ISO 14001:2015 – What is Annex A and how do you use it?

The latest version of ISO 14001, released in September 2015, includes Annex A which is entitled “Guidance on the use of the international standard”. Many people don’t look at this section of the standard because they do not understand what it is useful for. The explanation at the beginning of the Annex is that the information is intended to prevent misinterpretation of the requirements of the standard. Here is some more information about how Annex A is formatted, how it can be used, and why it is important to understand Annex A.

What is the format of Annex A?

Annex A is set up to exactly follow the clauses of the standard, so that the requirements of a clause match the corresponding Annex A clause. For instance, clause 7.2 gives the requirements for competence of persons who do the work that affects the environmental management system (EMS) and the ability of the organization to meet its obligations for legal compliance. The requirements discuss competence in terms of education, training and experience and how the organization should determine training needs and take action to acquire the necessary competency when it is missing.

The corresponding section in Annex A gives more guidance around these requirements. Section A7.2 first explains that the requirements are intended to apply to persons who are working under the organization’s control and can affect the environmental performance. The guidance section then gives examples of different persons to whom this would apply within the EMS. The guidance information is there to clarify that it is not just employees of the organization to which the requirements apply, but any person performing EMS actions.

As such, if you were hiring an outside contractor to perform your internal audits or evaluate your legal compliance, it is still up to you to determine the competency that is required of these contractors and how you will take actions when necessary to fill any missing competencies in the contractors.

How can you use Annex A?

When you are implementing the requirements of ISO 14001:2015, it is wise to also look at the guidance located in Annex A to make sure that you have interpreted the requirements as they were intended. The annex does not tell you how to implement the requirements of the standard, but it does explain how the writers of the standard intended the requirements to be interpreted so that you go in the right direction with your implementation. In the example above, you may have only applied your processes for competency to your direct employees and forgotten to also include any contractors that were part of your environmental management system. Section A7.2 includes some of the most common areas where many companies have people outside of their organization involved in the EMS, such as those who respond to emergency situations or are involved in meeting environmental objectives.

Why should you read and use Annex A?

There are two main benefits of using Annex A to guide you in your implementation of an environmental management system for ISO 14001:2015. The first reason that it is important to review and understand the interpretation provided in Annex A is because it is this interpretation that the auditors from the certification body will use when they are assessing your system. This will help you prepare for when you have your external certification audit.

The second and probably more important reason is that you chose to implement the ISO 14001:2015 requirements because they are the world-recognized standard for implementing a good environmental management system. The annex tells you how the writers of the requirements intended them to be interpreted, so this is intended to make sure that you do not misunderstand the requirements. In order to implement an EMS that is world-recognized, it is important to ensure that you interpret the requirements as they were intended. In this way, you can build the best EMS as it was intended and gain the most benefit from that system for your organization.

For more information on requirements of the standard, visit our  ISO 14001:2015 Foundations online course.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.