have just conducted a mock inspection of your facility in anticipation of an actual inspection and you have found a number of violations, it is absolutely not necessary for you to send out a broadcast e-mail to everyone stating that you have uncovered contained violations. What you want to do is to focus on fixing the problems you have uncovered rather than broadcasting your problems to the world in writing. The same strategy should apply after you have had a bad inspection. Instead of sending out an e-mail to everybody stating that the inspector has found numerous violations during the inspection, you should send out an e-mail to everybody reminding them of all the things that they should be tending to without making any reference to the inspection. In that way you achieve the same goal-getting people to improve their performance-without admitting to those violations.
  15. Always follow up on your internal audits. Never perform an internal audit unless you have the financial resources and management commitment to fix any problems that might come up during the audit.
  16. Voice objection as soon as you are made aware of potentially illegal activities within your organization. If anyone within your organization – especially at the senior management level -should suggest any kind of illegal activities, you must speak up against it forcefully. Remember: silence means acquiescence.

If you follow the above suggestions, you should be able to avoid environmental compliance nightmare.


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