EHS Fundamentals

What does regulatory compliance mean

Regulatory compliance is the backbone of environmental, health & safety. The concept is simple but achieving compliance is complex.

Jessica Sarnowski

by Jessica Sarnowski

Regulatory compliance, in any field, means that a company complies with the regulations that apply to business processes, products and policies. What regulatory compliance means often depends upon where a business is located, what industry standards are applicable and what processes are in place to produce products or services.

What regulatory compliance means visually

Laws are the basis for regulatory compliance. Depending upon your country, a parliament or congressional body will pass laws or statutes that have implementing regulations. In the United States, statutes and regulations cover specific subject areas. Agencies interpret statutes through regulations. Regulations are made up of separate requirements – for example, a regulation that has three requirements states that you must do A, B and C to comply.

Visually, you can think of the framework this way:

What regulatory compliance means in the EHS context

When you are running a compliance program, you will likely focus on the requirements at hand. For example: you may need to install new equipment to monitor air emissions in order to meet a requirement. The requirement would state the emission limit that you need to meet – but it is up to you to decide which technology will allow you to achieve compliance.

In addition, you need to be aware of your industry and location. Regulatory compliance varies among different industry sectors. For instance, in China, there is a standard for controlling air pollutants for the pharmaceutical industry, as well as one for the paint, ink and adhesive industry and one for industrial furnaces. In the US, there are specific standards to control hazardous air pollutants that are industry specific, such as those for petroleum refineries and those for iron and steel foundries.

Location, of course also plays a part in what regulatory compliance means to you. If you have a manufacturing operation in the US, California, then you need to be aware of all the regulations that pertain to your operations from US federal law and California state law. By contrast, if you have a facility in an EU country, then you have to be aware of EU-wide requirements as well as country and province/state specific requirements.

Sometimes, regulations are organized based on subject area, “air,” “chemicals,” etc.  Because of this, certain pollutants that you emit or discharge may trigger requirements.

As you can see, the concept of regulatory compliance is at first very simple. Find your requirements and then comply with them. However, in practice, compliance is like a well-orchestrated ballet. You need all the required “dancers” (e.g., equipment/protocols/employees) and they must work together to tell a flawless and elegant story (e.g., conduct business without harming the environment). If one dancer stumbles, then there is a risk that the whole ensemble may crumble. Likewise, when one piece of emission control equipment fails, the entire operation could be in a state of non-compliance.

What does regulatory compliance mean to your business?

There are some tangible steps that you can take to understand what regulatory compliance means in your line of work.

  1. Create a legal register. You first need to know what regulations apply to you. This may depend on industry sector, location and which pollutant(s) you are emitting. You need to start with a library of regulations that apply to you and then break down the requirements. Then, you need to find out how to comply with the requirements in the real-world sense – e.g., purchase equipment? Hire staff? Etc.
  2. Implement processes. Once you have your requirements, you need to understand how to meet them. This may involve continuous monitoring of emissions and recording observations. You may need software to help you track your compliance status and teams that will carry out self-assessments and internal audits.
  3. Report on progress. Many EHS requirements have a reporting requirement. You need to stay on top of these requirements and keep reporting records on hand to refer back to.
  4. Continually improve. Once you have implemented your compliance program, the next step is to evaluate whether it is working and how it can be improved. Only then can you truly understand what regulatory compliance means for your business.

Understanding the meaning of regulatory compliance is unique to you and your business. If you start by understanding the complexity involved, then you are on the right track. Since regulatory compliance is the backbone of the EHS field, make sure to re-evaluate what regulatory compliance means to you as your business evolves over time.

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