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Do you have to train your whole workforce on the ISO 14001 standard?

ISO 14001:2015 is the international standard that advises on the construction of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) for the business community to establish best practices in terms of minimizing environmental impact. As most organizations seek formal accreditation to the standard, certification and surveillance audits (which we looked at in the previous article 5 Tips to prepare for your surveillance audit) will now become part of your organization’s annual schedule. With those audits in mind, it is natural for thoughts to turn to what kind of program your auditor will take, what issues he will examine in depth, and what questions he/she might ask your staff members during the days of the onsite audit. With that in mind, it would be wise to consider what training your staff need before the audit to ensure they can answer any inquiries from the auditor effectively. So, what level of formal and informal training do they need, and how is it best delivered? Does everyone need the same level of training?

What the standard says: Whom to educate

When considering issues like this, the best place to begin generally is to consult the standard itself to establish expectations before commencing action. The standard says that people within the organization should have the “ability to apply knowledge and skills to achieve intended results.” Section 7.2 deals with Competence, and is supported by sections 7.3 and 7.4, which deal with “awareness” and “communication” respectively. In summary, the organization must be able to assess, provide, and maintain the correct training and communication for the members of the team deemed critical to the performance and objectives of the EMS. Therefore, there is no rigid rule for education and training with respect to the EMS, but it is patently clear that if the correct people are not trained, competent, and kept up to date, then performance will suffer.

Secondly, it is wise to assess your own organization’s needs. What level of knowledge is necessary to achieve the desired results? How many employees do you have, what level of technology, and what methods of communication do you use? Do you provide a level of training when a new employee comes on board? Do you effectively communicate results and details of initiatives and actions to your staff? When you consider all of these factors, you will then be in a position to understand what level of training and education is needed by which individuals within your organization. So, on that basis, are there any tips that may help us to achieve this?

Your company: How to educate

Once you have identified the key individuals within your organization with whom the EMS performance and objectives are directly aligned, identifying the training and knowledge required is generally pretty straightforward. But, what of the other employees who technically fall outside that category, but also have an impact on the EMS and its performance by their actions and results, and who also may face questions from an auditor? These actions may be worth considering for your organization:

  • Include an overview of the EMS, its objectives, results and initiatives within your induction process for new employees. Record this formally on the individual’s training record.
  • Ensure the EMS results and news of any initiatives are communicated to your staff by whatever means your organization uses, whether a notice board or by electronic means.
  • Create an email newsletter on a regular basis if the majority of your employees have email access.
  • Ask team leaders to incorporate EMS results and updates into the regular team meetings.
  • Ensure that there is a culture within your organization to promote information regarding the EMS. This can be a task for your quality department, for example: education and awareness are the keys to improving performance.
  • In the previous article How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO 14001:2015 we looked at the revised roles of leaders under the new standard. Ensure your organizational leaders demonstrate the stated criteria by setting an example to your workforce indicating the importance of the company EMS performance.
  • In the spirit of the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” cycle, conduct surveys amongst your staff periodically to measure EMS awareness. This will allow you to employ extra communication sessions if you feel that there is a gap between your expectations and the actual situation.

So, will the actions above satisfy both EMS and audit requirements?

EMS knowledge: Requirements satisfied

So, we now understand that not everyone needs formal training to prepare for an audit, but an organization must carefully identify who does, and why. Formal recording of this training is also highly recommended for evidential purposes at audit time. We can also see that a general information flow needs to take place to other employees regarding the EMS, and that it is quite clear that the more information we provide, the more chance of success your EMS will have. Within those parameters, organizations then have the local knowledge to apply these principles to their own circumstances. As with most things in business, if you approach this with a minimalist attitude, then your chance of success decreases. If you create a culture of information sharing and education, your chances of achieving objectives will increase. Invest your time, and you will see the benefit.

To ensure that you meet the standard’s requirements, visit our  ISO 14001:2015 Internal Auditor online course.

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.