We cover what businesses need to know about getting environmental audits done at their facilities.
Environmental audits can be a tricky thing to understand if you're new to the environmental scene. I've spent the last 20+ years working to help companies get into environmental compliance, and over those years, I've gotten some great questions from plant managers, environmental managers, CEOs, etc. about audits, ranging from simple to extremely complex.
We find people tend to have a lot of questions about environmental audits, and with good reason. There's no cut-and-dry answer as to what your audit is. Personally, I'm a big proponent of audits, as they can be invaluable to your facility and company. They can help get your operation on the right path to environmental compliance, and steer clear of penalties, fines, and violations. We cover that more in detail in these articles:
The Top 5 Things to Know About Environmental Audits
Here are my top 5 tips I usually tell people when we start talking about environmental audits regardless of your industry, location, etc. These are some basic audit considerations you should be thinking about while heading down this road.
1. What's the purpose of the environmental audit?
If you’re doing anything other than a complete, comprehensive compliance audit, then make sure it’s very obvious. For example, if you’re doing an audit on your facility's NPDES Stormwater Permits, make sure it’s clear that it’s just that, and nothing more. Clearly define what your goals are, and what you want to find and learn out of the audit.
Why? Because conducting an environmental audit can carry some liability with it. If you get your entire operation audited and find out that there are several areas of non-compliance, you have documented proof that you're in violation of various rules, laws, and regulations. Not good!
2 - Be ready to address the issues of the audit findings.
I’ve conducted audits that have found everything from major issues to very simple tweaks, but the bottom line is these folks now have a document showing they aren't following regulations.
You (and management) have to be 100% aware of what is involved during the process of conducting an environmental audit, including what the findings, outcomes, and long-term considerations mean to get your facility into compliance.
You must be willing to do WHATEVER needs to be done to fix problems. This can include self-reporting, penalties, or even shutting down operations until things can be addressed.
Don’t get an audit unless you’re ready to address any and all issues!
There is nothing worse than finding an issue and not addressing. It can have real repercussions, especially if regulators learn about your audit. You can get in some serious trouble.
3. The environmental audit found a problem, now what?
If something is found, strongly consider the USEPA’s Audit Policy to self-report and potentially avoid penalties, at least on the Federal level.
There are strict requirements on its use, so consult with someone with experience before self-reporting. The use of this policy requires it to be based on a comprehensive audit conducted by a qualified person and prompt reporting in accordance with specified deadlines. Just remember, this may not provide any protection on the state level. If it’s something that requires reporting to the USEPA or the USEPA is the largest potential enforcer, then consider this. We cover this more in our article Do I have to report the results of an environmental audit?
4. Do I need an attorney during the environmental auditing process?
Do yourself a favor and consult legal counsel. There is a lot of risks involved with audits, but a lot of benefits as well. Talk to an environmental attorney before you begin the auditing process. Let them know what is being considered, and proceed based upon sound legal advice.
If possible, have the audit conducted through outside legal counsel. Legal counsel can retain an environmental expert to do the audit so their correspondence is considered privileged. This is known as attorney-client privilege, and really should be used. This is what larger companies prefer to do, and there’s a reason why; it’s good business and makes sense to keep your information safe!
5. Don't skimp, hire an environmental professional.
For your first audit, I would be wary of doing a complete, comprehensive compliance audit yourself. Why? Simple. Liability. Chances are you’re going to find something which will need to be reported to management, documented, and may require some inconvenient steps to be taken. Hire an outside expert in the field to conduct the audit.
Don’t scrimp on good help. Make sure the auditor has a good grasp on all related issues. I’ve seen a lot of “compliance audits” done by “experts” who know almost nothing about the applicability of regulations to the industry/facility being audited. Remember, any issues are yours to deal with. Some issues have penalties if faulty reporting was done, which can be severe. Make sure you use someone who knows what to look for and how to help you or you could pay the price.
Need help with environmental audits?
Overall, I think most facilities in the United States should actively be conducting environmental audits, especially when you factor in things like staff turnover, regulation changes, and that regulations can (and do) exist on the Federal, state, county, and even the city level. Chances are your facility isn't 100% in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, and audits can help keep you in check.
Need a hand with environmental audits at your operation? If so, we're here to help. Reach out, let's talk, and see if getting an environmental audit is what your operation needs. To learn more, feel free to contact us online, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, give us a call at 888-RMA-0230, or simply fill out the form below to get in touch.