The Most Important Things to Keep in Mind with EH&S Regulations


As a facility or plant manager, you wear many hats. You’re responsible for A to Z, and the buck stops with you, so to speak.

That includes making sure your facility follows all the appropriate regulations dealing with environmental, health and safety. But you’re also very busy; it seems like you never have enough time in the day to worry about regulations, let alone study them in detail so you fully understand how they apply to you.But the truth is that being busy won’t be a valid excuse if regulators come calling and you fall short. The bottom line: you need to determine what regulations apply to your facility. It can be overwhelming, but this is a vital part of facility knowledge, and there is help.

Here’s a good starting point. This chart lists the fifteen most common environmental, health and safety regulations that a facility or plant manager may have to address on any given day. Review the list and figure out which ones might apply to your facility.

The 15 Most Common EH&S Regulations   

Air QualityWater QualitySolid & Hazardous WasteWorker SafetySpill PreventionStorage TasksPCB ManagementTransportationEPCRA
Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-KnowTSCA
Toxic Substances Control ActHealth & Medical ServicesChemical & Physical ExposuresEquipment SafeguardsGreenhouse Gas Voluntary InitiativesSecurity Measures

Next, having the “Four Core Requirements” (Communication, Facility Knowledge, Property History and Documentation) in place helps you recognize your potential problem areas and identify the regulations you might be overlooking.

You also have to be willing say those three magic words that so many facility managers (in fact, most people) are reluctant to utter: “I don’t know.”

Once you’ve admitted that you need help, it’s time to get it. The good news is that there are plenty of resources to help you get up to speed and in compliance.

Something else to keep in mind is that when it comes to regulations, you don’t need to be an expert; you just need to have a general understanding of what applies to you and know where to seek assistance to understand the nuances of the regulations.

One more thing… As a new facility manager, don’t assume when you come into the job that all the regulations that apply to your facility have already been identified. You’ll have to investigate to double-check that you’re in compliance with all applicable regulations.

Where to Get Help

Outside consultants are an obvious choice, but in most cases, also the most expensive and time-consuming. The issue with calling in a third party like Envision Environmental, Inc. is that you have to pay them to understand your operations and what your employees do.

We’ll make a facility visit to see everything in action, review the protocol and programs in place, and determine what regulations you need to worry about. The whole time, your fee is adding up.

Before you make that call, here are some other sources of assistance:

  • Professional associations for your industry

When you go to conventions or trade shows, ask colleagues with similar facilities what regulations they follow. If you know someone personally, you can reach out by phone.

You can also go online, find forums and groups for your industry, and post your queries there. Trade journals can be a handy resource, too.

  • Seek help internally

We’ve established that many facility managers are reluctant to ask for help because it shows “weakness.” But the answers you need could be right under your nose.

You might have an expert in your own building: long-time employees, department heads, or shift managers could be more familiar with specific aspects of a facility. You might have someone who used to deal with specific regulations at a different job and knows what regulations are needed—or can at least provide you with a starting point.

  • Ask your “sister” facilities

If your company has other facilities that do similar work, ask them what they have in place. We have a client who called us recently, totally confused by what regulations applied to them as far as the safety protocol for a specific job function. They invited us in to investigate and submit a proposal.

Before our visit, we did a little research and found that they had two sister facilities; we asked if they had called on them for assistance. Nope.

As a consultant, this course of action eliminates my job—but resolving the matter internally is more efficient and less costly. This goes back to one of the Four Core Requirements: Communication. If those facilities were talking to each other, they would have never called us in the first place.

  • Online assistance

The Internet is a fantastic way to find out what regulations apply to you, but I must stress that it can also be dangerous. When you’re doing online research, you must make sure that what you download applies specifically to your facility and is the latest version of that regulation.

As a consultant, online sources are our first stop with any project. We don’t know everything, but we do know where to find it. Regulators’ websites have so much valuable information, and it’s straight from the horse’s mouth: the folks who crafted the regulations.

If you’re intimidated by the dense, seemingly incomprehensible language in typical regulations, there’s help there, too. Guidance documents and letters of interpretation found on regulators’ websites distill complex regulations down to the most important information you need to worry about. They help you easily understand the regulations and how they apply to your facility.

Take stormwater regulations. There are thousands of pages of state and federal regulations, but a guidance document prepared by the regulators boils it all down like a cookbook and leads you through the whole process of compliance in a simple to follow format; all in a language you can easily understand!

  • Call your friendly local regulator

If you’re still confused about which regulations apply to your facility, your regulator is there to help.

If you feel there is not enough information in the guidance documents, regulators can help with interpretation. Call the agency helpline or a contact you have cultivated at the agency to ask questions.

You don’t have to reveal your identity. You can keep your identifying information close to the vest and ask “generic” questions.

Many regulators also offer voluntary compliance assistance programs.

They’ll visit your facility and advise you about what regulations apply and what permits you may need. A caveat here: this could lead to compliance issues if they see anything you shouldn’t be doing… even if it’s not related to the regulation you’re asking about.

For that reason, before you make a direct call to regulators—or any time you seek any outside help—you should always seek advice from your corporate counsel first.

Making Sure You’re Always Up-to-Date

When you’ve addressed your Four Core Requirements, know what regulations apply to your facility, and have the permits in place, your work still isn’t done.

You must now put a program in place to make sure you conduct routine evaluations of regulations. There are two reasons for this:

1. Regulations can change, or new ones that affect you could be enacted.

2. Your facility can change, and you might need new permits or modifications to existing permits. Remember your permits must reflect what is going on at your facility at any given time. So, if changes occur at your facility, make sure you determine if those changes have any effect on your permits.

There’s no excuse for not knowing about, and accounting for, changes.

Again, there are resources at your disposal and tools you can use:

  • Services you can subscribe to that notify you of upcoming changes in regulations.
  • An annual audit and review, conducted in-house, to monitor regulation modifications or changes you’ve made that require new permits.
  • Regulator websites also provide plenty of notice of new or modified regulations. They are drafted, published for public comment, and only enacted a year or two later. Once enacted, there’s also a grace period to comply.
  • Environmental Management Systems (EMS) are fantastic tools because they can help you keep track of environmental, health, and safety regulations and compliance across the board; however, they can cost several thousand dollars each year.

There’s a lot of work up-front inputting the information for your specific facility, but once you do that, the EMS runs itself, automatically checking for regulation changes.

If you have a large facility and already have your hands full (and are on a budget) we highly recommend something along these lines.

One Last Vital Resource for Regulation Compliance

OSHA gets a bad rap. With so many different rules and regulations, trying to understand and address all of them is next to impossible without help.

To their credit, the agency recognizes this. Its website has thousands of guidance documents and videos to help facility mangers stay in compliance.

My favorite OSHA resource is their annual Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards list. They list each violation and explain how to comply. It’s a great list to review and compare to your own operations.

Given the limited time you have as a facility manager, downloading this list represents a minimal amount of effort. If you comply with at least these top ten issues, it goes a long way: you can bet that if an OSHA inspector comes to your facility, this is what they’ll look for first – the most common violations. If you have those issues addressed, the rest of the investigation usually goes pretty smoothly. If you do not have these issues addressed, they’ll more than likely “roll up their sleeves” and go over every inch of your facility with a fine-toothed comb.

You can download the OSHA Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards list here.

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