I quickly learned how incredibly difficult it is to understand and comply with these regulations, especially while trying to run a profitable business.
I knew that compliance was important, but to be honest, at that time I really didn’t know what I was doing.
This unfortunately meant that the companies were operating out of compliance for much of the time, which put them at risk for major liabilities which unfortunately came later…… (more on that soon…)
Since that time I’ve learned that I was definitely not alone.
The fact is that the vast majority of small, and even medium and large companies, routinely operate out of compliance for many of the same reasons that I did.
This applies across virtually all high hazard industries including manufacturing, construction, transportation, distribution, energy and industrial services.
To summarize, here’s what I struggled with while trying to manage compliance:
Does any of this sound familiar?
To learn more about these struggles, keep reading below…..
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I’ll never forget the first time I logged onto the OSHA website to try and figure out a regulation. I think it was Confined Spaces.
The standard was incredibly confusing, with all of the jargon, sub-parts, references to other regulations, and especially the often vague language which made it even tougher to understand.
What’s true for OSHA regulations is true for the other agencies as well, including EPA, TCEQ and DOT. They are all incredibly complicated and hard to understand, especially for someone who lacks compliance experience.
On more than one occasion, I committed myself to figuring out a particular regulation, only to throw my arms up in disgust knowing it had all been a waste of time, because I was basically no better off than when I started.
If you don’t believe me, try it out for yourself and see how it goes. I wish you good luck!
My “agency applicability” struggles began when I started my first company, the hazardous waste transportation business.
Since we owned and operated trucks, I knew that DOT (Department of Transportation) applied, but even that was confusing because I later learned that there was TX DOT (state) and there was also US DOT (federal), so I had to research both to determine what applied.
Since we transported hazardous waste, we also had to answer to federal EPA and state TCEQ regulations.
For a long time I thought that was it, but later learned that OSHA also applied for any activities/hazards that occurred “outside the cab,” such as loading and unloading, operating forklifts, and for chemical exposures.
So I eventually figured out that the company had to manage regulations from 6 different agencies, but it took several years to get there.
I had similar problems with my other companies, but this one was probably the worst.
Once I figured out which regulatory agencies applied, I then had to sort through the regulations to figure out which applied to the various companies.
OSHA is probably the best example of how confusing this process can be.
They divide their laws into 4 major industry groups: General Industry, Construction, Maritime and Agriculture.
Then each one of these industry groups is broken down further into their own long list of industry specific health and safety “standards.”
I learned that all of my companies fell under “General Industry,” but figuring out which specific standards applied was much more difficult.
I’d be lying if I claimed to have understood how to navigate this process during that time period.
Instead, I just bought some huge, generic “safety manuals” on-line and hoped that I was covered. (Sound familiar by any chance?)
Of course I wasn’t (read here to learn why).
I’ll give myself more credit when it came to EPA, TCEQ and DOT compliance, which were a little easier to figure out.
(which is related to, but different than not understanding them)
This was definitely my biggest struggle of all.
In other words, it’s one thing to try and understand a regulation (no small feat as I’ve already described), but it’s quite another thing to actually comply with it.
Again, OSHA is probably the best (err, worst) example.
Each standard requires that affected employers actually implement and manage various “elements” of the standard. Example elements include testing, routine inspections, developing and delivering employee training, procedure development, and more.
In other words, I learned that we had to figure out a way to build these “elements” into our routine business operations.
Here are some examples from my wind business:
We had to:
Let me clarify,… I knew that we were supposed to be doing these things, but that didn’t necessarily mean that it happened. We were pretty good about the training, but many of the other things routinely fell through the cracks.
Let me also clarify that for the first year or two, I knew virtually nothing about these requirements and instead just managed to provide PPE (personal protective equipment) and hoped for the best.
During this entire time period, I recall hearing about various regulatory changes that were happening.
The notifications came in emails, industry trade journals, at conferences, and sometimes from other people.
I always thought, “ok, I’ll have to look into that and make sure we deal with it,” or something similar, which of course almost never happened!
This was yet another compliance problem that I never quite figured out how to manage…..
I soon learned that I was far from alone, that just about all small companies struggle to understand, implement and manage environmental, health and safety compliance & risk.
This realization formed part of the underlying business case to found a new consulting business dedicated to helping small companies to manage EHS compliance & risk.