By Zane Hood
In environmental compliance, the term “audit” carries as much weight as it does when filing our personal taxes. Triggering a compliance audit—regardless of how well we’re prepared—can leave us scrambling for data, thumbing through old records, and otherwise hoping that we’ve dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” (twice if necessary).
Despite the instinctual anxiety caused by the word “audit,” chances are good that you’ve stayed mostly on top of your regulations and best practices. But try as we might, things fall through the cracks. Even the most confident titans of industry feel a pang of doubt now and then.
Whether you rely on an in-house environmental management team or outsource the task to consultants (or, more realistically, a combination of the two), there’s no denying that an audit changes things. In times of even minor worry, having a few answers to the most frequently asked questions can provide us with genuine comfort.
As an ENR top 200 environmental firm, PPM Consultants has guided many a frazzled manufacturer through the audit process. With grace, planning, and a few triple checks, you can face an environmental compliance audit with the utmost resolve. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding audits.
When tax audits are concerned, the second question we tend to ask after “why me?” is usually “why now?” In the case of multimedia environmental compliance audits, understanding what triggered the review can help us to better prepare for it.
There are numerous instances where a manufacturer’s actions (intentional or otherwise) can trigger a compliance audit. Below you can find a few of the most common scenarios.
Buying/Selling a Facility
When buying or selling a facility—just as when buying or selling a home—a cursory inspection is generally required. For both buyers and sellers, an environmental compliance audit provides the confidence required to close a deal.
For buyers, an environmental compliance audit can affirm or lower the value of a facility. The same goes for sellers looking to make top dollar on a well-managed site. In either case, a compliance audit should be expected.
Seeking 140001 Compliance
For facilities seeking ISO 140001 or Responsible Care 140001 certifications, environmental compliance audits are becoming the norm rather than the exception. RC 140001 is a chemical care management certification created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC). As such, an initial compliance audit is usually conducted to verify a facility’s eligibility.
When seeking certification, facilities will need to know where any current deficiencies exist so that they can adjust for environmental nonconformances that would otherwise be identified in the process of preparing an environmental management system (EMS).
Internal Quality Control
No matter how much trust we have in our in-house compliance teams, external reviews can provide valuable insights. From time to time, third-party examinations of a facility’s compliance can highlight oversights that even the most ardent managers miss.
A periodic third-party environmental compliance audit can disclose deficiencies in the facility’s EMS and can strengthen the internal compliance team’s focus in the years ahead.
As always, the steps we take before, during, and after a compliance audit depend on the circumstances and the unique nature of any discovered noncompliances.
What are my reporting requirements if noncompliances should be found?
In the event of noncompliance, there are multiple opportunities to mitigate penalties and correct the issue. While not required, to lessen the damage and get your in-house compliance management team back on track, you can try any of the following:
- Prompt Disclosure – Report the noncompliances to the EPA within 21 days of discovery
- Independent Discovery & Disclosure – Self-report noncompliances before a third party reports them
- Correction & Remediation – Solve the problem within 60 days of discovery
- Prevent Recurrence – Establish a plan to prevent the problem from occurring again
- Cooperate – Dedicate assistance to fixing the issue
Should I conduct the audit under attorney-client privilege?
Elective environmental compliance audits can reveal issues we need to know about, even if being aware of those issues can compel us to action for legal or liability reasons. Safeguarding sensitive compliance information can give you time to mitigate penalties or solve the discovered noncompliances altogether.
Speak with your attorney about your reporting obligations and how you can mitigate any potential penalties or legal issues by self-reporting.
Why should I care if the facility I’m purchasing is compliant?
What the previous owner failed to do, the new owner will be held responsible for. If major or even minor systemic problems exist within a facility’s EMS, you could be responsible for paying penalties in addition to the cost of updating operations to prevent recurrences in the future.
The Bright Side
Environmental compliance audits can be tricky, stressful, and time-consuming, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bright side. Noncompliances have a tendency of being discovered whether it’s today, tomorrow, or next year. By ensuring compliance, you can get back to business as usual, whether you’re holding onto your facility, buying/selling it, or applying for certification.
PPM Consultants can help you with your multimedia environmental compliance audit by guiding you, your facility, and your EMS team every step of the way. Everyone wants to get back to work as safely and successfully as possible. Audits provide opportunity, and PPM Consultants can illuminate the bright side of any compliance review.
PPM Consultants can guide you through the audit process!
Environmental compliance audits happen for numerous reasons and can have a multitude of effects on your facility and operational ability. To glide through an audit, whatever its cause, you need a steady hand at your side, one that keeps up to date with ever-changing EPA policy. PPM Consultants can work as a third-party, with a third-party or with your internal environmental compliance team to reach your goals, whatever they are. For more information, check out our website here or call 1-800-945-4834 today!