It’s no secret that utilities are among the most regulated sectors in the U.S. and around the globe.
Indeed, utility companies face the dual challenge of delivering safe, reliable, and affordable services to the communities they serve while maintaining compliance with local, state, and federal requirements.
But, as you know, the complexity and constant changes make keeping up with regulations manually a nearly impossible task.
However, there are some things you can do to make utility compliance more predictable.
Below, we’ll share five strategies utilities can use to reduce risks and improve their compliance efforts.
1. Ditch your spreadsheets
When it comes to compliance risks, spreadsheets are one of the worst offenders. They’re prone to errors and can easily become outdated if you don’t update them on a daily basis. These problems are subtle and usually reveal themselves in the form of a missed reporting deadline or notice of violation.
If you’re still using Excel to manage your data and activities, then it’s probably time to consider using a more modern system that’s designed to handle the needs of utility companies specifically. The right solution will help improve data quality and streamline reporting across your organization.
2. Leverage EHS compliance management software
EHS compliance management software is a must-have tool for any utility that wants to reduce their risks and meet or exceed regulatory requirements. It offers a number of features that will help you take control of your tasks, deadlines, documents, and reporting.
Compliance management software allows you to store permits, contracts, and other important documents to ensure your employees can quickly locate the information they need. In addition to organizing and improving access to your important documents, compliance management software also collects all of your tasks, such as inspections, reporting deadlines, and renewal dates in one centralized location. Add to that the ability to attach supporting documentation to tasks and get reminders for upcoming tasks, and your productivity simply skyrockets.
There are lots of different compliance management systems on the market, but the best ones have a few things in common. First, they integrate with your other systems, such as your ERP or work order system. They’re flexible enough to grow with you as your compliance obligations increase, as is usually the case during mergers and acquisitions. Finally, they can be implemented quickly with minimal impact on your IT resources.
3. Utilize mobile audits & inspections
Frequent inspections are an important way for utilities to monitor and protect their assets such as pipelines, power lines, and cables. However, completing an inspection is never as easy as just checking systems and equipment. Along with performing the actual inspection, there are lots of smaller tasks that need to be completed. Forms need to be filled out, images uploaded, corrective actions created and assigned — these are all time-consuming yet crucial tasks to ensure compliance.
Mobile apps do away with the most laborious parts of the inspection process by enabling employees to collect data directly at the source. Inspectors can capture images, video, and audio notes and sync their findings to the centralized system for analysis and reporting. Certain mobile apps can even work offline, making them an ideal solution for completing inspections in isolated locations such as remote power line construction sites or pumping stations. Tasks and corrective actions can be generated automatically based on inspection findings. All of this will streamline the process of completing inspections and resolving issues.
4. Ensure follow-up actions are completed
Having an effective utility compliance program depends largely on what you do after an incident or non-conformance. After all, there’s no point in completing an audit or investigation if you never follow up on the issues you’ve identified. Yet failing to follow up on corrective actions is one of the most common reasons utilities find themselves in hot water with regulators.
Look for a compliance management software that has features like email alerts and escalations. These kinds of notifications will help with accountability so that follow-up actions don’t get overlooked. And, should an assigned follow-up action not be completed, this will help you to correct the problem quickly so that no additional problems occur.
5. Don’t rely on (institutional) memory
A certain amount of employee turnover is unavoidable. No matter how hard you try to keep them, sooner or later some of your employees will leave or retire.
These transitions are always a high-risk time for noncompliance. Deadlines can easily get overlooked or missed entirely when handing off work to new employees. Not to mention, longtime staff often take with them decades of knowledge about critical obligations when they leave.
Good employees are irreplaceable, but you can minimize the risks that go along with an unexpected departure. How? Again, compliance management software helps your remaining employees identify compliance obligations and tasks that need to be reassigned. Instead of having to search through someone’s computer files or call them repeatedly, you can simply go into the system, find the tasks that have been assigned to them, and reassign them to someone else.
State and federal regulatory agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have temporarily relaxed their requirements in order to allow utility companies to focus on providing safe and continuous services during the current public health crisis.
With fewer demands to contend with, now is an ideal time to focus on getting a compliance management software system in place. That way you’ll be in a much better position to meet future obligations and opportunities as the economy reopens, and beyond.
Next, learn how utilities are using EHS software.