4 influential laws enforcing EHS regulations

While there’s no one law above them all, there are key EHS enforcement trends that could impact your business – and soon. Here are 4 to know today. 

There are the rules to follow, then there’s what happens if you don’t. Just as important for your business as knowing new developments in EHS regulations is understanding changes in how they’re enforced. With agencies putting their proverbial foot down through increased penalties and expanding liability, today’s most influential enforcement legislation is a list much longer than just one. Below, our experts share their picks of turning points and key trends to watch in enforcement 

1. Leveling up liability

Who’s accountable for issues in your business? Well, now for some businesses, more people than before. That’s one of the stand-out trends in enforcement today. Several jurisdictions across the globe are expanding the scope of who can be penalized for non-compliance, and how severe their punishment. 

Regional Expert for the US, Nathaniel Gajasa, gives more detail: 

“I think one of the most impactful sources of enforcement is the ‘responsible corporate officer’ doctrine, which allows criminal penalties for individuals in a company responsible for violations of EHS regulations that impact the health and safety of the public)  

It’s not so much that it’s a source of EHS regulations, but it represents the highest-possible liability for site-level EHS managers and even possibly C-level officers for a company (jail time, instead of merely fines/economic damages).” 

We’ve also seen this type of amplification around accountability in the Asia-Pacific region. Here, one of the most-talked-about changes lately is in South Korea, due to its Serious Accidents Punishment Act. The act is the first time that legislation in this country makes business owners, executives, and responsible people accountable for accidents in the workplace.  

2. Emphasizing harm to the environment

There’s no doubt that one of the biggest movements in today’s EHS regulations is the increasing attention and legislation around protecting the environment. But alongside these regulations, are the influential directives changing the penalties for companies not complying with them. 

Regional Expert for the EU, Beatriz García Fernández-Viagas, says:  

“Just for a bit of background, environment is a shared competence between the EU and the Member States. This means that national authorities from the Member States (such as judges and the public administration) are responsible for enforcing EU law, and the European Commission is responsible for ensuring that EU environmental law is being implemented in all Member States (if not, it will take enforcement action against the relevant Member State(s). 

That being said, if I had to pick the most impactful enforcement-related pieces of legislation at EU level, it comes down to 2: 

Environmental Liability Directive (ELD), as it establishes financial responsibility for economic operators causing certain types of harm to the environment (and is based on the ‘’polluter-pays’’ principle).  

Environmental Crime Directive 2008/99/EC, as it defines environmental offenses that Member States must penalize and requires them to establish effective and dissuasive criminal sanctions. 

Also, it’s worth mentioning that the European Commission issued a proposal to update the Environmental Crime Directive last year (the proposal is now being discussed by the EP and the Council). If adopted, the updates would bring enhancements for cross-border judicial cooperation, establish stricter penalties for environmental offenses, and promote better law enforcement by national environmental authorities.” 

Enforcement on EHS has become more stringent extending the responsibility from the company to individuals in charge of it

3. Tightening the tolerance around EU chemicals’ strategy

Another key topic to stay on top of is the EU’s chemical strategy and its infamous enforcement chapter.  

Experts from our fellow Enhesa Company, Chemical Watch, reported in May that: 

“The European Commission is considering a comprehensive audit system of both regular and targeted controls covering all aspects of REACH compliance, in a bid to ramp up and harmonise enforcement of the law across EU member states.  

The system, which would fall under a newly established European Audit Capacity (EAC), forms part of the EU executive’s plan to revamp enforcement provisions under the ongoing revision of REACH.     

The chemicals strategy for sustainability (CSS) tasks the Commission with carrying out audits in member states to ensure compliance and enforcement and commits to making a ‘proposal to amend REACH to introduce a European Audit Capacity’.” 

This zero tolerance to non-compliance is a key talking point at this month’s Enforcement Summit 2022, where regulators and service providers will share their perspectives on this and other European enforcement developments. 

4. Citing psychological factors as the source

In the past few years, mental well-being at work has gone from top of mind to one of regulators’ top priorities. In line with an expanding awareness of the harm psychological factors can cause, we’ve also seen authorities dig deeper for the cause of enforcement cases around their effects.

Senior Expert Services Manager, Gabriela Troncoso Alarcón shares her insights:  

“In my opinion, enforcement on EHS has evolved and in certain countries has become more stringent extending the responsibility from the company to individuals in charge of it – or to those who can reasonably know of the dangers or consequences of a specific situation. 

For example: I can think of a company that went through a restructuring during which it established a toxic working environment – forcing its employees to relocate, among other things. As a result, some of the employees took their lives. The judgment was delivered a couple of years ago, charging some executives with imprisonment and fines – on top of the 3 million fine to the company.  

To me this is a landmark case encouraging companies to prioritize and take measures to have a safe working environment – that means preventing moral harassment and any type of violence including psychological violence. Along with similar cases, the ruling paved the way for more regulatory focus on protecting mental health – such as the 2019 Violence and Harassment Convention issued by the International Labor Organization. 

Evolution all around: EHS regulations, their enforcement, and your business.

There’s no doubt that as EHS regulations continue to change, the way agencies enforce them will, too. Today’s changes are holding more than just the company responsible for issues, requiring polluters to pay more and more in penalties, as well as placing more importance on the protection of our world – and our well-being. Tomorrow will bring more. Is your EHS compliance program ready? To learn more about how enforcement is evolving and how to align your business, watch our webinar on what to know today. 

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