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Compliance requirements according to ISO 14001:2015 – What has changed?

Compliance with environmental legal requirements has been a keystone of the ISO 14001 standard since it was introduced in 1996, and since that time this requirement has changed little. In a previous article on How to achieve regulatory compliance in ISO 14001 we talked about three main activities to use to achieve compliance with regulations for your company:  keeping up with legislation, ensuring compliance, and managing compliance. This is a very good set of activities to use, and I am sure you will agree that this will remain a useful process after this review of what the current draft versions of the ISO 14001:2015 standard say about compliance obligation.

Section 6.1.3 – Compliance Obligation

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The main section on compliance obligations is section 6.1.3, which deals with the requirements of compliance. There are two main requirements in this section of the standard:

  1. Identify and have access to applicable compliance obligations: This is the important first step of making sure that you know all of the legal requirements against the environmental aspects that are applicable to your company. Remember that these can originate at a municipal, local, national, or even international level depending on the activities of your company. If you don’t know that a specific legislation exists, you will very likely not meet the requirements of the legislation.
  2. Determine how these obligations apply to your organization: Equally as important as knowing that a law exists that could be applicable to your environmental aspects is knowing if it actually applies to your situation. For instance, you may emit waste water into your local sewage treatment facility, which will have many laws associated with it; however, many of these could be related to chemicals that are not used in your process.

This identification and assessment of your compliance obligations needs to be maintained as documented information in your Environmental Management System (EMS). This is not only the case for your own use, but also as proof for any legal auditors or management system auditors as well. It might even be beneficial to record the laws that you identify as relating to your environmental aspects even if they are determined to be not applicable to your organization; then you have proof that you know about the law, have assessed it, and find it not applicable.

Section 9.1.2 – Evaluation of Compliance

The second main section on compliance obligations is section 9.1.2, relating to your evaluation of compliance. Here you must plan and implement a process to evaluate if you meet the legal requirements that are applicable to you as determined above. This process needs to include:

  1. Frequency of compliance evaluation: How often you are going to check to see if you meet the requirements of a particular legislation will vary from law to law, but your process needs to determine how often you will check each level of compliance. For example, you may need to continually check the concentration of chemicals you are emitting into the sewage system, but you may only need to periodically check on how well you are diverting recycling from your landfill waste.
  2. Evaluate compliance and take action: This is the step that everyone thinks about when it comes to the requirements of legal compliance, and this requirement has not changed. As an organization, you need to make an assessment against the applicable laws to see if you meet the requirements, and take any actions necessary to become compliant if you are not.
  3. Maintain the status of your compliance: In other words, always know if you actually comply with your legal requirements. If a law changes, you need to know about it and know if the change affects your compliance with the law. If you make a change in your facility, you may need to evaluate whether you still obey all the laws, both during and after the change, even if you are not yet set to evaluate this according to your regular schedule.

Again, all of this evaluation needs to be kept as documented information for the use of you, your management system auditors, and any legal compliance auditors who may need to see it.

Other references to compliance obligation all refer back to these two sections, 6.1.3 and 9.1.2, such as the risk associated with these obligations and the Environmental Policy, including a commitment to comply with obligations and management review and an assessment of compliance obligation.

Is there a reason to change?

As you can see, if you are using a good approach that keeps you up to date on legislations changes, ensures compliance with legislation, and manages your compliance, you are not only doing a good job at meeting the current requirements, but will also be able to meet the updated requirements for environmental compliance obligations of the organization. As with any legal obligations for your company, the important thing is to know what is required of you in the legislation and to ensure that you are taking the actions necessary to meet the requirements. Not being caught off guard can protect you from unwanted and unnecessary fines – one of the benefits of having a good Environmental Management System.

For more information on the upcoming ISO 14001:2015 release, see this upcoming webinar on  ISO 14001:2015 vs. ISO 14001:2004 – The main changes.

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