Understanding global EHS regulatory difference – Enhesa’s comparison of EU/US regulation

Enhesa’s September 2010 webinars considered key environment, health & safety (EHS) regulatory distinctions between the United States and the European Union.  The webinar discussed how some of the major EHS issues are regulated on both continents and how the similarities and differences impact EHS managers responsible for facilities on both continents.

Political, philosophical and social differences between the United States and Europe really do translate into different approaches to regulating and enforcing EHS requirements, and this in turn has led some company EHS managers to make critical and, perhaps costly, faux pas when it comes to assuring their companies’ compliance with the rules. One of the key focuses of the webinar was to address the reason why the distinctions exist by pointing out key differences in the regulatory structures of both systems and how cultural differences between the continents affect EHS regulation.

To make sure the presentation was educational and relevant for all participants, the presenters went straight to the source, and asked participants to complete an on-line questionnaire, identifying which EHS issues are of greatest concern to them.  This reflects one of Enhesa’s core principles of identifying information that is most important to our clients to ensure they have the most relevant and timely information available.  The survey asked general questions such as where the webinar participants were located, whether they have facilities on both continents, and whether EHS managers on one continent communicate with their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.  Other questions provided much deeper insight into how differences in regulatory structure and cultural differences affect EHS managers responsible for EHS compliance in multiple countries.  Enhesa was thrilled by the level of participation.  Nearly 300 participants took time to answer the survey, and the insight gleaned from the responses was very striking.

First and foremost, we want to thank all those who participated in the survey and all those who attended the webinar.  And as promised, we want to share with you some of the more interesting results of the survey, as they provide a unique perspective into how EHS managers view the different regulatory systems and to what extent these differences have impacted how they address EHS management on the two continents.

    Participants represented a broad range of cultural backgrounds, with over a third indicating that they had been raised in Europe (including 8% in the UK), while nearly half (48%) said they grew up in the US.  Meanwhile, nearly 15% said they were brought up elsewhere around the globe.  So the trends that we were able to discern truly got to the heart of the issue of cross-cultural regulatory experiences. The participants were clearly EHS participants closely involved in regulatory compliance.  About 100 participants are responsible for EHS compliance in South America; 120 for Asia; 76 for the Middle East; and 70 for Africa.  In managing EHS compliance on a global level, about 58% of participants said that they frequently interact with EHS colleagues in other continents.  In many cases, interaction occurs on a daily basis or at least several times per week.  The high level of frequent and routine international interaction compared to just 12 percent of participants that said they interacted with EHS colleagues across the Atlantic only quarterly; 6% who said they interact only once per year, and less than 4% who said they have no international interactions with EHS colleagues.

   When asked whether they have experienced EHS cultural and philosophical differences in approach between the United States and European Union, 40% of participants said that cultural and philosophical differences frequently affect their EHS management responsibilities, while 53% said they experience such differences sometimes.  This shows that nearly all EHS professionals (93%) with international responsibilities are regularly affected by the philosophical and cultural differences between the two continents, and see those differences reflected in EHS regulatory compliance obligations.

   Perhaps the most striking response was that over 25% of participants had been caught unaware by a difference in EHS regulatory requirements between the European Union and United States, which resulted in non-compliance.  Participants cited a broad range of issues of concern, from chemical management to machinery safety.  The results show that the cultural and philosophical differences between the two continents have practical, real-world implications for EHS managers.  Understanding the specific regulatory requirements affecting a facility are obviously crucial, but the survey results also show an important fact which often goes overlooked.  Not only is it necessary to know one’s compliance obligations and how requirements vary from country to country, but it is equally important to have a basic understanding of why those differences exist.

Perhaps the most important point to take from the survey results is that there are fundamental differences between how EHS is regulated in the European Union and the United States, which manifest themselves not only as specific differences in regulatory requirements, but also in the structural and systemic ways EHS management programs must be implemented.  These differences have tangible, day-to-day effects on EHS managers with international responsibilities.  85% of participants indicated that their company has established global EHS standards at the corporate/division level.  Many participants also indicated that their company has also set more specific standards at the regional, country, and facility-specific level.  While companies seek to employ global, company-wide EHS standards, it is important to remember the challenges these philosophical and cultural differences between the two regulatory systems impose for global EHS compliance systems and to account for them in international EHS management programs.

One trait that distinguishes Enhesa from other EHS consultancies is its ability to understand and convey how the local and regional culture impacts EHS compliance obligations.  Enhesa’s Country Profiles are designed to assist corporate EHS managers to better understand the regulatory and even political differences in various countries. The Enhesa Regulatory Monitoring service assists EHS professionals in keeping up with global regulatory and policy developments. For more information about these services, feel free to contact Enhesa at info@enhesa.com.

Frank Skiba

EHS consultant


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