This is one of the hardest questions to answer since you just don’t know what you don’t know. Knowing all of the laws and regulations that an organization must comply with is a basic tenet of an ISO 14001-certified Environmental Management System and the foundation of any compliance assurance system, yet it is the most difficult task to accomplish. This is because within any country there exist, in addition to the governmental body that creates law, many regulatory agencies that are chartered with putting the rules of operation into play. Just trying to find out who those agencies are and where they list their regulations can be a daunting task in itself. Then you have the problem of how the regulations are written and, therefore, how easy they are to understand. As an example of the complexity you can encounter, some countries do not reissue a regulation after a change is made and instead just issue an amendment. Understanding whether the regulation applies requires reading and interpreting many layers of documentation, from the initial rule down through all of the amendments. It is challenging and extremely prone to error.
Thus, determining applicability is questionable at best. And that is if you have found the regulation to begin with.
EH&S folks who are tasked with developing a site’s list of applicable laws and regulations typically do some or all of the following:
- Conducting a web search for the laws and regulations of a country
- Joining an industry association or professional society that discusses upcoming laws and pending regulations
- Searching newspapers and trade journals
All of these approaches have pitfalls. Frequently the regulatory websites — and there usually are many in a country — are woefully out of date. Industry associations, professional societies and trade journals typically handle only the most controversial laws and regulations or those with the widest impact, leaving many others untouched. So, finding all the potentially applicable laws takes quite a bit of research and more time than most folks can afford. As a result, teams do the best job they can within the time allotted and create an applicability register that is assumed to be complete because they just don’t know what they don’t know.
This is a big problem in itself but it is only the beginning. The laws and regulations on that list will change over time, and unless someone is watching for these changes they will be missed and the management system may end up managing to non-compliance – just the opposite of what is intended.
Some sites hire professionals to do the searching for them. This approach will probably yield a better applicability register because the professional, if chosen correctly, should have much better knowledge of laws and regulations within a jurisdiction. However, there are a couple of pitfalls with this strategy, as well. First, the professional, although cognizant of the laws and regulations, will not know all of the activities, products and services that exist on your site, so matching the compliance conditions of the regulation with the site profile may not be as accurate as desired. Second, this work is very expensive to have done individually.
Another, better approach is to ask the jurisdictional experts to do what they are expert in: review and interpret the laws and regulations. Then, they should put that knowledge into a conditions-based, plain language applicability question that anyone associated with site activities can answer. In this way you get the benefit of both areas of expertise: the professionals who know the law work in that sphere, and the people who know their site answer the questions and build the site’s specific applicability register. Also, because the professionals are working on the laws and regulations generically, any number of sites can use the information, and thus a subscription service becomes possible. Furthermore, the experts can follow these laws and regulations over time for changes and amend the conditions-based questions as necessary.