Meeting the Compliance Challenge

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Courtesy of IHS

Global environmental concern about ozone depletion has caused governments around the world to take action. In the United States, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and subsequent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations required rapid changes to meet compliance requirements. The regulations impact virtually every business, organization and consumer through higher prices on goods and services. Previously safe and abundant refrigerants used in a multitude of everyday applications have, in a few short years, become federally controlled substances with civil and criminal penalties for violations.

In industries and organizations involved with air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, the most significant impacts can be categorized as:

  • Finding substitute refrigerants.
  • Addressing existing equipment issues.
  • Facing the new compliance challenge.

Enormous investments of effort and money have been required for research and development to identify, test and bring to market large volumes of substitute refrigerants. Equipment manufacturers have been forced to design new equipment, redesign existing equipment and retool factories.

Fortunately, significant progress has been made in this area. Substitute refrigerants are sufficiently meeting demand, and equipment manufacturers are producing new equipment based on the substitutes as well as retrofit packages for existing equipment.

Significant capital outlays also have been expended to address existing equipment issues. Building owners, managers and facilities professionals have made difficult decisions and expenditures on contain, convert or replace options. Many organizations have addressed this issue head on and taken the required actions to ensure their facilities will not be impacted by future CFC-refrigerant shortages. Some organizations, however, have made minimal efforts or have done nothing and are at risk for future business interruptions due to refrigerant shortages.

Capital investment and training is required to develop and implement an EPA refrigerant regulations compliance program. This issue presents a challenge as significant, if not more so, than the refrigerant replacement and mechanical system issue because it requires changes to human and organizational behaviors, work routines and attitudes to ensure compliance with the new regulations. Existing procedures, work practices and habits must be modified, and new compliance monitoring processes, including internal checks and/or audits, must be implemented.

Roadblocks to Successful Compliance
Published in May 1999, the EPA/ Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) Root Cause Analysis Project final report identified root cause and contributing factors of noncompliance. Root causes included the following:

  • Unidentified environmental aspects of facility process and operations.
  • Unclear procedures.
  • Contradictory interpretation of state and/or federal regulations.
  • Unavailability of written procedures.
  • Unawareness of a regulation's applicability.
  • Insufficient compliance monitoring.

In addition, two primary contributing causes to operation and maintenance noncompliance were identified as:

  • Lack of support or guidance from management.
  • Unclear definitions of roles and responsibilities.

Confusion is common in organizations developing and implementing environmental regulations compliance programs. Organizations must revise specific work processes to incorporate permanent and ongoing compliance requirements. Because the regulations are relatively new, existing compliance information is not as abundant as traditional environmental information. Additional research often is required to develop specific policies and procedures. Poorly designed or undefined organizational policies and procedures can result in noncompliance.

Assigning responsibility for compliance program development and management also can be confusing. Because refrigerants typically have been a facility operations issue and not an environmental issue, there often are responsibility crossover issues, egos and structural process issues to overcome. Avoid unclear role and responsibility definitions. Employees need to know who is accountable for various issues, what is expected of them and who to turn to for help. In many cases, affected individuals working with refrigerants have little or no experience dealing with federally regulated substances. The regulations and subsequent EPA requirements are tough, and the consequences for noncompliance are severe. Many may not understand the magnitude of the ramifications they and their organization face for violations.

Employee complacency is a challenge faced by many organizations. People tend to focus their efforts on what they believe are priorities. From a compliance standpoint, this is dangerous. A complacent attitude most likely has its roots in one or more of the following:

  • The initial and, in certain forums, ongoing controversy over ozone depletion.
  • Unfamiliarity with regulated industry.
  • Resentment toward the regulations.
  • Lack of interest or commitment from senior-level management.
  • Lack of education or information on specific requirements and penalties associated with noncompliance.

Whatever the reason for the attitude, complacent individuals can become a roadblock to successful compliance.

Steps to Successful Compliance
The EPA/CMA Root Cause Analysis Project report identified corporate policies, goals, targets and guidelines as having a strong influence on environmental performance. Companies achieving successful environmental compliance displayed and provided:

  • Clearly defined management commitment.
  • Tools developed by the facility and corporate staff.
  • High levels of awareness and commitment.
  • Accurate standard operating procedures that employees can understand.
  • Employee training.

It is necessary to produce an organization-specific refrigerant management and regulations compliance program. The plan should describe how EPA regulations and requirements will be integrated into the organization's existing work processes. It also should define the organization's policies and procedures for refrigerant handling.

Senior management's visible commitment has a significant impact on program success. Congress recognized this when it designated senior-level management responsible in criminal enforcement resulting from violations. This responsibility cannot be delegated away, but demonstrating intent to comply can strengthen management's defensible position.

Robert Johnson is president of Environmental Support Solutions, Mesa, Ariz., an organization that provides compliance software, training and consulting to organizations affected by EPA refrigerant regulations. Visit www.ess-home.com.

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