Can Regulatory Inspections support your ISO 14001:2015 evaluation of compliance?

Are you, an Environmental Auditor or a Senior Manager struggling to understand whether “Regulatory Authority” audits or inspections could form part of your ISO 14001:2015 evaluation of compliance.

An ISO Interpretation could help you more fully understand whether internal audit must cover all ISO 14001:2015 requirements.

This article looks at one of the interpretations given by the ISO Technical Committee, TC 207 Sub-Committee 1, which is the Sub-Committee responsible for ISO 14001:2015 and other associated environmental International Standards.

The interpretation process operates as an escalation of an interpretation enquiry from a National Member Body, such as BSI in the UK and ANSI in the United States. All interpretation enquiries are reviewed on an annual basis and their results published on the Sub-Committee 1 website.

It is important to note that its interpretations do not change the requirements in ISO 14001:2015 but are intended to give users a better understanding on ISO 14001.

The question about internal audit was raised by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and relates to the intent of Clause 9.2.2. The question asked was:

A quick recap on Clause 9.1.2 shows that it has requirements for the organization to establish, implement and maintain the process(es) needed to evaluate fulfilment of its compliance obligations. Here, the organisation has the freedom to determine the frequency that compliance will be evaluated.

Once, it has evaluated compliance then it needs to take action, if needed & the organisation needs to maintain knowledge and understanding of its compliance status. Evidence of results of the compliance evaluation are required to be retained as documented evidence.

So, back to the answer to the question…

It restates when covering the requirements for the organisation to meet the evaluation of compliance. It is, normally, understood to include two types of person which can be involved as described in ISO 14001:

Firstly, employees “working for” the organisation, such as the Environmental Manager or anyone else or a group of persons charged with the evaluation of compliance, and;

Secondly, ISO 14001:2015 refers to persons “working on behalf of the organisation, such as Environmental Consultants.

It, then, introduces a third type of person, namely a “Regulatory Authority”, such as, the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States & the Environment Agency in England, & asks whether their inspections of environmental permits and other forms of environmental legal compliance can be used to fulfil the requirements for the evaluation of compliance.

Now, it is commonly understood that “Regulatory Authorities” by their very name are responsible for regulatory and compliance issues. They would, obviously, be the organisations, which, in the event of a non-compliance with a regulatory requirement, would initiate compliance sanctions.

So, can an organisation using ISO 14001 as the basis for their Environmental Management System, use evaluation of compliance from a “Regulatory Authority” audit or inspection.

The interpretation given by the ISO TC 207 Sub-Committee 1 is revealing about the intent of the evaluation of compliance requirement and can be broken down into three parts:

Firstly, “The intent of Clause 9.1.2 is that an organization will determine how it will periodically evaluate compliance, and can choose to include evaluations conducted by internal staff, consultants, and/or regulatory agencies”.

Here the interpretation clarifies that it is for the organisation to determine how it wants to conduct its periodic evaluation of compliance & that the persons contributing are not limited to internal staff and consultants and can include “Regulatory agencies”.

The interpretation then goes on to make a second point that “An organization can use information from regulatory agency audits/inspections as part of its compliance evaluation process, but cannot rely on such audits/inspections alone”.

So, there interpretation is that the results of the Regulatory Agency’s audits and inspections can be used as part of the organisation’s evaluation of compliance but it is not anticipated that the Regulatory Agency’s audits and inspections will, normally, meet the full requirement for the evaluation of compliance on their own.

And, finally, the interpretation makes its third point that “Periodic compliance assessments performed on a sampling basis (for example, those conducted internally, by consultants, and/or by regulatory agencies) may satisfy the requirement of clause 9.1.2 if, taken together, they cover all applicable legal requirements over a period defined by the organization”.

So, to summarise:

The ISO TC 207 Sub-Committee 1 interpretation clarifies that the results of “Regulatory Authorities” inspections can be used to support the organisation’s evaluation of compliance together with other evaluation sources from internal and external resources provided that the organisation ensures that the full requirements for the evaluation of compliance of all its legal requirements over its defined evaluation period.

If this article has helped to advance your understanding of the evaluation of compliance requirements in ISO 14001:2015, you should start by download the ISO Interpretation document here

I hope that this content will help to advance your understanding of the evaluation of compliance requirements in ISO 14001:2015. Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

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