Evaluation of Compliance: Part I

Common Ragwort
Common Ragwort

In this first of two posts, I will explain the starting point for defining the specific “legal or other requirement” for a legal register under an environmental management system based on ISO 14001:2004.

It should be noted that a legal register is not a specific requirement of ISO 14001:2004 but many environmental managers prefer to think in terms of a register as a repository of all their organisation’s requirements.

The case study starts when a fellow environmentalist asked me to look at a finding that had been raised by a UKAS-accredited Certification Body with respect to two elements of evidence found during the surveillance audit.

  1. The presence of Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) on one of their sites, and;
  2. The lack of a reference of The Dangerous Weeds Act 1959 in their Legal Register

The finding that was raised was “The Dangerous Weeds Act 1959 has been identified as a candidate for addition to the Legal Register but has not yet been added nor evaluated for their compliance to the Act. The organisation understood the requirements in relation to the danger of Ragwort to horses”.

This finding showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the Act within our legal system aside from misquoting its name and, consequently, the application of the requirements for an evaluation of compliance under an environmental management system based on ISO 14001:2004.

Before examining the specific legal requirements, I am sure that environmentalists are aware that the ingestion of Common Ragwort, either in its green or dried state, can cause serious liver damage, which can have tragic consequences for both animals and owners. Indeed, Ragwort is the only one of the five weeds covered by the Weeds Act 1959, which is harmful to horses and other animals. However, in the right place, and where there is no risk to animal welfare, ragwort contributes to the biodiversity of the flora and fauna in our countryside.

In relation to the compliance issue, the situation is different from that presented in the finding. The Weeds Act 1959 provides for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF), now, Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) through Natural England, to have the power to give notice to require an occupier of land to prevent the spreading of any of the specified injurious weeds. There are no specific requirements under the Act for the occupier save that it is in their interest to undertake weed control and so prevent spreading of the weeds defined in the Act and to respond to such notices that may be severed on them from time to time.

A subsequent Act: The Ragwort Control Act 2003 amends the Dangerous Weeds Act 1959 and makes provision for a code of practice to be prepared to give guidance on how to prevent the spread of ragwort. Again, this Act does not confer any specific requirements on the occupier of land where ragwort is growing.

Consequently, the Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort (Defra, PB9840, 2004 Revised 2007) issued under the Ragwort Control Act 2003 is the specific requirement for the occupier of the land. It is not, specifically, a legal requirement as neither of the two Acts makes direct reference to the Code. So in an ISO 14001:2004 management system, the Code of Practice would be considered as an “other requirement”.

It should be noted that the Code of Practice is admissible in evidence in enforcement proceedings under the Weeds Act 1959 in relation to the serving of a notice requiring an occupier of land on which Common Ragwort (or the other four injurious weeds) is growing to take action to prevent it from spreading. The Code should provide a yardstick against which compliance with an enforcement notice served under the Act can be measured. This will ensure that all parties know in advance what is considered reasonable action to comply with an enforcement notice. This point is distinct from there being a strict requirement deriving from the Acts as a notice will be issued in the more extreme circumstances.

Indeed, the Code of Practice provides helpful guidelines on a practical risk assessment methodology and appropriate control measures. It is well worth reading should your organisation have the presence of ragwort or any of the other injurious weeds.

So the advice to my fellow environmentalist was to make clear in their corrective and preventative actions that the original finding was not correct in the explanation of the legal requirement and to make a clear demonstration of their actions to evaluate compliance with the guidelines of the Code of Practice.

In a second part of this article, I will explain the evaluation of compliance in relation to the Code of Practice & the difference between the evaluation of compliance and internal audit.

In the meantime, copies of the documents used in this article are available as follows:

Weeds Act 1959 http://bit.ly/Qx9Cxb

Ragwort Control Act 2003 http://bit.ly/PGZ9lD

Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort (Defra, PB9840, 2004 Revised 2007) http://bit.ly/TD67E1

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