Environmental audit is a general term that can reflect various types of evaluations intended to identify environmental compliance and management system implementation gaps, along with related corrective actions. There are generally two different types of environmental audits: compliance audits and management systems audits.
Origins of Environmental Auditing
Environmental safety and health auditing developed in the early 1970s, largely among companies operating in environmentally intensive sectors such as oils and chemicals. Since then environmental auditing has spread rapidly with a corresponding development of the approaches and techniques adopted. Several factors have influenced this growth.
- Industrial accidents. Major incidents such as the Bhopal, Chernobyl and Exxon-Valdez disasters have reminded companies that it is not sufficient to set corporate policies and standards on environmental health and safety matters without ensuring that they are being implemented. Audits can help reduce the risk of unpleasant surprises.
- Regulatory developments. Since the early 1970s regulations on environmental topics have increased substantially. This has made it steadily more difficult for a company to ascertain whether a specific plant in a particular country is complying with all of the relevant legislation.
- Public awareness. The public has become increasingly aware of, and vocal about, environmental and safety issues. Companies have had to demonstrate to the public that they are managing environmental risks effectively.
- Litigation. The growth of legislation has led to a corresponding explosion of litigation and liability claims, particularly in the United States. In Europe and elsewhere, there is growing emphasis on the responsibilities of individual directors and on making information available to the public.
Objectives of Environmental Auditing
The overall objective of environmental auditing is to help safeguard the environment and minimize risks to human health. Clearly, auditing alone will not achieve this goal (hence the use of the word help); it is a management tool. The key objectives of an environmental audit therefore are to:
- determine how well the environmental management systems and equipment are performing
- verify compliance with the relevant national, local or other laws and regulations
- minimize human exposure to risks from environmental, health and safety problems.
Scope of the Audit
As the prime objective of audits is to test the adequacy of existing management systems, they fulfil a fundamentally different role from the monitoring of environmental performance. Audits can address one topic, or a whole range of issues. The greater the scope of the audit, the greater will be the size of the audit team, the time spent onsite and the depth of investigation. Where international audits need to be carried out by a central team, there can be good reasons for covering more than one area while onsite to minimize costs.
In addition, the scope of an audit can vary from simple compliance testing to a more rigorous examination, depending on the perceived needs of the management. The technique is applied not only to operational environmental, health and safety management, but increasingly also to product safety and product quality management, and to areas such as loss prevention. If the intention of auditing is to help ensure that these broad areas are managed properly, then all of these individual topics must be reviewed. Items which may be addressed in audits, including environment, health, safety and product safety are shown in table 1.
Scope of environmental audit
-Employee exposure to air contaminants
-Product safety programme
Although some companies have a regular (often annual) audit cycle, audits are primarily determined by need and priority. Thus not all facilities or aspects of a company will be assessed at the same frequency or to the same extent.
The Typical Audit Process
An audit is usually conducted by a team of people who will assemble factual information prior to and during a site visit, analyse the facts and compare them with the criteria for the audit, draw conclusions and report their findings. These steps are usually conducted within some kind of formal structure (an audit protocol), such that the process can be repeated reliably at other facilities and quality can be maintained. To ensure that an audit is effective, a number of key steps must be included
Benefits of Environmental Auditing
If environmental auditing is implemented in a constructive way there are many benefits to be derived from the process. The auditing approach described in this paper will help to:
- safeguard the environment
- verify compliance with local and national laws
- indicate current or potential future problems that need to be addressed
- assess training programmes and provide data to assist in training
- enable companies to build on good environmental performance, give credit where appropriate and highlight deficiencies
- identify potential cost savings, such as from waste minimization
- assist the exchange and comparison of information between different plants or subsidiary companies
- demonstrate company commitment to environmental protection to employees, the public and the authorities.