The Challenge of Environmental, Health, and Safety Audit Lists

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Environmental audits are hard, very hard. While everyone seems to recognize the need for external audit lists, no one seems willing to do them properly. Why?

Clearly, the first challenge is that every operation is different, so it quickly becomes very challenging to develop any sort of global audit list without performing overkill where you have hundreds and hundreds of questions. Nevertheless, some companies do this. They basically take the legislation and put a question mark at the end of every article. You can sort by some items, “Above Ground Storage Tanks”, “Wastewater”, etc., but it is still too much data, not enough curation.

The second impediment to solving this problem is the market size and the speed of legislative change. In Canada, there are about 10 000 large industrial facilities and in theory, they should all be audited regularly. In reality, few are. In (large) part, this is due to lax government enforcement. If companies don’t fear the government inspector, their only incentive for a compliance audit is a management standard such as ISO 14001, corporate standards, or good faith. With this reduced market size, costs for creating the lists goes up. Add on to this frequent legislative change, there are substantial costs in updating the lists and ensuring they are current. Lastly, the curation of the lists – using plain language, breaking it down by industry and activity, and creating links to other resources is very, very time-consuming (read costly).

Lastly, the fact that environmental compliance is not part of the core business of most businesses reduces their willingness to spend valuable capital on audit lists and audits. When your business is making knives, cars, or anything really, the first place you put capital is in items that will increase your revenue or reduce your operating expenses. The last thing you do is invest it in non-core business activities – which is what an environmental audit is.

These three items lead to a situation where it becomes extremely difficult to produce high quality audit lists that can be profitably sold.