There are many reasons that businesses implement an ISO 41001 Environmental Management System, but one of the main reasons is to control the environmental risks associated with their activities. The environmental aspect identification provides the risk assessment and management, and the emergency preparedness provides the assuredness that you will be able to respond should the risk happen and allows you to reduce the environmental impact of your realised risks. This is what implementing an environmental management system is all about.
So what is required for ISO 14001 when it discusses emergency preparedness and response in section 4.4.7 (ISO14001:2004) or section 8.2 (ISO14001:2015)? This question is often a problem for many implementers of the standard. Obviously, there is a need to have plans for emergency preparedness and response, but where do you start? What sort of emergencies do you need to address? How thorough do your plans need to be?
First, look to your environmental aspects.
Basically, if there is an emergency situation where a negative environmental impact takes place, the business needs to have plans in place to deal with this situation to avoid or minimise environmental damage. In order to decide which situations to anticipate, it is best to look to the environmental aspects that you identified early in your implementation of ISO 14001.
The impact – Since the environmental aspects are any part of your business’s activities that could interact with the environment, either positively or negatively, it is important to note how the aspect makes an impact. Obviously, you do not need to make plans for an emergency response when the impact to the environment is positive – only when it is negative.
Control – Part of the identification is indicating if you control the aspect or merely have influence over it. This is critical, since you need to have control over the aspect in order to create an emergency plan and respond to it.
Significance – This is probably the most helpful part of the aspect identification when it comes to identifying the need for emergency preparedness. If the aspect has been identified as significant, such as the potential for a fuel spill in a process, then this is an indication that you might need to have an emergency response plan ready in the case of a fire occurring. If the potential fire would be small, and the burning fuel would have only a small impact on the environment, then the aspect may not have been identified as significant and an emergency plan may not be necessary (or would be much simpler than a plan for a major fire).
What is needed in emergency planning?
The first thing required is to have a procedure for how you will identify the potential emergency situations. This procedure can be documented or not, as determined by the business, but must be adequately used so that it is understood by the applicable employees who need to use it. You then need to decide, using the procedure, what potential situations exist. After deciding what potential emergency situations, you have, including potential accidents that could impact the environment, you need to decide how you will respond to them.
As stated, the response should be comparable to how significant the situation could be. Plans for a large spill of a potentially harmful chemical may entail having supplies on hand that will allow you to contain and clean the spill – which could include having breathing apparatuses, protective clothing and a team of trained individuals who can safely remove the spill with minimal environmental impact. Conversely, plans for a small spill of a mostly harmless chemical may be addressed with less detail and fewer safety concerns.
After deciding how to respond, the response needs to be documented in such a way that it can be understood and used. This again does not need to be a documented procedure, but needs to be in such a format that those in the organisation who need it can use it consistently. The procedures need to be reviewed periodically, and revised when necessary to ensure that you have a plan that will work consistently.
Lastly, the standard requires that these plans be used when an actual emergency occurs, which is why you have them. After an any incident, it is also an important time to review the procedure for any errors or improvements that may be needed. Depending on the significance of the impacts, it is also required to test out the procedures where you can (such as having a pretend spill that you respond to as if it were a real spill).