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Whether you’re just starting the ISO 14001 certification process or you’re already certified and are trying to manage your Environmental Management System or EMS, you’re probably keenly aware that implementing an EMS isn’t a “one and done” process.
In other words, the work does not conclude when the EMS is fully implemented nor does it conclude when a company receives its certification. Instead, it’s a continuous improvement process that requires regular re-evaluation and upkeep. Because of this, it’s of critical importance that companies pursuing this certification go into the process fully aware of what additional responsibilities and tasks this program will generate for the workforce and how these things will be managed.
Unfortunately, some companies will start the certification process unaware of the required long-term commitment and they will attempt to manage things using the same methods they use to manage other programs, namely paper forms, spreadsheets, and emails. But, for a company with multiple locations or that has a large number of operational activities to assess, managing things this way eventually becomes overwhelming and chaotic. When this happens it can dramatically impact the level of participation and interest in the process, which unfortunately is one reason why many companies abandon the process and never achieve certification.
This is where companies can benefit from software solutions, like those offered by EHS Insight. Our module-based software is designed to help companies tackle and manage the entirety of their EHS program, including continuous improvement programs like their Environmental Management System. Whether you’re looking for a single module to help manage just one aspect of this process or a complete solution to manage everything, we’ve got a solution to fit your needs—and your budget!
If you’re not entirely sure what you’ll need to get started on your ISO 14001 journey or if you’re really just curious about how you could use EHS Insight to better manage your EMS, keep reading to find out more.
The entire ISO 14001 standard revolves around two things:
The EMS is what a company will use to help achieve environmental goals by providing a set of written objectives or goals that the company will need to meet and by establishing the continuous processes for how they will be managed.
These goals are established during the initial stages of the process. To understand a company’s goals they first have to identify why they are interested in developing an EMS. Depending on the organization, the reasons might be a desire to improve their existing environmental programs or because of a regulatory requirement, or even because having an EMS and achieving ISO 14001 certification will make them more competitive in their respective industry.
Once a company has figured out what its goals are, they’ll need to be well documented because as a company begins to build their EMS they’ll want to refer back to these goals to make sure any procedures or processes they develop within the EMS will actually help with goal achievement.
A great place to document these goals is in our Objectives module. In this module, which we’ll discuss more in-depth later in this article, a company would begin by adding its targeted strategies or goals into the module. For example, a company might add “Achieve ISO 14001 certification” or “Develop an EMS” as their targeted strategies. As a company works through the process and develops objectives to meet these goals, they can be added into the module as objectives or objective plans, include actions to be completed, and can of course be tracked through the reporting options, but we’ll dive into this a bit more later in the article.
As we stated earlier, the EMS is a management system that companies use to help achieve specific environmental goals they’ve established. While a company can understand the overarching goal of creating an EMS, understanding how to meet those goals requires having a good understanding of all the ways a company’s operations interact with the environment and how significant those interactions might be.
To do this, a company has to assess its individual operational activities. For any company with a large number of activities to assess, this part of the process can be really difficult without a bit of planning. Before the assessment process starts, it’s absolutely imperative to establish a universal scale or scoring system to use when evaluating potential environmental impacts from operational activities. Without having a clearly defined idea of what constitutes a “significant impact”, companies run the risk of generating a lot of unnecessary actions.
When it comes to this process, our Environmental Aspects & Impacts module is an excellent tool for the job. With this module, operational activities are first categorized by the type of activity (i.e., “routine” and “non-routine”). Once categorized, users will add individual aspects of that activity that need to be evaluated. Every aspect of an activity that a company wants to evaluate goes through a process to determine its risk level by identifying and evaluating its potential impacts on the environment. This risk scoring process can be set up to include any criteria important to an organization such as the impacts on public health, the environment, the company’s reputation, frequency, and legal ramifications.
As an aspect’s impacts are evaluated, a significance score is calculated using a specific equation that is ready to use out of the box but can be modified if a customer chooses. Aspects are then either categorized as significant or not significant. Regardless of whether an aspect is determined to have a significant impact or not, users can add information on how the aspect will be controlled and add any legal information as needed. In addition, at any time during this process, a user can choose to add CAPAs which can then be tracked through to completion.
When it’s time to submit the form, users have the option of including a scheduled review for those aspects that need to be more closely monitored. And, users with specific permissions will receive an email notification that a review has been scheduled for this particular aspect. Reviewers can add any additional aspects to the activity, add comments, include an additional review, or if necessary, choose to terminate that aspect which will remove it from the process.
As users evaluate operational activities and uncover significant environmental impacts, they will want to develop objectives and actions to help reduce those impacts and this is where the Objectives module which we introduced earlier, really shines.
Depending on permissions, users can add objectives in one of two ways. They can set up individual objectives and include the actions needed to meet that objective or they can set up an objective plan and add individual objectives and actions to that plan. As actions are developed, they can be assigned to a single person or to a role, prioritized, made recurring, and include a reminder notification as well as an escalation notification to an individual or a specific role when an action is coming due.
Once objectives and associated actions have been established, users can then track their progress through any one of the multiple reporting options available in the reports section of the software. If a specific report is not available, customers having administrative access can create new reports and often modify existing reports or they can work with our Customer Success Team to help create a new report.
Throughout this entire process, companies will begin developing procedures and collecting other documentation, much of which will be required to achieve certification. As most people know, anytime a lot of documentation needs to be kept and managed, without a good document management system in place, companies will run into problems that can derail their efforts. Typically those problems will include a difficulty in keeping up with documentation, problems with ensuring document reviews are conducted in a timely fashion, being unable to manage a large number of draft documents and subsequent revisions, and of course, making sure current document versions are available to those who need them. The best way for a company to manage their ISO and EMS documentation is to do it electronically using features like EHS Insight’s Document Library which comes standard with every module.
