In the coatings industry, environmental and employee safety regulations are having an increasing impact on corporate decisions. In the past, companies have often passed safety to Human Resource (HR) departments and their environmental issues to outside consultants to save money. To be a player in this global economy, companies are doing everything they can to stay competitive. Protecting our greatest investments — people and the environment — is now becoming a recognizable competitive advantage.

What does global economics have to do with environmental health and safety? More than you would think. No longer can we move away from or bury our problems. The global concerns about the environment and employee work conditions are forcing companies to rethink and restructure. The ability to plan for future laws and regulations can be overwhelming, and the financial and public relations consequences that a company can suffer by being out of compliance are nearly crippling.

It’s not only about complying with regulations anymore — it’s about planning and sustaining economic growth that is free from regulatory burden. Many companies focus on the fact that they are in compliance with regulations and not on the reality that the company is still at risk of being out of compliance in the near future. That is why it is no accident that profitable companies typically pave the road to the next generation of environmental health and safety programs. ISO-14000 is not only a new generation of environmental programs — it is becoming an industry standard. This corporate focus has also resulted in a new generation of environmental health and safety professionals.

Figure 1 / Compliance Assurance System - Structural Outline

Environmental Health and Safety Professionals

Environmental health and safety professionals are no longer limited to continued education, regulatory guides, vendor conferences, seminars and law studies. The new generation of professionals is business smart, owner friendly, and specialists in public relations and information. Regulations and their interpretation change daily. The real key to a dynamic and profitable environmental health and safety program is having a long-term outlook on future regulations, and designing in-house programs that financially prepare for those regulations.

Designing in-house programs that evolve with your business and regulations is crucial. The process of implementing a successful environmental health and safety program may be more familiar to business owners than they realize. A solid program is very similar to a small business plan. Why would business owners want to be involved? For the same reason owners are involved in business plans: because they are financially liable.

Figure 2 / What is CAP?

Step 1: Strategic Planning

Like all business plans, there are basic steps that are vital for success. The first step is strategic planning within your organization. Getting current in-house professionals involved in the development of environmental health and safety programs is essential. In-house management programs, similar to ISO, can provide a solid infrastructure for a company’s environmental health and safety program. Much like planning for ISO certification, a company needs to financially plan for long-term environmental health and safety programs. Internal audits and regulatory programs need to be established based on deficiencies.

If your company is already using a quality assurance program, similar to ISO, this transition will be easy to obtain. If not, don’t panic. Starting from scratch on a solid environmental health and safety program can be a financially beneficial process for most corporate strategic planning committees. When your committee members discover how many OSHA, EPA, DOT, DNR and state regulatory programs are required for your industry, they will understand why this is a company concern, not just a concern of the environmental health and safety individual.

During strategic planning, your organization should implement a compliance assurance program (CAP) (see Figures). The basic principal of a CAP outlines what regulations apply to your company and how compliance is met. This can be done using a corporate matrix or a flow chart outlining permits, reporting and training requirements. It is imperative to your business that the CAP defines what to do if your environmental health and safety manager is not available. The involvement of a consultant or your state regulatory agency may be required at this step. If the laws and regulations that apply to your business are not precisely calculated, tens of thousands of dollars could be wastefully spent on non-applicable training and in-house regulatory programs. Worse yet, by misinterpretation of the law, your company could be set up for a severe violation. Baseline compliance audits are offered by most state agencies and UW extensions at no cost. However, consultants can offer baseline audits and assistance with getting your program started for under a $1,000 for most small businesses.

Step 2: Budgeting

The next step is budgeting. Many good environmental health and safety programs are shot down by upper management due to the lack of thought put into the economic side. Believe it or not, most regulations have strong economic foundation. All departments need to be involved. Human Resources (HR) should be involved in all aspects of regulatory training programs, medical monitoring, baseline physical evaluations, safety policies and injury prevention programs. These programs involve access to personal employee information. Your HR department will not want an untrained or unqualified environmental health and safety professional changing the existing systems. Most HR departments welcome the involvement. However, the merger of this relationship may be a short-term challenge. If it becomes a corporate obstacle, delegate the affected programs to HR.

There are more than 11 OSHA applicable programs to general industry alone. Without even adding EPA or DOT training, this could be 10–80 hours of training a year, ranging from basic office staff awareness to plant manager responders. It is imperative to your business that effective training is planned wisely. All training has to merge into the daily operations. Integrating environmental health and safety programs into written operating procedures, policies, and trained skills can meet this objective. It is only when regulatory training is integrated into the daily routine that compliance assurance is obtainable. Many companies fall into the regulatory rut of training once a year, when it is required — not when it is needed — costing companies hundreds of hours in downtime. Worse yet, employee retention and comprehension of all the applicable training programs is nearly impossible when training is conducted in this manner. Without employee retention and comprehension, these programs will not be worth the paper they are written on.

