Recently, I have been privileged to work with a team of facility managers to help them implement a robust regulatory compliance program. Compliance analysts and building managers embedded within large, multinational companies with a diverse scope of business operations face numerous challenges. For one, property managers, real estate portfolio managers, and other facilities personnel are often responsible for compliance obligations for different types of buildings, with different ownership structures, in different locations and are saddled with limited budgets. In contrast to better funded compliance teams in extractive and high intensity industries such as mining, oil and gas, energy, and chemical manufacturing, building managers must track regulatory compliance with smaller budgets and teams. To do this it is critical to implement a robust and light compliance tracking program that is sustainable over the long term.
Challenge: Overburdened with irrelevant compliance obligations
To avoid too many alerts and notifications as regulations change, it is essential that building managers conduct robust screening for compliance obligations on a risk basis. Focus should be placed on large scale penalties, brand reputation and other risks associated with the activities conducted at the buildings they manage. As such, high level compliance risk monitoring should be focused on environmental risks and significant health and safety concerns based on the actual operations at the buildings. For building managers, this presents an overwhelming task. How do they identify their risks, and ensure compliance with specific bylaws and standards centered on HVAC systems, plumbing standards, fall hazards, and even codes of conduct in the workplace?
Identifying building management obligations
Often, facilities management experts are handed master legal lists, focused on all-encompassing EHS legislation – such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and its thousands of clauses. Searching across multiple supporting regulations in order to find actual actionable obligations can be a real challenge. Managers may then receive too much high level information with prescriptive principles rather than clear calls to action and this can lead to delays in identifying key obligations. Furthermore, facilities management is an ever changing landscape, as seen with the continuing evolution of COVID-19 protocols over the past 18 months.
Instead, Nimonik recommends searching for relevant regulations based on standard operations first and any guiding principles in the forms of notices, orders, or directives afterwards. Begin by determining your activities and needs – no smoking signs, working at heights, hazardous material handling – and then systematically review the key clauses of the documents that regulate the activity.
By focusing on your activities, you can potentially eliminate the need to monitor changes to unrelated obligations embedded in regulations or guidance that do not apply to your operations.
Integrating building management compliance
Facilities managers are responsible for the health and safety of their occupants. It is therefore critical that their registries and monitoring tools be targeted specifically to their needs. They require support from compliance analysts at a high level to ensure that rapid changes to regulatory documents at all levels (federal, provincial, state, municipal) are captured while avoiding information overload. Once the initial evaluation and subsequent monitoring systems are put in place, it is important to have an easy to use communication tool to ensure that the relevant personnel are assigned responsibility for compliance measures and that these actions can be tracked and monitored.
Ideally, building managers should be supported by a compliance expert from an external firm to provide specialized screening, building a list of topics, key words, equipment on site, and regulations. Building easy to use compliance obligations workflows within the wider company’s scope should be the main objective of an effective compliance program. A tight and well designed compliance program will promote collaboration and buy-in with senior managers and staff. With facilities managers having to manage many different types of operations, the goal should be for the company’s compliance culture to flow seamlessly between office spaces and refineries, or cafeterias and mining pits.
Effective comprehensive compliance management is not a centralized one size fits all solution. Aim for an integrated compliance culture built on effective identification of obligations and good communication of risks to all relevant stakeholders.