The 4 Key Types of EHS Regulations and Standards

Jonathan Brun

Environmental, Health, and Safety Regulations- Definition and Purpose

EHS regulations and EHS standards exist to ensure organizations in specific industries keep the environment and their workplaces safe. In other words, the purpose of regulations are to incite behavior that would not otherwise occur.

Why Regulation Types Matter

Understanding the nature of EHS regulations is the key to ensuring compliance. By classifying regulations into different types, businesses are able to better comply by thinking like a regulator or a standards body.

Regulators may not clearly classify regulations as Macro-Means, Macro-Ends, Micro-Means, and Micro-Ends, but you can label most regulations, guidelines and standards as one of these four types. It is therefore critical to understand the nature and intent of each type of regulation to help develop your compliance program. 

The 4 Types of EHS Regulations

According to the Operator Qualification White Paper and Designing Safety Regulations for High-Hazard Industries reports, the 4 types of regulations are:

  1. Macro-Means
  2. Macro-Ends
  3. Micro-Means
  4. Micro-Ends

The Classification Framework

4 types of EHS regulations EHS standards classification framework Nimonik

The grid pictured above can help readers understand this classification framework. The “Macro” and “Micro”  on the x-axis refers to the specificity of the regulation. Does it target the big picture issue, or smaller components of a problem? 

The y-axis, on the other hand, has to do with whether the regulation legislates an “Ends” or a “Means”. Does the regulation command the avoidance of ends such as tailpipe emissions and wastewater emimssions, or the use of a means such as documentation processes and valve installations. 


Examples of Macro-Ends EHS regulations descriptors:

  • Tort and ex post liability
  • General duty provisions
  • Outcome-based regulations

Advantages and Disadvantages of Macro-Ends Regulations

Macro-Ends regulations are the only regulations that focus directly on the ultimate ends. These standards point out the big-picture goals that organizations should be striving toward.

However, this also means that firms may lose sight and underestimate their liability in more non-specific problems. In cases where the harm by non-compliance can be catastrophic, penalty determinations can also be complicated and unacceptable as the exclusive means of regulatory control.


Examples of Macro-Means EHS regulations descriptors:

  • Management-based
  • Performance-based
  • Goal-based
  • System regulation
  • Safety case regulation
  • Enforced self-regulation

Advantages and Disadvantages of Macro-Means Regulations

Macro-Means regulations are flexible for the regulated entity in operational, technological, and planning. Companies are able to adjust the way in which they want to incorporate these management-based regulations into their daily operations. Macro-Means regulations are also easier for regulators to develop in comparison to the more specific Micro-Means regulations.

However, regulatory agencies typically lack the expertise to review firm-specific management plans, resulting in a lack of quality assurance. Firms may also need to hire personnel with new skills to conduct risk analyses, design, and implement complex management systems.


Examples of Micro-Ends EHS regulations descriptors:

  • Performance-based
  • Output-based
  • Market-based

Advantages and Disadvantages of Micro-Ends Regulations

Micro-Ends regulations, due to its focus on results (“Ends”), are closer to the concern. It also allows more flexibility for the regulated industry to adjust their plans according to business processes as long as the ends are achieved.

However, it can be difficult to monitor and track a firm’s attainment of the ends required in Micro-Ends regulations. 


Examples of Micro-Means EHS regulations descriptors:

  • Prescriptive regulation
  • Design standards
  • Technology-based regulation
  • Specification standards

Advantages and Disadvantages of Micro-Means Regulations

Micro-Means regulations have very clear instructions for the regulated party, and therefore makes it easier to verify compliance according to such standards. It is relatively simple to take actions in specific problem-areas of an organization’s business process. 

However, Micro-Means regulations can also be removed from the ultimate big-picture concerns of the organization. There is also little flexibility for the regulated industry in responding to the regulation. 

Webinar recording

Watch the full webinar recording here- this webinar discusses the meaning and expectations of each of these four types of regulations with concrete examples and best practices on how to comply.