Manufacturing involvement is a necessity to your in-house program’s success. Manufacturing could inadvertently compromise regulatory compliance on a daily basis if every employee is not trained on general awareness. Don’t make it an option; write policies that protect people and your company. This does not require a lot of extra training. Employee training should be focused on policies that do not compromise regulatory compliance, what is wrong, and how to correct or report it. Manufacturing managers have to understand the importance of a quality regulatory program. Manufacturing training should be applied with the same diligence and priority as preventive maintenance. Before a new process is brought online, it is tested and fine tuned for optimal performance. People should be treated with equal importance. People, like a process, need to be tested and fine tuned for optimal performance. Manufacturing training must be conducted based on compliance and deficiencies. If people have to be trained anyway, why wouldn’t it be done before they go online? Without constant support and feedback from manufacturing, programs will not evolve or become streamlined. There is no perfect recipe during implementation. Feedback provides the ingredients that refine good programs into great ones.

Purchasing should be integrated into your hazardous materials (Hazmat) programs. Purchasing agents have a better understanding of what measures and balances are required to track improvements and deficiencies. Inventory control is an inherent quality used in both Hazmat management and warehouse management. Both Hazmat management and warehouse management require prior knowledge of the physical state, quantity and location of raw materials that are ordered. The physical state and quantity in which a material is initially being handled or ordered could have a substantial affect on how the material is regulated. If your purchasing department was aware that ordering of raw material as a liquid compared to a powder could remove a regulated status or eliminate the material as a hazardous waste, they would want to be involved. Purchasing managers can also help with the economics of short-term disposal options versus long-term treatment solutions. Finding best source options for hazardous materials is a never-ending process; you need all the help you can get.

Using a warehouse management vender rating system on disposal facilities and consultants will ensure consistency and performance. When it comes to compliance, consistency is extremely important.

Other warehouse management systems that incorporate cycle counting and shortage reports are the heart of a hazardous waste minimization program. Why duplicate efforts? If you have a current system that works, use it. If warehouse management systems can be used to predict and track usage of materials months ahead of schedule, why couldn’t those same systems be used to predict and track how much hazardous waste will be generated? Knowing this gives companies the ability to design and implement waste-reduction programs before the waste begins. The basic integration environmental management and warehouse management typically saves companies thousands of dollars on disposal, hazardous materials handling, and personnel involvement. It could also save hundreds of hours wasted on environmental tracking and reporting.

Step 3: Forecasting

When corporate management and training systems merge together, the final step becomes obtainable, sustainable, and consistent. The last step in the process is forecasting. Knowing what regulations are coming is imperative. Imagine the competitive edge your company would have, if you knew the price raw materials and taxes would be in two years or even six months. This kind of forecasting is actually obtainable in the environmental health and safety world. OSHA and the EPA are prime examples of regulatory agencies that offer draft regulations to the public years in advance. Currently, both agencies offer small business assistance over the Internet that includes training and internal audit programs. These agencies even conduct financial feasibility studies to reflect what impact the new regulations will have on business. State and federal agencies have round-table discussions, live Internet forums, outreach programs and committees going around the clock. As long as you stay focused on your organizations needs, this gives you a huge competitive forecasting advantage.

Don’t reinvent the wheel — the solutions are out there. And finding help has never been easier or more financially feasible. The whole world is involved through the Internet. Universities, nonprofit organizations and most regulatory agencies have “low profile” out-reach consultant programs that are free of charge. Accessing this global repository of information is the real advantage of the Internet. When used effectively, the Internet can be one of the most efficient sources of environmental health and safety information, as well as a vehicle for regulatory communication and reporting. It can deliver instant access to professionals and regulators ready to answer your questions on any topic. It can provide real-time discussions, economic solutions, thousands of free periodicals, regulations, or more importantly, draft and proposed regulatory forums all to your desk, wherever, and whenever, you want it.

The problem is that almost 130 million Internet users have proven that the Internet can be an addictive waste of time. And unfortunately, for that portion that is actually passed off as information, the vast majority of it is unedited, unreviewed data, mixed with personal speculation that no one has verified. The wrong information can lead to violations and the demise of a company’s environmental health and safety program. A good environmental health and safety manager is a great information manager that values solid information provided by regulatory and nonprofit organizations that are not financially or politically motivated.

The following websites offer some of the best online information currently available at no cost to the user.

In the past, the environmental health and safety field, always had a backwards “what if” strategy. What if we are out of compliance? What if OSHA came knocking? What if that regulation passes?

The “What if” has changed. What if we refine our waste material into a raw material? What if we integrate our safety training into existing training programs to increase efficiency and awareness? What if we could forecast environmental health and safety problems ahead and design them out? What if we turned our environmental health and safety department into a profitable department?

In a regulated industry, a good environmental health and safety program can be a huge competitive edge. Companies that live by regulations are also controlled by regulations. The financial decisions those companies make are sometimes only based on avoiding or just complying with regulations and not on the financial long-term benefits to their process. The original intention of all government regulations and policies is to protect workers, the environment and job security by increasing efficiency, productivity and growth. The key is not making decisions based solely on complying with regulations, but working with the government to make better regulations based on good business decisions that benefit us all.

Following this simple recipe can help any company create a successful environmental health and safety program. The overwhelming benefits and long-term cost savings greatly outweigh the initial time and financial investment. The resources are out there to create an effective program. Economics, networking, solid infrastructure, competitive edge, dynamic: Does this sound like your company’s environmental, health and safety department?