This article outlines strategies and tactics for efficiently and effectively managing chemicals, while achieving EHS regulatory compliance.

Since OHSA and the EPA were created in the 1970s, regulations have changed the way that chemicals and other hazardous materials are managed and introduced cradle-to-grave liability for chemicals and hazardous waste.

The 1980s brought the Hazard Communication Standard, compelling industry to determine the hazard properties of chemical products and to disclose those hazards to all workers who could potentially be exposed to those products. Three decades later, compliance with government regulations relating to the chemical lifecycle is universally accepted and affects virtually every commercial enterprise in the U.S. and throughout most of the world.

What’s your goal?
Today there are two primary approaches to compliance in chemical management. The first sets compliance with EHS regulations as the goal, tasking EHS managers to “keep us out of trouble.” This minimalist approach asks managers to concentrate on staying within “letter of the law” compliance, primarily to avoid fines and the potentially damaging fallout of bad press.

On one level, this approach makes sense. If a company follows the rules exactly as written, it won’t be fined and will reduce the chance and occurrence of employee accidents. But this approach fails to embrace the intention of EHS regulations — to recognize regulations as the minimum level of chemical management that they are intended to be — and to understand that benefits to employee safety and liability reduction result only from integrating EHS management practices tailored to each business’s specific operations.

More motivated companies find themselves spending less energy, money and time worrying about maintaining a minimum level of compliance and instead take their companies to a new level where the goal is to keep employees healthy, eliminate accidents, and control liability. These companies argue that along with corporate sustainability, there is a moral argument to be made and that EHS management can be married to the core values of a company to not only keep it in compliance, but also make it a good corporate citizen.

Outsourcing option
Outsourcing is a cost-effective solution for bolstering EHS compliance practices in your company’s chemical management operations. With outsourcing, unbiased EHS experts assist your staff to identify the most effective areas to apply internal resources, and those that lend themselves to be outsourced to an expert third party. A service provider can tailor a solution specific to a company’s EHS, chemical information and compliance needs, and devise a plan that not only keeps the company out of legal trouble, but also aims for, and achieves, excellence.

The first step: determine where your company stands in regards to compliance and safety. Most companies working with a good outsourced provider conduct an initial compliance assessment to ascertain where EHS efforts succeed and where they need reinforcement. After this assessment, several programs might be put in place to better secure worker safety and come into alignment with compliance standards.

Outsourcing some of the more mundane tasks associated with compliance — such as obtaining and managing Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), regulatory reporting, chemical classification, training or waste management — can free up the internal EHS staff, enabling these professionals to focus on the more strategic tasks associated with implementing an outstanding EHS program.

Positioned to succeed
Once a thorough program is in place, taking it to a new level and exceeding compliance standards is not as complicated as you might think.

Plus, companies that implement proactive compliance programs are examples to employees and the community. And if there are thoughts of global expansion, these companies find themselves more readily accepted and respected in other countries that take environmental concerns seriously. A proactive company with a strategic chemical management and EHS regulatory compliance program can more easily adapt to the regulatory climate in new regulatory environments.

Concentrating on a strategic approach to EHS management leads to less stress for managers at all levels. Companies that take compliance to a new level spend less time “putting out fires” prior to or following inspections. More than that, they take pride in meeting strategic EHS goals instead of just doing what is necessary to get by.

The number of corporations with a well-developed EHS and chemical management strategy is increasing. Companies with a cohesive strategy achieve value, not to mention international recognition. They garner respect not only for their business success, but also for their attitude of achieving exceptional EHS management.

Raising your company’s EHS standards saves time, energy and dollars, places your company on higher moral ground, and leads to an improved image, a stronger brand and a greater competitive advantage. A good outsourcing partner can assist you by assessing your EHS situation, identifying potential trouble spots and recommending ways you can meet and exceed compliance standards. Having exceptional EHS compliance practices within your chemical management program provides value on many levels and, for outstanding companies, is simply the right thing to do.