In our previous post, we discussed a few ways to maintain compliance in your operations whilst adhering to ever changing regulatory COVID-19 related practices. Here are some more factors to consider during the pandemic.
Maintain communication with relevant regulators on potential compliance concerns. Regulatory inspections and investigations are still taking place, even though most government employees are working remotely. Stakeholders need to be aware of changes in regulators' communication methods.
Proactive communication is crucial. Inform your local officer about current operations and what precautions are being taken. Integrate COVID-19 protocols into your EH&S plans. Add self-assessments to site visits - Inspectors and employees should be asked if they recently travelled or if they meet any assessment criteria for COVID-19 testing. If the answer is yes, then ask for another office to perform the investigation or inspection. Policies should be consistently enforced, and may prove to be useful in a possible due diligence defense.
Emergency/Spill Response Reporting
Make sure the people who normally report or respond to spill or emergency are still able to do so. Add at least one alternate contact as a "back up" should the need arise. Review emergency protocols, and confirm stock availability of on-site emergency response supplies. Many of these items are in especially high demand, so be aware of what you may need versus what is on hand.
It's wise to check emergency response team or contractors' operational status and if they can respond to emergencies. Staffing levels are constantly changing, seek another contractor if needed. Clear, regular communication with your contractor is essential to the management environmental compliance and emergency response.
Civil Litigation, Provincial Offences, and Regulatory Proceedings
Most jurisdictions have temporarily suspended hearings or adjusted methods for attending such matters. Ontario ERT is using written and telephone hearings when able. The BC Court of Appeal and Supreme Court have adjourned hearings that were scheduled before May 1 with certain exceptions for urgent matters. the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has suspended filing deadlines for hearings up to May 1, and will currently only hear emergency matters.
Although these suspensions will likely be extended, appoint one of your team to monitor jurisdictions relevant to your operations.
Review Company Environmental Health and Safety Policies and Procedures
Keeping your company functional and operational can be a challenge in the midst of COVID-19 but it's also a tremendous opportunity to examine what can be improved or changed. Review internal policies, and determine if any procedures need to be temporarily adjusted to accommodate COVID-19 practices. Consider delegating an employee working remotely with this task as opposed to workers on-site. Documenting such a review is beneficial in possible due diligence defences.
Companies should also consider how further government shut downs might affect operations. Potential disruptions to workforces and supply chains can have an impact. Review operational temporary closure plans and confirm your critical operations can be managed and essential staff or contractors are available to assist if a closure becomes necessary.