Whether you are an executive or a plant manager, whether you have environmental responsibility for an organization or you are dealing with reaching its financial goals, you need to be concerned with assuring that there is a an adequate system in place and functioning that deals with environmental, health and safety compliance.  Failure to have an adequate system can lead to serious problems. A good management system combines the goals of maintaining compliance, efficiently dealing with change, reducing process and regulatory risk, and lowering the cost of operations.  Many companies do an "audit" once in a while to check on their status.  An audit is a component of a compliance system; by their nature, audits cannot serve as a total system.   Moreover, a system that contains audits and a follow up staff function that deals solely with achieving "compliance" misses an important aspect of  business success in a changing, competitive world, because it tends to be isolated from the functions of business planning, production and customer satisfaction. 

There is another, somewhat more basic and cynical reason that good environmental management systems are needed.  They can keep individual officers and employees from going to jail or being exposed to  personal liability.  This is true in large part because the Government has adopted guidance that emphasizes the importance of good management systems.  Whether to prosecute a case against a company can turn on the strength of its internal system of checks and management.  A businessman should be able to say with confidence that there is a system in place that ordinarily would have been expected to identify and prevent a non-compliance situation, if one arises.

The most successful environmental compliance systems are integrated into the fabric of a company.  Top management needs to give environmental goals a very high priority and to reward or punish individuals depending on whether they respond adequately to reaching environmental goals.

The foundation of a good environmental management system is a solid data base that includes accurate measurement and understanding of what present requirements are at each facility operated by a company, as well as a means of identifying and planning for future requirements.  The data system must be verifiable, and it is important that more than one individual be responsible for it.  The so-called "audit" function can be carried out in several ways and in several forms.  It should be designed to verify the status of a facility and its operations on a periodic basis, to prioritize any needed changes or improvements, and to track implementation.  Any process changes that are planned for any reason need to get environmental, health and safety review in advance.   Additionally, it is a good idea for organizations to have more than one person responsible for reviewing and determining whether permits are necessary for changes or additions to a facility. 

There is no one way to design or implement a good system of compliance.  Each company needs to consider factors involved in its processes, staffing and culture in arriving at a good way to manage these issues. 

One advantage of utilizing legal counsel in the process of system design and implementation is that counsel can add an element of confidentiality to the process that might not otherwise be maintained.  Although quite a number of states have adopted laws that provide a limited self-audit privilege, federal EPA does not honor that privilege.