The Lowdown on Regulatory Reporting

It is important to know which hazardous materials you have, how much you have, and exactly where it is located.

REPORTING requirements for a facility can cover a broad spectrum of laws, regulations, and standards at the federal, state, and local levels. These requirements may apply to a variety of media, such as air, land, water, and waste. It is difficult enough to determine whether you are adequately meeting the requirements for a single facility, let alone multiple facilities across many jurisdictions. Although there has been a concerted effort by regulators to minimize repetitive reporting of similar information to different agencies, there may still be some overlap. In addition, state and local agencies may impose additional requirements and stricter reporting thresholds than those stated in the federal law or regulation.

Given the myriad of agencies and overlapping regulations, here are seven things you should know to assist you in best managing your regulatory reporting needs.

1) Determine who is accountable in your organization.
Who will ultimately be accountable for any reporting? The person signing the actual report may not be the same person who is preparing the document. Decide who will be doing the assessment and preparation of the reports, such as the Environmental Health & Safety manager, and who will be performing the certification. This may be the owner or operator of the facility. Keep in mind the signing or accountable party usually must certify the reports are complete and accurate to the best of his or her knowledge, under penalty of law, including fines, prosecution, and potential lawsuits. Also important to note is that some agencies require that an officer of the company, engineer, certified industrial hygienist, or other technical professional certify to the contents of a report.

2) Review your facility's reporting history.
What has been reported in the past? Gather all related previously submitted reports and any records that may be relevant to hazardous materials, including Material Safety Data Sheets, waste manifests, emissions testing results, internal or agency inspection records, and any other that may be related. By determining what was required previously, you will have a good idea what type of reporting may be needed.

3) Assess your facility.
What types of hazardous materials do you have? Survey your facility by evaluating and completing an inventory assessment of all hazardous materials. It is important to know what you have, how much you have, and exactly where it is located. Determine exactly what you have currently stored and in use at your site. Don't forget to consider materials that have been shipped to and from vendors and those that may have been removed as hazardous wastes or recycled during the reporting period. Review your current programs and documentation, including the materials you gathered when you reviewed your reporting history. Review blueprints, site diagrams, secondary containment methods, process flow diagrams, and waste streams.

Review your operations, such as any manufacturing processes, refining of materials, and equipment usage. If you have not recently completed a hazard analysis, you may need to consider adding extra security measures, especially for sites that store larger amounts of hazmats. Even if you are only updating a report from a previous year, it is a good idea to survey your hazards at least annually to ensure there have been no significant changes in hazardous materials usage or processes.

4) Know your regulators.
You may need to contact and meet with your local regulators, including fire protection agencies, health department officials, state agencies, and others, depending on your particular facility's needs. Some areas offer free compliance assistance services, especially for small business owners. You may find you need to report to a federal, state, county, or other local agency, or a combination thereof. Some agencies schedule regular inspections, the frequency and length of which may vary depending on the specific needs of your site. Maintaining active relationships with your regulators can help prevent surprises during inspections and shows you are taking an active role in the health and safety of your local community.

Most agencies are willing to work with you proactively before an incident occurs, rather than after an incident has happened. Their main concerns are the protection of life, environment, and property, in that order.

See whether exceptions may apply to you based on the type of business you operate and the chemicals you store. There are exceptions available under some regulations for consumer goods, research and development materials, specific types of industry, and other factors.

5) Validate that what is reported is accurate and implemented.
Is your reporting comprehensive? Audit your facility regularly to make sure all safety and environmental protection measures are being implemented. This is an effective way to gauge your reporting is accurate and complete. Determine which indicators you will use to determine your success. Evaluate whether employees are adequately trained and standard operating procedures are being followed. Make sure training occurs regularly, especially for new employees and when a new hazard is introduced. Review the audit information and implement any improvements and corrective actions. You may find that additional or more frequent training is necessary.

Regulators may ask for verification of what you have reported, including hazmat quantities, types, training, contingency plans, and waste management procedures. Keeping documentation readily available will make it easier to verify what was reported. You may need to have detailed reports describing how you arrived at the information you reported, including how you met or were excepted from various requirements.

6) Develop a system for recordkeeping and maintenance.
Do you currently have system to store and update records? If not, be strategic and systematic in developing one. Make sure your system allows you to keep up with any regularly scheduled reporting requirements. Track the frequency of your reporting requirements, whether monthly, annually, biennially, or other. Realize that this is a long-term commitment, not a one-time reporting requirement. Keep records of any documents that are used to complete submitted reports, such as internal audits, training records, equipment maintenance records, vendor and contractor service records, and previous reports.

7) Determine resource needs.
What is the cost of completing and maintaining compliance? Be realistic about the costs and resources necessary. Determine how many facilities must be included in your evaluations and decide whether you need a single person designated part time, someone full time, or an entire staff to complete these tasks. Find out whether he or she needs additional technical training in order to complete the reports. (Some reports require an engineer's review or special certification in order to complete, review or sign the documents.) Review reporting due dates and decide whether you need to shift resources during certain times of the year in order to complete them on time. Plan ahead and allow yourself enough time to review the finished disclosure before you submit to an agency.

If you determine costs are overwhelming, decide whether outsourcing is a solution you should consider, such as software solutions or bringing in outside consultants.

Consider your current processes. Can you save money and increase employee safety by using a less-hazardous material that has similar properties to one you are using? Can your processes or equipment be re-engineered to make them produce less byproduct or waste, thereby decreasing any related hazmat or waste generation fees? Can some materials be recycled? Many agencies have pollution prevention programs or waste minimization incentives available.

Determining whether your particular facility is required to maintain reporting requirements can be a complex task, but proactive planning and allocation of necessary resources can make the task manageable.

This article originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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