By Diane M. Calabrese / Published November 2014
Engagement with regulators is not an option in 2014. It is a must. There was a time when regulators were fewer and a manufacturer, distributor, or contractor might go for a long period of time without direct interaction. “That all changed in the early ‘90s,” says Robert M. Hinderliter, PWNA environmental advocate and President of Rahsco Manufacturing Co., Inc. in Fort Worth, TX. “Now, it is best to be proactive and know your AHJs [authority having jurisdiction].”
Reach out and connect. “Establish a personal relationship with regulators,” says Hinderliter. “Talk to them on a regular basis and not just when there is a problem.” Yes, it can be challenging. Just “finding out who you need to talk to and their phone numbers” can lead to lots of “round robin looking for answers,” explains Hinderliter.
Yet there is no stopping short of answers. In fact, knowledge of regulations is such a critical part of business many companies have a full-time compliance officer.
“Since violations can bankrupt a company, whoever has the responsibility for compliance needs to report directly to the CEO,” says Hinderliter.
Ask questions of the correct people. “Depending on who you are and what your questions are” you might have different sorts of interactions with regulators, says Hinderliter. Information required will vary according to whether you are a manufacturer, dealer, general public, contract cleaner, or representative of a nonprofit association.
Use all available venues for direct contact with regulators. “Being a member of a trade association is very important in order to keep up with all the changes coming down the line,” says Hinderliter. “Most trade associations invite regulators to speak at their conventions.”
Getting to know regulators is essential to linking to all available assistance for meeting regulations. Communication also affords everyone—the regulator and the principals of a business—opportunities to understand each other.
“Personalities play a huge part in this equation,” says Roy Pennington, Owner of Hi Pressure Cleaning Systems, Inc. in Houma, LA. Each of us sees the world a bit differently, and it’s much easier to reach common ground when our first encounter is unrelated to a specific issue or concern.
Pennington is also an advocate for having a single person dedicated to compliance issues. The structure allows the designated individual to keep pace with changing—and often proliferating—regulations and then, to be sure the information is shared with everyone at the company. A single-point representative for compliance eliminates the potential for confusion. An employee with any question can go to the representative and get the correct answer.
Even with excellent, in-house methods for meeting regulations, there will still be problem spots. Suppose a customer purchases a piece of equipment from a distributor and then, during an audit overstates what the equipment will do. The auditor will very likely contact the distributor to verify precisely what was promised the customer in terms of the capabilities of the equipment. And the distributor will have to “restore credibility” with the auditor, explains Pennington.
Regulations are so numerous that it can be difficult to recall some of them if queried directly. Pennington’s first visit from the DOT Hazardous Materials Enforcement Division serves as a reminder of how important it is to retain all instructions from the original equipment manufacturer. During that inspection, Pennington was able to document with the OEM manual that it was acceptable to close a five-gallon pail with a rubber pallet instead of a pneumatic ram.
On the same first visit, Pennington had a less welcome outcome when the inspectors asked him for his drum bung torque wrench. He could not immediately recall which wrench the inspectors meant and he received a violation. There may have been some anxiety in play. “They had a copy of CFR 49, inches thick,” he explains. “I took one look at the book and realized I probably did not remember every rule…”
A great deal of responsibility falls on distributors. “Manufacturers design and build the equipment,” says Pennington. “It is up to the distributors to properly size and install the manufacturer’s equipment so that it operates in the manner it was designed to do. We have key team members who interface with our government auditors and inspectors. We make it a point to know the ordinances as well as they do. When we meet them at a customer’s site, we have hard copies—pertinent parts highlighted—of the ordinances in our clipboards.”
Pennington explains that he wants regulators to know they are dealing with professionals. Everyone should be on their “A-Game,” he says. It serves the goals of regulation and keeps the industry strong.
One of the most challenging aspects of meeting regulations is that they are subject to interpretation. This is so in part because local jurisdictions have latitude in how they comply with federal laws. As such, regulations that are used to enforce the laws may differ from place to place. And it can lead to problems for an industry that spans the nation (and the world).
“The various differences from different jurisdictions and how each place their own opinions and interpretations on equipment without an understanding of the differences from product to product” is a particular challenge, says Dr. Marlo Dean, Senior Support Services Manager at Kärcher North America in Camas, WA. The conflating of pressure washers and boilers, for example, has led to regulators attempting “to force pressure washer equipment to comply with boiler regulations and standards.”
Cradle-to-grave responsibility for any substance used in or released by an industrial process puts additional requirements on the business owner. “A company can take the attitude of waiting …or being proactive,” says Dean.
A proactive approach means “keeping in compliance with all the national regulations and directives,” explains Dean. Such an effort—ideally the only job of one person at the company—will go a long way toward “protecting…against litigation and violations.”
Safety standards, environmental rules, building codes, and electrical codes are just some of the most familiar spheres of regulation. There are now national and international directives. From declarations of hazardous substances to meeting the requirements of the Consumer Protection Act, companies meet regulators in all directions.
Manufacturers should have a compliance officer that works “closely with engineering in development of equipment,” says Dean. Everything possible should be done to comply with regulations, requiring inclusion in the development phase to meet them. It’s the best mechanism for “avoiding heavy fines of non compliance.”
Make the most of interactions with regulators. Contact regulation agencies to be placed on notification e mails and attend professional conferences. Do not be afraid to pick up the phone and ask questions.
What about getting changes in regulations that seem to need modification? “It is almost impossible for individual companies to lobby government regulators for changes in regulations,” says Dean. “They will listen when you attempt to accomplish change as an industry united.”
The unified approach requires strong ties within the industry. “Distributors should inform the manufacturer of any new regulation and code that will have an impact on our industry, and the manufacturer should provide the resources to keep their products in compliance with any federal and state laws,” says Dean. Active participation in organizations such as CETA is a good place to begin sharing information.