In the last 4 years, environment, health and safety regulations around the world increased by 35 percent.

Then and Now: The Difference 4 Years Can Make in EHS Regulatory Focus Around the World

March 29, 2013
Wrap your mind around this – in only the last 4 years, environment, health and safety regulation around the world increased by 35 percent, major global enforcement activity doubled and EHS legislation in Africa and the Middle East amplified by an alarming 300 percent.

Now is a key moment to be honest with ourselves. The increasing amount of global environment, health and safety regulation is utterly nerve-wracking. As an EHS leader, you might be bewildered by the notion that so much can happen so quickly.

There have been exponential climbs in unexpected areas of the world and across topic issues you may not have been prepared to address. However, now is not the time to let intimidation run the show. It’s time to be in full control of compliance by understanding what truly is happening globally.

See Also: Then and Now: The Difference 4 Years Can Make in EHS Regulatory Focus Around the World [SLIDESHOW]

The Global Numbers

Let’s begin by taking a look at EHS regulation on a macro level. According to Enhesa’s database, roughly 500 additional regulations were adopted in 2012 compared to 2009 (Figure 1).

The European Union still seems to remain the most active, which may be explained as a result of several factors: the addition of member states, the harmonized supranational approach to tackling environmental issues and the need to ensure a level playing field for workers and worker rights within the EU.

However, it is interesting to note the large increases in regulatory activity in Latin America, North America and Asia-Pacific. This could be attributed to  global industry’s focus on these regions for the last few years. Corporate social responsibility programs, increased public environmental awareness and shareholder concerns have all put a certain amount of pressure on companies and governments.

Finally it is worth pointing out that Africa and the Middle East, barely doing anything as recently as 2009, saw 100 new EHS laws adopted across those regions in 2012. As global business moves into, grows and matures in these parts of world, we expect to see this as an increasing place of regulatory emphasis in the upcoming years.

The Topic Buzz

Back in 2009, the big focus was the BRICS countries, the on-going discussions on how to approach air emissions laws and the chemical and product legislation coming out of Europe. Greater transparency continued to expose multi-nationals to more publicity for EHS violations.

Figures 2 and 3 demonstrate levels of regulatory activity reported in specific subject matter areas in 2009 and 2012 per global region. In 2009, chemicals and air emissions were the strongest focus in Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America. It also is interesting to note the high level of product regulations coming out of Europe, perhaps due to the REACH laws coming into force at this time.

In Africa and the Middle East – as well as Latin America – we saw quite a lot of activity in terms of administrative agencies. This may indicate the increasing maturity of an EHS regulatory structure in those areas.

In Figure 3, you’ll notice an overall growth in EHS regulations across the board in 2012. Product regulations increased in North America and Asia Pacific, but dropped significantly in Europe. Health and safety regulations climbed extensively in those three regions, demonstrating a “leveling” effect of the issues. Africa and the Middle East continued to show the most growth in administrative agencies, but now demonstrate significant movement in facility/technical safety and overall growth in all areas. Latin America shifted attention from agency structure to environment and air emissions.

The Top 5 Growing Issues

It’s sensible to note the EHS areas with highest levels of regulatory activity, but what about the issues that have seen the most change in the past 4 years?

Figure 4 represents the top five areas that have experienced the highest percentage increase in EHS regulation from 2009 to 2012. You’ll notice an increasing emphasis has been placed on health and safety issues in the last 4 years, as indicated in the first three areas of greatest expansion. Air emissions and hazardous materials management were not far behind.

In a recent Enhesa survey, hundreds of EHS managers noted they expected chemicals, hazmat management, product management, occupational health and waste management to be the top five areas of regulatory increase, in that order.

However, health and safety has been in the spotlight for the past 4 years, probably for a number of reasons. First, recent violations have been heavily focused on health and safety issues and workers’ rights, which can spark reactionary legislation. Second, the expansion of multinational companies into developing countries may have pressured governments into creating a level playing field (for example, some companies cannot benefit from less stringent legislation due to their corporate standards based on U.S. or EU models, which creates unfair advantages for those without them). Last, the research and advocacy work of a growing number of consumer organizations also has the potential to influence legislation.

Moving Forward

What can be deduced if the highest levels of regulation are related to chemicals, products, emissions and environment, yet the highest rate of change demonstrates health and safety issues? It sounds like chaos, but a few thoughts come to mind. Understanding regional and global trends is essential to planning strategy and budgets. However, in order to ensure compliance for your company, you need to also understand the specific local requirements and enforcement practices.   

Staying abreast of regulatory shifts will help you better grasp what your operations face on a day-to-day basis. Recognizing what is a regulatory priority for a given time and place is essential, and it always is better to be precautionary than reactionary. Continue to find ways to access relevant information and learn more about the regulatory climate. Provide your facilities with proven and trustworthy resources and tools to manage EHS compliance.

Patience is key. A robust EHS program won’t be built overnight, and it’s difficult to reallocate your budget the moment a trend changes. However, it is vital to find solutions that help you monitor what’s coming down the pipeline. It also is important to incorporate a platform that allows you to allocate, assign and manage issues. Establish timelines to re-evaluate how well your EHS program is absorbing new impacts and satisfying the unique needs of your global operations.

About the authors: Virginia Shaffer is the senior marketing and sales coordinator at Enhesa and is based in Washington, DC. She has over 5 years of professional experience in business development and trend analysis. Virginia currently administers a successful EHS webinar program at Enhesa, and is the editor in chief of Enhesa’s bimonthly magazine, The Flash, which is viewed by thousands of EHS managers worldwide. She holds a B.A. in International Relations, concentrated in Economics and focused in European and Asian Regional Studies.

Tjeerd Hendel-Blackford is a Programme and Business Development Manager with Enhesa. He has over 10 years of experience as an EHS policy, regulatory and management expert. As well as his extensive knowledge of environment and health and safety laws in several countries, Hendel-Blackford  also is responsible for client acquisition and marketing efforts; internal quality control; and presents at international conferences on EHS regulatory issues. He has conducted and supported numerous EHS compliance and due diligence audits in diverse facilities, ranging from paper and paper products manufacturing (NL) to semiconductor equipment manufacturing (UK). Tjeerd holds an LLB (Hons) (European) from the University of Warwick in the UK, an LLM from the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, and also a graduate level NEBOSH diploma in occupational safety and health.

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