Help for the Regulatory Onslaught

Hazardous materials present safety and environmental challenges for growing companies.

It is often said that small businesses are the engines of innovation in the United States. Many advances in biotechnology, medicine, electronics, nano materials, aerospace, and manufacturing came from the innovative minds of small business. However, small business must recognize the plethora of federal and state environmental, health, and safety rules and regulations that can affect a company's profitability and reputation in their communities.

Small-business leaders must integrate environmental compliance and health and safety management into their business processes. This is especially key for small businesses that use hazardous chemicals in their R&D and production processes. Many industries employ a lifecycle analysis chemicals management risk assessment protocol that helps them design production processes that use the least hazardous and toxic chemicals.

There are a number of good reasons to make employee safety a central theme within any entrepreneurial culture. Beyond the obvious health and welfare rewards, there are tangible benefits to the bottom line and to the long-term health of the organization, as well as the protection of the community and environmental quality where the production facility is located. Ignoring safety can place a small business in harm's way with the many federal and state authorities that oversee business and industry.

Yet developing a safety culture is a challenge for companies, especially companies that are growing. They need to evolve their chemical feedstock selection and management practices and develop new production processes to keep pace with customer demands. However, it's incumbent upon small-business leaders to understand the fundamental federal and state environmental, health, and safety rules and regulations that govern their operations and production processes.

Many Regulators Oversee Business and R&D Organizations
The cascading array of safety and environmental regulators ranges beyond local, state, and federal authorities to include industry certification organizations. Let's review some of the key agencies that all business managers should know as they go about designing and implementing their production processes.

Federal OSHA focuses on worker safety and publishes regulations for virtually every work situation. Its rules cover regulated chemical compounds and hazardous wastes. The most important regulatory provisions affecting chemical handling and worker communication of chemical hazards can be found under OSHA Process Safety Management Rules.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates chemicals registration and toxicity reporting for all new and modified chemicals tracked on the Chemical Abstract List through the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). EPA also regulates the tracking and management of wastes from production processes that generate hazardous and toxic waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

RCRA defines the different types of hazardous waste generated from all sources, including production, R&D, laboratory and research centers at companies, non-profit institutions such as universities, and governmental agencies. It regulates the safe storage and disposal of these wastes at permitted and approved Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs), like those owned and operated by Clean Harbors.

EPA, through the Superfund Amendments and Responsibility Act (SARA) Title III Right to Know Law, collects information on toxic and hazardous chemicals and produces a report to the public annually on businesses, industries, academic and research institutions, and government agencies that release chemical byproducts into the air, land, or water. In certain circumstances, SARA also requires a Risk Management Plan (RMP) that must be shared with local and state first responders and emergency planning agencies. We will discuss this further below.

Also, every state has its own environmental protection agency charged with assisting EPA in governing the safe handling and use of chemicals and especially solid and hazardous waste that is generated and disposed from plant production processes or R&D facilities and laboratories.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes codes and standards that govern the safe management, storage, and handling of feedstock chemicals and products. NFPA standards are incorporated as regulatory standards and building codes in virtually every jurisdiction in the United States.

Insurance companies often have their own information, inspection, and audit programs. These insurance programs can be helpful to emerging companies because they consolidate information, may offer training, and incorporate best practices from their larger clients.

RCRA
EPA's mandate to protect the environment is enforced through a number of federal environmental protection statutes. Let's focus on the implications of RCRA on a business' production processes. RCRA's Generator Standards stipulate what types of solid waste must be managed as hazardous wastes and what amounts of wastes generated monthly and annually trigger compliance requirements. So, as operations grow and consume more materials, create more residues, or new chemicals are added to production, you open yourself up to RCRA Generator regulations and requirements.

There are three Waste Generator categories:

  • Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) generate 1,000 kilograms or more per month, more than 1 kilogram per month of acutely hazardous waste, or more than 100 kilograms per month of acute spill residue or soil.
  • Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) generate more than 100 kilograms but less than 1,000 kilograms of hazardous waste per month.
  • Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGs) generate 100 kilograms or less per month, or 1 kilogram or less per month of acutely hazardous waste, or less than 100 kilograms per month of acute spill residue or soil.

Each class of Generator must comply with its own set of requirements. EPA has a Generator Summary Chart that lists the limits and requirements for each class (see Figure 1). See http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/generation/summary.htm for an online version of the chart and additional Generator classifications information. A complete guide, "Hazardous Waste Generator Regulations: A User-Friendly Reference Document," is available at http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/downloads/tool.pdf.

