Regulatory requirements are designed to prevent injuries, releases of hazardous materials, and ensure adequate responses are in place if and when an incident occurs. However, companies often find themselves scrambling to fill identified gaps in processes, procedures, and response plans after a response or audit is completed. If these gaps are left open, companies can face fines, lawsuits, shutdowns, and/or reputational risk.
Fortunately, audits, whether conducted by in-house professionals or experienced consultants, can often reveal the same deficiencies and opportunities for improvement as regulatory agencies. Some companies address response plan gaps only after an incident or audit occurs. With an objective eye, a gap analysis can bolster an overall emergency management program and minimize the potential for an incident, fine, or inadequate response.
Regulatory requirements must be identified in order for gaps to be identified.. In order to maintain consistent compliance, facility managers and company health, safety, and environmental professionals should become familiar with regulations applicable to their area of responsibility and operations. If necessary, outside consults can be utilized to identify all applicable regulations based on company location(s), industry, operations, and hazards.
After an incident or audit, new or unidentified risks or regulatory gaps may be identified that were not previously included in response plans. Upon recognition, every effort should be made for mitigation. However, if the risks cannot be eliminated, new countermeasure processes and procedures must be implemented and response plans adjusted accordingly in order to eliminate potential gaps. If audits identify that applicable regulatory requirements are not met, specific content, and/or processes must be implemented and/or documented to satisfy those requirements.
The following concepts can assist in addressing gaps in regulatory plans:
- High probability and operational risks should be cross-referenced with potential regulatory requirement(s).
- Evaluate accident probability for each process, procedure, handled material, and their resulting levels of potential severity if an accident were to occur.
- The probability and severity of a risk should determine the priority level for correcting the hazard. The higher the probability and severity of risk, the higher the emphasis should be on corrective action.
- If accidents or incidents occur, isolate, eliminate, or mitigate the root cause, and identify any/all linking regulatory requirements.
- Response plan documentation should include processes and procedures applicable to the accident or incident. If a gap was identified during the response, amendments must communicated, incorporated into training, and documented in the response plan.
- If audits reveal regulatory gaps, changes in processes and/or procedures should be made in order to become compliant with regulatory agencies.
- Process or procedural amendments must communicated, incorporated into training, and documented in the response plan.
- Implement and document any risk reducing engineering controls
- Proactive administrative controls or work place practices can reduce the potential of gaps in response plans, training, and/or exercises.
- Accident prevention signs should be posted to remind occupants of the presence of hazards and applicable regulations
- Establish and communicate emergency response plan content to employees and appropriate emergency response team members. Provide a mechanism for workplace process feedback and regulatory implementation.
- Implement web-based, database driven response plans.
- Advanced technology allows for an audit “checklist”, specifically linking specific requirements to applicable content within the plan.
- Provides the ability to duplicate recurring facility information to satisfy multiple agency requirements.
- Eases the administrative time by easing the ability to update content and ever-changing regulations, minimizing the opportunity for regulatory implementation delays.