Meeting compliance deadlines is a full-time job, and one that’s not very forgiving of mistakes. Missing an EPA reporting date or forgetting to submit a permit application can lead to a costly violation or trigger an inspection that creates even more work and headaches.
The best way to avoid this problem is to make sure that compliance tasks don’t get overlooked in the first place. As with most things, that’s easier said than done — but there are a few foolproof strategies that can help you ensure critical deadlines don’t slip through the cracks.
Create a centralized calendar
When your to-do list is spread out over sticky notes, spreadsheets, and emails, it’s easy to overlook important tasks. Multiply that by a team of five or ten people, and the opportunities for a missed deadline are endless.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of keeping all of your tasks organized in a centralized calendar. When everything is organized in one place, you can see exactly what needs to be completed and manage your time more effectively. Not only that, but a centralized calendar gives you a bird’s eye view into your entire team’s workload so you can keep an eye on progress and anticipate where delays or bottlenecks might occur.
There are lots of ways to create a centralized calendar, but we recommend using software designed specifically for compliance management. That way you’ll be able to attach relevant documents, run reports, and analyze your compliance results in dynamic dashboards to spot trends and issues.
Utilize alerts and notifications
If your team relies on memory to make sure compliance tasks get completed, sooner or later someone will forget and you’ll miss an important deadline.
Unfortunately, to-do lists aren’t much better. Forgetting to look at your to-do list in advance can cause you to overlook a task until the last minute and run out of time to complete it.
As such, alerts are a crucial tool to make sure you don’t miss anything. Pop-up notifications and email reminders give you a gentle nudge to remind you that a task needs to be completed. And, should a task somehow become overdue, they act as a fail-safe so you can correct the problem immediately and avoid further damage.
Email alerts can easily be set up in your calendar or project management tool, or compliance management software if you’re using it.
Automate recurring tasks
EHS teams manage lots of tasks that happen on a recurring basis, such as soil sampling and permit reapplications. So it’s not uncommon for someone to complete the task the first time but forget to add it to the calendar for the next month or quarter. When the next occurrence rolls around, you may find yourself out of compliance.
Instead of adding each deadline to the calendar individually, you can automate recurring tasks. When you create a recurring task, the next task is automatically added to your calendar on the frequency you specify — weekly, monthly, quarterly, and so on. If you do this through your compliance management software, your tasks and relevant documents will all be available in one place. You can also set up reminders to let you know that a recurring task is due soon. This way you don’t risk forgetting to complete an important task.
Delegate tasks effectively
A lot of compliance problems happen at the handoff. You might think Janice is working on the report you assigned to her, but she never even saw your email about it.
If you find yourself spending a lot of your time chasing down people to get things done, you might need a better system for managing your team's tasks. Having a system in place for tracking what each person is working on and alerting them when their tasks are due will go a long way toward avoiding a miscommunication. It will also allow you to see if someone is overloaded so you can readjust the workload to avoid the last-minute crunch.
Set realistic timelines
A common reason teams miss compliance deadlines is they underestimate the time it will take to complete a task. When that happens, you find yourself working up to the buzzer to get things done. It’s stressful, and in many cases wholly preventable by setting more realistic timelines from the start.
One way to do this is by creating smaller milestones along the way. By breaking down a big task into smaller chunks and setting deadlines for each chunk, meeting the overall deadline becomes much easier. Looking at each sub-task individually will also help you to estimate the amount of time it will actually take to complete the task, as well as building in time for approvals, etc. Over time, you’ll be able to see where compliance tasks typically get off track and determine if there’s something in your process that needs improvement.
Leave yourself some wiggle room
As the saying goes, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” So even if you have the best intentions, you might still find yourself panicking at the last minute to meet a looming deadline. EHS staff wear many hats, so understandably other tasks come up that need your attention. Usually that’s when you find yourself working late to complete necessary work for something that’s due tomorrow.
One way to avoid the eleventh-hour scramble is to set a reminder in your calendar a few days before the task is actually due. That way, deadlines don’t sneak up on you. And, it will give you a cushion of extra time in case other things come up.
Hitting deadlines is hard, especially when you’re overloaded. By following these tips, you’ll avoid the stress of the last-minute rush, make fewer mistakes because you’re not in a hurry, and ensure that you never miss a compliance deadline again.