Risk Management Plans
Now, let's focus on the Risk Management Plan rule mentioned above. If a business stores and uses certain types of flammable, explosive, and toxic chemicals, such as propane, hydrofluoric acid, chlorine, or ammonia, over certain thresholds in pounds per year, the federal Clean Air Act stipulates there must be an RMP. It governs the safe handling and management of chemicals throughout their entire lifecycles. It is an adjunct to the SARA Title III Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) because both federal statutes define specific chemicals to be tracked and rules and regulations governing mandated emergency preparedness and contingency planning.

The RMP lists the chemicals inventoried on site, their storage locations, and contingency plans for dealing with the potential catastrophic release of the designated chemicals into the local community. The RMP must be in writing, comprehensive, available on premises, and shared with first responders under mutual aid agreements. In many cases, a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) coordinates the responders. A general fact sheet called "Basic Awareness Factsheet for Small Business" is available at http://www.epa.gov/osweroe1/docs/chem/sb-final.pdf.

Avoid Hazardous Materials
An emerging business or research institution places itself in harm's way with state and federal regulators if it neglects to report and manage hazardous and toxic chemicals properly under the RMP or does not carefully follow the RCRA waste identification, waste manifesting, and tracking requirements. Small-business managers must proactively track compliance with these federal rules so they know when they cross certain thresholds in order to avoid exposing their organizations to serious fines and penalties. There is no leniency; once the minimums are met, they have to develop the RMP and work with the local community so all parties will know what to do in case of an emergency.

An important consideration in regulatory compliance is the selection of chemical feedstocks that are less toxic. The goal always should be Safety-First Risk Management that reduces daily production employees' chemical exposure. There are choices. For instance, non-chlorinated solvents can be substituted for chlorinated solvents that are toxic and may cause the company to reach the minimum threshold for an RMP. There are less-toxic alternatives for many chemicals. So if you want to sustain your business and maintain your relationship with the community, use materials that are either biodegradable or less toxic to the environment.

Hazmat Management
An emerging business that uses chemical feedstocks in its manufacturing lifecycle should have a dedicated Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) professional to guide company leadership toward proactive compliance with the myriad federal, state, and local rules and regulations governing the safe management of hazardous materials and waste used in the business. It is important to make sure the individual has the resources, education, authority, and management support to develop and enforce procedures.

From a chemical data and risk evaluation perspective, every company that handles chemicals must have a Material Safety Data Sheet for every chemical stored and used on the site. The MSDS lists the properties of the material, such as melting point, flash point, toxicity, and reactivity, as well as storage and disposal requirements, necessary protective equipment, spill handling procedures, health hazards, and first aid.

OSHA mandates that workers be instructed on physical and chemical hazards in the workplace and trained in the safe handling, storage, transportation, and use of those chemicals. PPE must be deployed and properly used to protect employees from harmful exposures. Employers also must have medical monitoring programs to track workers' health to ensure they are not being exposed to harmful compounds. Finally, all of the procedures and training must be documented and available for inspection by OSHA inspectors and their delegated state occupational safety counterparts. (Certain states have been delegated federal OSHA compliance authority by the U.S. Department of Labor.)

Resources Are Available
Safety and environmental compliance responsibilities are heavy burdens for most companies, especially companies that are growing and adding processes that may inadvertently move them to new regulatory terrain. The EH&S officer generally focuses on keeping up with day-to-day compliance issues within the plant but may not have the bandwidth to track regulations and recognize when new procedures are required. To help in this regard, Clean Harbors hosts a page on our website that points toward many of the regulatory resources. Located at http://www.cleanharbors.com/customer_resources/regulatory_information.html, it lists both U.S. and Canadian resources.

Smaller companies often supplement internal expertise by retaining environmental consultants and services companies to help them maintain compliance with these complex rules and regulations. These outside sources have the expertise, the regulatory awareness, and the training resources to help keep companies in compliance with local, state, and federal requirements.

In many cases, we can place personnel in facilities to manage hazmats throughout their lifecycles, conduct the training, develop the MSDSs and other necessary documents, and certify proper handling and disposal. Hazardous waste disposal companies are in a unique position to help monitor compliance because we are able to quantify wastes and implement the proper procedures as companies move from one Generator class to the next.

Turning to outside resources allows companies to take advantage of best-in-class practices with partners who are committed to safety management.

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Phillip G. Retallick is senior vice president of Regulatory Affairs for Clean Harbors. He is the company's chief compliance officer with responsibility for Health and Safety, Industrial Hygiene, and Corporate EHS Compliance Auditing.

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