Navigating Regulations: Are Rules Meant to be Broken?

Navigating Regulations: Are Rules Meant to be Broken?

By Diane M. Calabrese / Published September 2016


Rules are meant to be broken. Actually, they are not (except within the inventor’s sphere of controlled experiments). The rules imposed by all levels of government must be followed—or more accurately, they must be navigated. So numerous have regulations become that any business endeavor from hiring and safety to manufacturing and transporting is circumscribed by rules.

Consider the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. For 40 years, the TSCA served as the primary chemicals management law. That changed on June 22, 2016, when President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which amends the TSCA.

One of the significant changes to TSCA involves confidential business information. Companies must now meet greater requirements to substantiate certain confidentiality claims, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will review existing confidentiality claims to determine whether they may persist.

The new TSCA bill poses a particular challenge, says Claudia Hirschochs, president of Vector Laboratories in Youngstown, OH. It will be much more difficult for companies to keep formulations confidential. “Trade secrets” may not be possible.

In addition, manufacturers will have to provide the EPA with information on chemicals and conduct EPA-mandated safety tests before products can be sold. “Chemicals on the market in the United States require safety assessments that will have to be completed to tighter deadlines,” says Hirschochs.

The entire life cycle of the chemical is part of the EPA’s concern. “This includes what happens if the chemical gets into the environment during manufacturing, is released from a finished product line while it’s being used, and is disposed of,” explains Hirschochs. Thus, small businesses that use chemicals for cleaning or other purposes will be affected, too.

Helping customers stay compliant is part of navigating regulations. “Although all of our products are 100 percent biodegradable—thus helping our contractors stay in compliance with environmental regulations—some products are more environmentally friendly than others,” says Hirschochs.

Sodium hydroxide, for example, contributes to a higher pH in products. The higher pH can in turn increase the toxicity of other substances. Although sodium hydroxide is sometimes added to water supplies to elevate pH and reduce corrosion of pipes, the substance cannot be used without safe practices.

For more than 20 years, Hirschochs’ company has recommended its Bionic 2000 for tough cleaning jobs. “It is 100 percent biodegradable and contains no sodium hydroxide or solvents, but it is USDA authorized to be used in food and poultry plants.”

Keeping Up

It is difficult and time consuming to keep up with government regulations. It’s also part of doing business, so Hirschochs advises making it an integral part of the workday. “The best recommendation we can give any company or business about staying in compliance with all the changing laws and regulations is to seek assistance from compliance businesses which will notify you when new regulations are passed,” says Hirschochs.

“Another suggestion, which is one that our company is using, is to appoint one person from the company to be in charge of keeping up with all regulatory requirements,” says Hirschochs. “This person will research the various government websites for new regulations or requirements that are newly released and make sure we stay in compliance.” 

In short, do whatever it takes. As such, multiple approaches may be the best way to avoid missing something. “Where possible, place your company on the mailing lists of all relevant government agencies and any online, trade-related journals,” says E.W. (Bill) Robins, president of Cartier Chemicals Ltd. in Lachine, Quebec, Canada. “Most importantly, find the time to quickly scan what is sent to you.”

One of this year’s tasks for Robins’ team is meeting the requirements of Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). “The year 2016 marks the beginning of the transition to the Canadian GHS-based labeling and SDS system, part of WHMIS 2015,” he explains. GHS is the Globally Harmonized System for hazard communication.

“The implementation of this process, especially with the increased data requirements of the new SDSs, is challenging,” says Robins. “The United States, having implemented the system before us, has made the acquisition of the necessary data easier, especially since the suppliers of raw materials in Canada have been slow to convert their SDSs to the GHS format. Our company, as well as many others in our industry, are well into the conversion process, which must be finished by the summer of 2017.”

Since January 2003, Regulations.gov has been available to help guide individuals and companies to federal regulatory content. For companies that can designate or have designated a compliance officer, the site is a valuable resource in the effort to keep up regarding new regulations. Each day pending rules are listed along with a comment period, etc.

