Over 90% of leaders within the manufacturing industry understand the importance of digital transformation. In fact, the industry was one of the first adopters of digital technology to make manufacturing processes more efficient and sustainable. But as regulatory complexities and sustainability goals continue to evolve, it’s becoming more critical for environment, health and safety (EHS) teams in manufacturing settings to embrace digital transformation to make manufacturing processes more efficient and sustainable.
Digital transformation helps to mitigate compliance reporting errors
Digital tools help EHS professionals address and mitigate complex regulatory problems by:
- Enabling them to digitize data, digitalize and automate processes for data collection and validation, and create a single source of truth for compliance data.
- Automating report submissions in line with state and local compliance requirements and the right regulatory agencies.
- Enhancing efficiency and decreasing the volume of manual tasks for reporting, which eliminates human error and inaccurate report filings.
Unfortunately, EHS teams often fear adverse reports and feedback, which can lead to financial penalties (or even operational shut-downs) for non-compliance. Automation and digital tools, however, help teams better prepare for compliance by streamlining how they manage data and other necessary information for reporting.
Where to start?
In general, when EHS leaders explore how — and when — to adopt digital methods for compliance reporting, they often struggle with where to start. The process is easier in organizations that are already using a digital blueprint for other business functions, in that it gives EHS leaders a roadmap to align and support tasks for compliance efforts. There are still hurdles, however.
For example, implementing digital transformation tools and practices for data collection is never straightforward. Nor is navigating a regulatory landscape full of constantly changing requirements for compliance and reporting. And if a company maintains various compliance program areas, such as EPCRA, RCRA, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, unifying those areas on a single foundation can be overwhelming.
Follow these five steps to bring environmental compliance and digital transformation together.
1. Develop a foundation of compliance
Achieving a successful digital transformation in EHS starts with its foundation. By centralizing compliance data and associated corporate information via cloud-based software, EHS teams access all the information they need in one place. The collection process is more straightforward and streamlined, eliminates siloed data systems — especially for dispersed facilities — and creates a single source of truth for:
- Maintaining corporate data
- Developing facility profiles
- Managing and tracking facility contacts
Companies opting for a central approach to data management can also more easily share their compliance reporting with regulatory agencies at the state, local, and federal levels.
2. Create a continual data compilation process
Once they’ve established a foundation and single source of truth, EHS leaders should focus on creating a consistent data pipeline, including:
- Instant data uploads
- Digitized questionnaires for compliance stakeholders
- The ability to transfer new data to existing data systems
Continuous data collection and monitoring relieve some of the pressure from EHS teams during reporting season. A process designed to create a system operating year-round promotes better data visibility and more robust control. Sixty-six percent of operations professionals credit automation for helping reduce data errors generated by human data input.
To increase the likelihood of a more successful (and less stressful) reporting season, environmental compliance should be continuous, not a one-time or biannual task.
3. Automate updates and notifications
One of the top errors in EHS compliance reporting is incorrect or outdated (expired) contact information at facilities. With so many moving parts within an organization, contacts and information change often. Emergency contacts leave companies. Or people involved in the compliance process change positions.
Digital transformation shines here with the ability to automate alerts that notify EHS teams about changes such as:
- Updates to corporate mailing addresses
- Facilities surpassing regulatory thresholds
- When (or if) EPA regulations apply to specific sites
Typically, companies rely on their employees — or perhaps HR — to update personnel information, but automation helps reduce errors and inaccuracies here as well. A system that updates and sends timely notifications can help a company “automatically” maintain compliance reporting.
4. Automate compliance reporting
Another principal aspect of compliance reporting? Deadlines. Multiple deadlines for report compilation tasks and final submissions live at the end of each reporting cycle. Regulatory bodies can levy hefty fines if a company misses these important deadlines.
Filing compliance reports is the final step toward achieving EHS digital transformation. Automating the reporting process empowers EHS teams to accurately and efficiently transfer compliance information to the right agencies at the right time and in the correct format.
Cloud-based compliance platforms can leverage automation to:
- Catch smaller errors before they escalate into larger issues
- Expedite the reporting process
- Free up valuable time for EHS professionals to focus on other critical compliance tasks
Unify compliance programs
Digital transformation’s ultimate goal for compliance? Aligning a company’s EHS and corporate leaders, and empowering EHS stakeholders, to buy into and adopt technology to expedite compliance processes and mitigate risks. The manufacturing industry has influenced many diverse sectors by utilizing digital technology across all functions. EHS digital transformation should follow the same path when companies use it to unify their organization’s compliance program areas.
Once a department adopts digital transformation, it sets the stage for the remaining departments to follow suit. This approach encourages enterprise companies and their compliance teams to embrace digital transformation company-wide and align its programs for ultimate results. This adoption mitigates non-compliance risk throughout the environmental compliance program process.
Most importantly, unifying all compliance program areas creates consistency, and facilitates seamless and transparent communication within a company and its sectors.
Trust, efficiency, and decreasing non-compliance risks
EHS professionals spend hours collecting data and filing compliance reports. They also spend time worrying about and correcting human errors within compliance reports or questioning if they comply.
Digital transformation automates processes and allows EHS professionals to deprioritize data collection and tracking. It helps alleviate some of the pressure on professionals and frees time to focus on more important environmental issues like reducing carbon footprints and elevating ESG.
Moreover, automation has the power to change traditional processes of the EHS landscape, rendering them more efficient and accurate on the journey to achieve environmental compliance.