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ISO 14001 emergency preparedness and response

What is required for ISO 14001 when it discusses emergency preparedness and response in section 4.4.7? This question is often troublesome for many implementers of the standard. Obviously, there is a need to have plans for emergency preparedness and response, but where do you start? What sort of emergencies do you need to address? How thorough do your plans need to be? Read further to answer these questions and find out more on the why and how.

Look to your environmental aspects first

Basically, if there is an emergency situation where a negative environmental impact takes place, the company needs to have plans in place to deal with this situation to avoid or minimize environmental damage. In order to decide which situations to anticipate, it is best to look to the environmental aspects that you identified early in your implementation of ISO 14001. There are a few things that are identified in the environmental aspects that can help with this, and to see a full explanation of the process please see Environmental aspect identification and classification.

The impact – Since the environmental aspects are any part of your company’s activities that could interact with the environment, either positively or negatively, it is important to note how the aspect makes an impact. Obviously, you do not need to make plans for an emergency response when the impact to the environment is positive – only when it is negative.

Control – Part of the identification is indicating if you control the aspect or merely have influence over it. This is important, since you need to have control over the aspect in order to create an emergency plan and respond to it.

Significance – This is probably the most helpful part of the aspect identification when it comes to identifying the need for emergency preparedness. If the aspect has been identified as significant, such as the potential for a large fire in a process, then this is an indication that you might need to have an emergency response plan ready in the case of a fuel spill occurring. If the potential fire would be small, and the burning fuel would have only a small impact on the environment (such as burning alcohol rather than rubber tires), then the aspect may not have been identified as significant and an emergency plan may not be necessary (or would be much simpler than a plan for a major fire).

What is needed in emergency planning?

The first thing required is to have a procedure for how you will identify the potential emergency situations. This procedure can be documented or not, as determined by the company, but must be adequately used so that it is understood by the applicable employees who need to use it. You then need to decide, using the procedure, what potential situations exist. After deciding what potential emergency situations you have, including potential accidents that could impact the environment, you need to decide how you will respond to them.

As stated above, the response should be comparable to how significant the situation could be. Plans for a large spill of a potentially harmful chemical (such as dumping a barrel of acid) may entail having supplies on hand that will allow you to contain and clean the spill – including having breathing apparatuses, protective clothing and a team of skilled and trained individuals who can safely remove the spill with minimal environmental impact. Conversely, plans for a small spill of a mostly harmless chemical (such as a very small bottle of alcohol) may be addressed with less detail and fewer safety concerns.

After deciding how to respond, this response needs to be documented in such a way that it can be used and understood. This again does not need to be a documented procedure, but needs to be in such a format that those in the organization who need it can use it consistently. The procedures need to be reviewed periodically, and revised when necessary to ensure that you have a plan that will work consistently.

Lastly, the standard requires that these plans be used when an actual emergency occurs, which is of course the point of having them. After an actual incident, it is also an important time to review the procedure for any errors or improvements that may be needed. Depending on the significance of the impacts, it is also required to test out the procedures where you can (such as having a pretend spill that you respond to as if it were a real spill).

Be prepared to reduce your risk of environmental damage

One of the main reasons that companies implement an ISO 14001 environmental management system is to control the environmental risks associated with their activities. The environmental aspect identification provides the risk assessment and management, and the emergency preparedness provides the assuredness that you will be able to respond should the risk happen and allows you to reduce the environmental impact of your realized risks. This is what implementing an environmental management system is all about.

Use this free Gap Analysis Tool to measure yourself against the ISO 14001:2015 standard.

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.