When users add a custom document library, they aren’t just creating a place to store documents, they’re creating a whole process for managing those documents. This process includes setting permissions for who can read, edit and administrate documents within the library, establishing a workflow of up to three levels of review and approval to ensure everyone who should be involved in the process is actively engaged, and the ability to quickly access previous document versions when needed. And, if a customer is using our Safety Meetings module and/or our Onboarding module, they can choose to make their EMS documents available for use in safety meetings and during the onboarding process to ensure all new workers start off on the right foot.
Regardless of how far along a company is with this process, they will inevitably begin to generate a lot of tasks to be completed and because this process is a continuous one, many of these tasks will often be recurring. Trying to manage the number of tasks that might be generated from a continuous process like this one can be quite the challenge without the use of software like our Compliance Tasks module. With this module, users are provided with a complete solution for managing all the tasks associated with the ISO 14001 certification process and those associated with managing an EMS (and really any other tasks a company might have to manage, whether they are EHS related or not).
Our Compliance Tasks module provides users with a simple format for generating tasks that can be assigned to specific persons, business entities, and roles within the organization and that can be prioritized, associated with a specific asset and/or permit, can be set up to recur and have specific notifications to remind the person(s) assigned that a task is due and to escalate to another person or role prior to the task’s due date. To make managing tasks even simpler, users who are assigned tasks will receive an interactive email notification where they can access the task without having to log into the software separately.
When it’s time to review tasks for completion or progress towards completion, users are able to generate several different reports that offer the ability to review a log of compliance tasks based on their action status, business entity, and task history. When quick charts are needed, users can choose to generate a KPI chart or set up their dashboards to include quick access to this information, which is particularly useful when keeping key members of leadership in the loop.
Training is another important part of any continuous improvement process so naturally, the ISO 14001 certification process includes training beginning in the earliest stages of this process and continuing throughout the life of the certification.
One thing that’s sometimes not thought about is how to deliver that training, especially in today’s current climate where it’s often not possible to get everyone into a room and still maintain social distancing needs or if a company’s structure includes a certain number of employees who work from home. Without an effective way to deliver training that includes a means to track participation, companies will find themselves in a situation where key concepts and responsibilities aren’t uniformly or clearly understood. When this occurs, the possibility of successfully achieving or managing an ISO certification is reduced. This is why it’s so important to discuss how training will be handled and to secure the necessary resources (like funding) in the beginning stages of this process.
For companies looking for a full-service way to manage their training programs (including ISO 14001 training), EHS Insight offers a Training Management module that checks all the boxes. As specific training requirements are identified, they can be created to include user-developed content like embedded videos, documents, and presentations or if a user has packaged SCORM or AICC content, they can simply upload them into the training requirement. When a user has developed their own content, they can also include quizzes with a user-defined passing score to ensure participation and mastery of the content. In addition, when a training requirement is created, anyone who is included in the assignment criteria will be automatically assigned that training which means users don’t have to remember to assign training or who to assign it to.
After a training requirement has been established, customers can then use the Training Record/Request Form to request, schedule, and coordinate training and also to record completed training for one person or multiple people with the collected data being made available via any one of the 24 different training reports, many of which can be edited to a user’s specific needs.
As we said from the beginning, developing and managing an EMS is a continuous improvement process. The only way a company can ensure continuous improvement is to conduct routine audits. If there are a lot of processes to audit or if there is more than one location to include in internal audits, using a paper form isn’t really the best option, especially since one of the goals of ISO 14001 is to reduce environmental impacts. But, automating this part of the process is sometimes a key stumbling block for a lot of companies because either they’re not ready to move away from paper forms or because they think automating this process will require the most up to date technology, like special devices and/or connection to a reliable Wi-Fi source.
At EHS Insight, we understood this dilemma which is why we created our mobile application (which is included with every module) to function almost identically to our web application and that doesn’t require an active connection to a reliable Wi-Fi source to use. This includes our Audit Management module, which allows users to create custom audits and inspections and complete them electronically in the field.
Question sets can be set up in a myriad of different ways and can include answer-based requirements like adding a CAPA when an answer reveals an area of non-compliance and can include a required verification method like uploading a picture or other document. Depending on the needs of the company, question sets can also include points, signatures, and even an email notification to specific people when an audit has been completed. For those more complicated questions that might require some explanation, guidelines can be included within specific questions to help the auditor better understand the question or to provide context.
If companies are also using our Compliance Task module, these audits can be scheduled and assigned to those individuals who have been trained as internal auditors. When scheduled, the auditor will receive an email notification of the assignment that includes a link allowing them to jump right into the audit without having to log into the software. When audits are completed, the collected data will be available through one of the nearly two dozen reporting options included with this module, many of which can be modified as needed—and all of this can be completed without an active Wi-Fi connection. Completed audits and inspections will be synced as soon as the device is reconnected to Wi-Fi, which means users can reduce their dependence on paper.
ISO 14001 may seem really complicated and difficult to implement and manage, but it really doesn’t have to be. Nearly every aspect of this process can be made easier just by using the right tools, such as those offered by EHS Insight.
Katy Lyden is a EHS Domain Analyst and Subject Matter Expert for StarTex Software, the company behind EHS Insight. Prior to her current role, Katy spent 17 years successfully leading EHS programs for several large companies within the manufacturing industry. Katy is a Navy veteran, Licensed Emergency Medical...
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