EHS self-assessment slam-dunks: 5 best practices for true success

EHS self-assessments are vital to compliance preparedness. Use these proven methods for reap real benefits.

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by Elaine Ye

What is an EHS self-assessment?

In contrast to corporate-wide environmental, health and safety (EHS) auditing programs, an EHS self-assessment is an internal audit focusing solely on an individual facility. Generally, facilities conduct these evaluations on their own to provide a snapshot of the current compliance status in that site. For an organization with multiple sites, routinely conducting EHS self-assessments across the all facilities enhances its ability to systematically monitor compliance levels and enable continued improvement of its EHS management.

Maintaining a regular EHS self-assessment program is fundamental for companies’ ongoing evaluation of their EHS management systems. Yet, whether a business will reap these benefits depends on the self-audit’s structure and strategy. Unfortunately, many mis-guided tendencies trample the chances of an effective appraisal before it even begins. From what to cover to how to leverage final conclusions, here are 5 best practices to ensure that your EHS self-assessments have the right framework for optimal results.

1. Limit the scope and align it with top-level goals.

Setting a clear objective before planning out any details is crucial to a successful EHS self-assessment. For facilities that involve various types of operations, these evaluations are too often too broad and, therefore, too overwhelming to effectively complete. On the other side of the spectrum, for single-operation sites, there might be a specific, urgent EHS issue to assess that a wide-ranging evaluation only skims over. Aligning with overarching goals and limiting the scope of the EHS self-assessment helps to not only make the process more achievable but also offer more actionable results.

To fully maximize the benefit from your EHS self-assessment, ensure that the objective is directly tied to an existing overarching EHS compliance goal – whether for that facility or enterprise-wide. For instance, you might use the process to highlight the strength of the current compliance programs or locate areas that require additional resources for the next stage of the organization’s compliance strategy. Through this alignment, the EHS self-assessment program can serve as an integral part of corporate-wide compliance monitoring, helping to plan corporate resources based on findings or evaluate the management system for ISO or other certification purposes.

Another way to optimize results from your EHS self-assessment is to  narrow down the scope to targeted risk exposure of a facility’s manufacturing activities, such as the hazard and effect management process, instead of covering the entire spectrum of applicable EHS issues. Similarly, you can also structure your EHS self-assessment to focus only on a specific area of operation, such as hazardous material storage areas and their related EHS concerns.

Regardless of what you determine the priority, the better defined your EHS self-assessment goal, the more likely you are to obtain findings that help you achieve it.

2. Pick the right people to participate in the EHS self-assessment.

Just as important as the type of information you want to get out of your EHS self-assessment is the team you choose to be involved in it. In order to determine the appropriate objective and accurately assess compliance against it, a facility needs to fully understand the activities that are frequently carried out at the sites. This includes any complex technological machinery being used at the plants. Especially for facilities that are newly built or have been recently expanded or renovated, it is crucial to know the exact details of the plants’ activities. Even if your facility had a full-spectrum assessment in previous years, it is likely to have new and/or additional operation units or machinery that could significantly change your compliance obligations.

As you select the team to lead and carry out the self-assessment, make sure to include the following staff and experts:

  • EHS personnel and staff;
  • people familiar with facility operations, such as plant supervisors or managers, and operation line management personnel;
  • technical specialists or safety engineers familiar with the operation and its tools and systems;
  • external experts or consultancies, when possible, to facilitate the process based on their specific expertise and to give an essential outside perspective.

When you form an EHS self-assessment team with these key participants, you ensure that it is fully equipped with the necessary site knowledge and experience, technical expertise and objectivity to offer clear, accurate and leverageable results.

3. Time it right: Plan a reasonable schedule for the EHS self-assessment.

As necessary as it is, an EHS self-assessment isn’t the only thing your team needs to do. This type of audit should be an efficient evaluation – not a prolonged process that disrupts normal operations. As such, you should create a plan for your process that fits within a manageable timeframe and ensure that it corresponds with other responsibilities.

When it comes to timing: Compliance obligations come first. This means that each facility needs to plan any EHS self-assessment around upcoming mandatory audit/inspection requirements. Ideally, your facility would complete the EHS self-assessment prior to the regular mandatory audit. This way, the resulting findings can serve as a “fire drill,” identifying changes to make before the official audit. In terms of prioritizing plants, choose to first evaluate sites that involve high-risk exposure before those with less urgent compliance considerations.

In terms of timeframe: Break it down for better results. Even with a targeted focus for your EHS self-assessment, if your objective requires to cover multiple aspects or EHS issues and/or involves many site EHS personnel and technical experts, separate it into several smaller, streamlined evaluations. For instance, a facility can divide the appraisal into different scopes which can be assigned to the relevant EHS personnel and technical experts to evaluate.

4. Save time before you start with swifter information gathering.

You’ve targeted your objective, assembled your team and carefully planned your timeframe – but it’s not time to hit the trigger just yet. Ensure your most efficient EHS self-assessment with a solution to speed up the initial review stage.

Depending on your facility’s scope of operations and identified goal, the assessment process may require review of voluminous records and documents. To save time and cut costs, you can leverage a digital regulatory intelligence tool to help you pre-emptively gather essential information and build a solid foundation before the EHS self-assessment begins.

Enhesa Compliance Intelligence, for example, helps to pare down the regulatory obligations, records and documents to what’s pertinent for specific business units and sites. This frees your team from manually filtering through information and gives a head-start to the evaluation. You can also use this technology to generate a checklist of items required for the self-audit to fast-track your evaluation.

Having this type of tool to facilitate the process can also streamline stages during and after the EHS self-assessment. By centralizing and standardizing information, you can quickly share results – with metrics that mean the same thing to everyone in a place they can all access.

5. Don’t forget the follow-up: Take action after the EHS self-assessment.

No matter how seamlessly you perform a EHS self-assessment, your business won’t make progress until you leverage what you’ve learned. These types of evaluations provide key insights that identify both positive progress and weaknesses in a facility’s EHS compliance, which require immediate action whether for instant turnaround or as steps toward longer-term improvement.

While EHS self-assessment findings indicate areas of improvement for individual facilities, they also highlight the strengths and accomplishments achieved under the current compliance management system. EHS leadership may highlight persistent and corporate-wide issues across various sites, as they indicate high-risk areas and potential gaps in the current compliance program. Whatever the conclusion, for both local and top-level findings, it’s critical that leadership uses these results to properly plan resources and tackle issues to avoid potential consequences of non-compliance. Otherwise, what was all that work for?

EHS self-assessments: Benefiting your business beyond the current compliance snapshot.

Without the right structure and strategy, EHS self-assessments can produce more wasted effort than worthwhile findings. To be truly effective, this type of appraisal shouldn’t be merely a glance in the mirror, measuring a facility against its existing EHS compliance checklist. Instead,  when completed and consulted correctly, these evaluations reflect the progress of ongoing compliance management, helping to maximize EHS compliance efforts and resources across your organization for continued progress. By following the best practices outlined above, you can overcome the challenges blocking your company from a better view of its compliance management today – and leverage more actionable insights for maintaining it in the future.

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