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How to Allocate Roles and Responsibilities According to ISO 14001

Any organization that has an EMS (Environmental Management System) certified to ISO 14001:2015 should be aware of the importance of allocation of employee roles and responsibilities to achieve the planned results of the system. The guidance provided by the ISO 14001:2015 standard itself is quite brief, and it is therefore possible for organizations to overlook the importance of this section. Nonetheless, how your organization approaches this key element will have great bearing on the success or failure of your EMS, and the amount of other work required to correct non-conformities which are subsequently found. So, what does an organization need to do to meet the specific wording of ISO 14001 and what methods can we use to ensure that our allocation and specification of roles and responsibilities works best for the organization and the EMS?

Meeting the requirements of the standards

Firstly, we need to take note of what the ISO 14001:2015 standard says regarding roles and responsibilities for the EMS.  It can be briefly summarized as follows:

  • Top management is responsible for ensuring that roles and responsibilities are assigned and communicated internally.
  • Top management shall allocate responsibility for ensuring that the EMS meets the terms of the standard.
  • Top management shall assign responsibility for ensuring EMS performance is communicated back to the management team.

While this seems straightforward, it soon becomes clear that roles and responsibilities for all EMS activities and the reporting of the resulting outputs is a critical factor.  It also requires significant planning on the organization’s part if good environmental performance is to be seen.  With this in mind, what practical advice can we take to help us complete this task efficiently?

Aligning roles & responsibilities to your EMS needs

In our previous article How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO 14001:2015 we considered the fundamental changes to the ISO 14001:2015 standard in terms of leadership, and what this meant for certified organizations. While requirements placed on organizational leaders are more specific than before, it is highly impractical that daily EMS related activities are carried out by organizational leaders. Because of this, careful planning will be required to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clear and achievable, outputs are measurable, and that the employees selected and delegated have the correct skill-sets. Let’s consider some of the elements that this may contain:

  • Even though the management representative is not strictly mandatory any more, many organizations still choose to nominate one as a point of contact for EMS projects and activities. They also provide a critical, clear chain of information back and forward with the top management who, though ultimately responsible for the EMS results, will also have day-to-day business issues to consider. You can learn more from the article ISO 14001; What is the role of the management representative? Nominating a management representative, or key point of responsibility for the EMS, can allow top management to delegate specific vital roles and activities, as well as reporting to this particular employee. This makes sense for many small to medium sized organizations where this employee will be known as the point of contact for EMS related information.
  • Ensuring legislation is met: Ensure that legislation checking, employee awareness and training as well as updates of critical environmental aspects are incorporated into roles and responsibilities.
  • Plan your EMS requirements and subsequent roles and responsibilities versus your employee skill-sets, using a gap analysis if necessary. Planning is critical to the success of allocating responsibilities, and this again this means that you can ensure your skill and responsibility requirements are met by your existing team. Sharing activities can ensure that you harness different opinions from across your workforce, making the identification of innovative and creative solutions more likely. This can provide a key benefit to your EMS, where all employees recognize that their opinion is valid and they play an important part in the organization’s continuing environmental performance. It also makes sense to ensure that planning is done with the assistance of line managers and employees, to ensure that specific roles are not given to those with already unmanageable workloads.  If not planned correctly, this will be reflected in shortcomings in your EMS results, and low employee morale.
  • Spreading the roles and responsibilities amongst suitably qualified employees can have real benefits. If, for example, you have employees with project management, risk management or legislative expertise, consider utilizing them when you allocate the roles and responsibilities that need to be defined for the EMS to operate successfully? This not only spreads the workload but utilizes the personal qualities and skill-sets of the workforce. This level of engagement generally ensures that employee engagement and commitment remains high, as you can learn from the article Ensuring employee buy-in when implementing your ISO 14001-based EMS.

Ensuring your roles and responsibility allocation works for your EMS

The actual documentation of responsibility within your EMS is as important as the planning and decisions that go into the process. Though there is no specific mention of “documented information” in terms of roles and responsibilities, the standard says that the organization should maintain documented information “determined as being necessary for EMS effectiveness.” Great care must be taken to ensure that, when delivered to an employee, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, clearly measurable, have a clear definition of time periods relevant to the activities, and are aligned to the capabilities of the employee. When roles and responsibilities are documented so specifically, clear review and action periods can be set. The organization can then readily identify how much progress is being made, and clarity will exist in terms of the responsibility for delivery of activity important to the EMS. Ensure that your roles and responsibilities are correctly allocated, defined and delivered, and the business of ensuring continual improvement for your EMS will become much more achievable.

Use this free online training ISO 14001 Foundations Course to understand how to define roles in your EMS.

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.