The oversight or governance of the Regulations.gov website brings together representatives from 40 federal departments and agency partners. The managing partner is the EPA.

Knowing which regulations are to be followed is one aspect of navigating regulations. Plotting a course within their boundaries is a second aspect. The third aspect is translating that course to observers who may ask about it, or in other words, clients who pose the basic questions: Why are you doing that? Can you do that? The next section provides an illustration of how it can all be brought together.

Water-Wise Contractors

Using the best available technology is both an operational and a regulatory imperative for contractors, distributors, and manufacturers. At the end-user level, compliance with environmental regulations and responsiveness to common customer concerns are made easier by adopting such technology.

Water-use restrictions and drought have been compelling topics in the Golden State in recent years. Yet restrictions on water use have not precluded the use of pressure washers by professional contractors.

The reason for the exemption is simple. Power washing professionals use water efficiently, explains Jerry McMillen, the owner of Sirocco Performance Vacuums in El Cajon, CA, and the co-chair of the environmental committee of the United Association of Mobile Contract Cleaners (UAMCC).

McMillen is also the author of a wash-water control handbook for municipalities. He has worked with regulators to ensure that they understand just how efficiently pressure washers get a job done.

In many situations, explains McMillen, it’s a health hazard not to clean. There are, for example, slip and fall hazards associated with grease. There are sanitation issues, too. Everything from residue on dumpster surfaces—an invitation to vermin—to dust and debris on dwellings—a bane to individuals with respiratory ailments—is a potential health issue. “EPA has page after page of terminology about ‘best available technology,’” says McMillen. Take the repetition to heart.

If a regulator does query a contractor about an approach, the contractor who can attest to using best available technology will be served well. Of course, a contractor must feel comfortable talking with regulators, and that requires two things: knowledge and practice.

“Getting certified in environmental cleaning and getting equipment from someone who can guide you are musts,” says McMillen. The more understanding the contractor has, the easier it will be to interact with regulators.

Best available technology also generates more opportunities for cleaning. Consider the Instant Capture Vacuuming Surface Cleaner manufactured by McMillen’s company. It’s so efficient at capturing water, no rinse is necessary, and there’s no overspray, which means it’s suitable for use on semi-interior spaces like loading docks.

Good water reclamation tools eliminate the need for rinsing (more water conserved) and reduce overspray (less water wasted). They also do not add humidity to a room, so that drying speeds along. Water reclamation tools “open the door to interior cleaning,” says McMillen. That adds opportunities.

In considering opportunities, be sure to have a firm understanding of the jobsite parameters, says McMillen. If a contractor can use a sanitary sewer belonging to the property owner, the ownership of the wastewater remains with the owner.

“But when a contract cleaner hauls the wash water off site, he then—and forevermore—takes ‘ownership’ of that pollution he’s relocating personally,” says McMillen. As such, the contractor “incurs all the responsibilities in that”—responsibilities that may turn into liabilities.

Wastewater is a complex subject. In the United States, public treatment facilities strive to eliminate or minimize everything from micro-organisms to pharmaceutical products and toiletries in the water. Proper discharge of wastewater meets all expectations and permitting requirements of the National Pollution Dis-charge Elimination System (NPDES), which is an outgrowth of the Clean Water Act of 1987.

Summing It Up

Rule derives from the Latin, regula, for ruler or straightedge. If only it were so simple and direct. Another example of the complexity that even a relatively straight-forward regulation may introduce occurred in May, when a new federal overtime rule removed some of the discretion that employers have in classifying exempt employees. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates the rule will extend overtime pay to more than four million people in its first year. Among the people are outside sales employees, who may work on commissions as well as a base salary. Many employers will have to change compensation structure (or reduce their employee roster) to comply. In any area of business, navigation of regulations is definitely a dynamic process. 

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