Mark Dittke, of Mark Dittke Attorneys, discusses the complicated job of a company’s SHEQ manager.

ISO standards specify requirements for a management system that enables an organisation to develop and realise objectives such as an environmental policy and corresponding targets. It is important to take into account the legal obligations and information about significant environmental aspects and safety.

In applying this standard, the company must define the scope of its management system, document it and ensure that it is committed to complying with all applicable national laws and regulations, international laws (to the extent that they may be relevant) and all other requirements (such as industry minimum standards). This is the job of a safety, health, environment and quality (SHEQ) manager.

Legislation also sets out clear rules and procedures governing safe work practices and conditions, the provision and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), clean ablution and dining facilities, access to potable water, and so on.

The laws in respect of procedures and standards for certain hazardous activities – such as working in an elevated position, or the handling and disposal of chemicals and other hazardous substances – are not always so simple and clear. Often the laws merely contain broad statements without going into much detail. This requires an employer to take certain precautions, or to develop a plan.

It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that compliance auditors pay particular attention to this. The catalogue is extensive. The following are examples of questions that may be posed during an audit, and for which a SHEQ manager should be prepared:

• Is training provided for each new person assigned to a job?

• Does initial training include a thorough review of hazards and accidents associated with the job?

• Is adequate instruction provided in the use of PPE?

• Is training provided for the use of emergency equipment?

• Are resources available to deal with very hot or very cold conditions?

• Are work surfaces and grip surfaces safe when wet?

• Are hazards signalled by signs and tags?

• Have all trucks, forklifts and other equipment been inspected and maintained?

• Is there a clear fire response plan posted for each work area?

This list can be continued endlessly as a company must cover all aspects from lighting to machine guards, electrical tools and machinery, confined spaces, housekeeping, stairs, ladders and platforms, noise, material handling and storage – and many more.

When it comes to the general job description of a SHEQ manager, it can be summed up as:

He or she ensures that the company meets safety, health, environmental and quality standards with the products being produced and the employees’ work environment.

By developing and maintaining specific rules, SHEQ managers help prevent work accidents and assist businesses in complying with government regulations.

It sounds both profound and easy, but there is a lot behind it! A SHEQ manager is the company’s soul.

It is his or her responsibility to check safety measures or develop management strategies, programmes and process improvements within the areas of SHEQ; direct health and safety precautions; and put procedures in place for everybody’s benefit. It’s like a chef, who can cook up an average dish, or a storm!

Having performed over 550 safety, health and environment (SHE) legal-compliance audits, and also contracted as an external environmental legal auditor by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to perform its ISO 14001 legal audits, I am often surprised by the differences in SHEQ managers.

Of course, as a lawyer, I may be critical when it comes to the generally accepted expectation that SHEQ managers are required to review and comprehend a host of laws.

There is no question that when they monitor the work environment, SHEQ managers must recognise potential hazards and quickly determine how to best solve observed problems. It is also important for them to use analytical skills during their scheduled inspections to determine whether the items meet established government and industry regulations.

However, to require SHEQ managers to continuously follow legal and other regulatory developments means imposing a huge responsibility on them. As a result of ongoing changes, the management system requires periodic reviews so that policies, procedures and safe working practices can be updated if necessary.

Since 1994, more than 1 500 national Acts have been passed, plus probably the same amount of Notices and Regulations, while even more by-laws were promulgated by municipalities. This is quite a lot to monitor! Therefore, there are good reasons for companies to make use of professional legal register providers and legal experts.

A legal register is generally understood to mean a database, or compilation of legislation and legal requirements, that apply to an organisation or to a defined part of an organisation.

A comprehensive legal register must contain all the relevant legislation (for example, Acts, Regulations and By-laws) applicable to that specific organisation and other sector-specific legislation.

As the legal register is part of a company’s ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 compliance records, it must be regularly maintained (as required by clause 4.3.2 of both standards).

Since it is a big task and sound legal knowledge is required to keep up with and, more importantly, understand constant legal changes, this cannot be mastered by a SHEQ manager. Even less so because of the need to interpret legal requirements in the business aspect, as well as how they will impact the risk context of the organisation.

Professional legal register providers compile unique legal registers covering legislation specifically applicable to the organisation. Too often during audits we see that the register is either an off-the-shelf package containing laws that are not relevant to the organisation, or that they were put together by someone without a legal background – thereby omitting some pertinent laws.

Legal registers, just like legal compliance audits, should be undertaken by a legal specialist. To provide an analogy, an organisation would not have its financial records controlled and audited by somebody who perhaps attended a day course in accounting. On the contrary, a properly qualified chartered accountant would be used. The same principle should apply to SHE legal audits and registers.

The legal register should also contain a so-called legal register summary, which is a commentary setting out required actions, implications and documents needed by the organisation.

This ensures that the SHEQ manager is informed about all relevant changes in the law. It will further enable the manager to prepare and take proper action before the external audit takes place. To further strengthen compliance, regular internal audits should be performed to probe adherence to SHE legal requirements, as well as quality and occupational health standards.

If deviations or deficiencies are found, these must be discussed internally and analysed so that appropriate corrective action can be taken.

By having an up to date and comprehensive legal register, and, more importantly, maintaining its management system, the organisation can ensure continuous legal compliance. This is why I regard a SHEQ manager as being the “master of the company’s universe”.

SHEQ managers might often be underrated, but when they are able to focus on the development, implementation and maintenance of environmental, health and safety programmes and policies, they hold the “cosmic key” in their company.

Mark Dittke Attorneys specialises in providing environmental, health and safety legal registers and audits for companies in South Africa and several southern African countries. Mark Dittke himself holds a Master of Laws degree in Environmental Law and has been a Member of the Cape Law Society since 1995.

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