The COVID-19 pandemic has had tremendous impacts on various industries and sectors—most have had to adjust business practices (in small or large ways) to meet new guidelines for safe operations. At times, it may seem impossible to keep up with the latest developments/recommendations and their impacts on day-to-day operations.
A cross-cutting issue for almost every business (and every household) is the safe and proper management of waste. Almost all our activities generate some form of waste. During an infectious disease outbreak such as COVID-19, it becomes increasingly important to ensure the provision of safe water, sanitation, and hygienic conditions to help prevent human-to-human transmission of the virus.
State and federal agencies throughout the U.S. and abroad, as well as international organizations, have begun to issue new and/or update existing guidance regarding proper waste management practices as experts learn more about the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for example, recently issued guidance stating that, “Generally, management of waste that is suspected or known to contain or be contaminated with COVID-19 does not require special precautions beyond those already used to protect workers from the hazards they encounter during their routine job tasks in solid waste and wastewater management.” However, state, tribal, and local governments may follow stricter guidance.
Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO), in its April 2020 revised Interim Guidance, noted that there is “no evidence that direct, unprotected human contact during the handling of healthcare waste has resulted in the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.” The WHO further states that the usual best practices for the safe management of infectious waste should be exercised.
Best Practices to Minimize Risk
The OSHA and WHO guidance highlight an important point—where existing processes and systems can safely be relied upon for the proper management of waste during this pandemic, organizations should avoid making changes. Where the nature of COVID-19 requires adjustments, that is where organizations should focus their efforts.
Outlined below are some general best practices that organizations should consider implementing to minimize risks associated with waste management during COVID-19 and beyond:
- Municipal Waste: Workers and employers should manage municipal (e.g., household, business) solid waste with potential or known COVID-19 contamination like any other non-contaminated municipal waste. Workers should prevent exposure to waste through safe work practices and approved Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as puncture-resistant gloves and face and eye protection. To help protect sanitation workers, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) advises households with waste suspected to be infected with COVID-19 tightly enclose waste in heavy-duty bags, double-bag the waste, and ensure that curbside containers can close completely. As always, anyone handling waste should wash hands thoroughly.
- Healthcare Waste: Healthcare waste with potential or known COVID-19 contamination should be managed like any other regulated medical waste. In the U.S., COVID-19 is not a Category A infectious substance. Again, use typical engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE to prevent worker exposure. Although not required, the Healthcare Waste Institute (HWI) recommends COVID-19 waste be identified to protect workers in the event a bag needs to be re-opened. Only grossly contaminated PPE should be placed into sealed bags (red bags in the U.S.). Tissues or similar materials used by patients when coughing or sneezing should be immediately disposed of in a lined waste receptacle, and then correct hand hygiene should be performed. Such waste may be disposed as regular trash (i.e., municipal solid waste), unless otherwise directed by local health departments. Public Health England, for example, advises that such waste be double-bagged, tied securely, stored separately from other waste, and left for 72 hours before sending for disposal as standard municipal solid waste.
- Recycling: As with municipal waste, employers and workers in the recycling industry should continue to use typical engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE to prevent exposure to recyclable materials they manage, including any contaminants in the materials. Organizations and households should always refer to their local recycling hauler’s guidelines to determine if and what products can be recycled. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is advising individuals to treat recyclables as trash if anyone in their home has COVID-19.
- Wastewater: Coronaviruses are susceptible to the same disinfection conditions as other viruses, so current disinfection processes in wastewater treatment facilities are expected to be sufficient, per OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This includes practices such as oxidation with hypochlorite (i.e., chlorine bleach) and peracetic acid, as well as inactivation using ultraviolet irradiation. There is no evidence to suggest that additional, COVID-19-specific protections are needed for employees involved in wastewater treatment operations.
- General Hygiene and PPE: As currently recommended by all agencies, improved personal hygiene, particularly adequate handwashing and the use of adequate PPE (e.g., masks, gloves, eye protection), offers the greatest protection against COVID-19, including transmission through waste. Staff handling waste should be properly trained, use approved PPE, and maintain good hygiene.
As with many facets of this pandemic, regulatory requirements and best practices are subject to change as we continue to learn about the virus and its transmission. KTL can help you monitor these developments and understand which requirements and guidance apply to your operations—both in the U.S. and abroad.
Audits provide an essential tool for improving and verifying compliance performance. Audits may be used to capture regulatory compliance status, management system conformance, adequacy of internal controls, potential risks, and best practices.
Most regulations, standards, and guidance require audits to be conducted with some established frequency. For many companies, figuring out how to meet these audit requirements amongst travel restrictions, new company safety protocol, and government quarantines related to COVID-19 presents a significant new challenge.
The Online Alternative
Companies come in a variety of sizes with a range of different needs. Because of this, auditing standards remain fairly flexible by design. Fortunately, this allows for online/remote/virtual audits as a viable alternative to onsite audits—provided the audits:
- Are planned well;
- Appropriately leverage technology; and
- Are executed by a team who understands the facility and the requirements.
The ultimate objective of a virtual audit remains the same as an in-person audit: To obtain credible audit evidence to accurately assess compliance/conformance with identified requirements/specifications. The difference lies in the means in which that evidence is collected (i.e., live stream video, surveillance cameras, group web meetings, electronic document review).
Weighing Risks vs. Rewards
Audits can be conducted onsite, remotely, or a combination of the two. In many cases, companies may already be having portions of the audit (e.g., document review) done remotely. Moving the entire audit to the virtual world allows credible evidence to be obtained in unique ways that can offer significant benefits to a company when onsite audits aren’t possible—and even when they are:
- Reduced cost – Online audits eliminate the expenses associated with travel (i.e., mileage, flights, hotels, meals), which can add up depending on the location and duration of the audit.
- Flexible schedule – Remote audits can be conducted on a more flexible time schedule. Auditors do not have to complete work onsite in a set number of days, as is required when traveling to a facility. The auditor can also review areas in question remotely after the audit is technically over. Note that a more flexible time schedule does not necessarily mean less time involved to conduct the audit.
- Social distancing – As CDC guidelines have recommended, it is currently safest to work remotely, when possible, or to remain six feet of social distance to avoid potential transmission of COVID-19. Through the use of technology, virtual audits provide a social distancing extreme.
- Improved systems – Preparing for a virtual audit provides the “push” some organizations need to improve electronic storage systems. To conduct a virtual audit, documents and records must be retained in an organized manner that facilitates easy/quick access. Being able to access all documents remotely is necessary—paper records or documents stored on individual computers/network drives no longer cut it.
At the same time, there are some potential risks to conducting a completely virtual audit, particularly since this practice is relatively new to many organizations:
- Observation/technology limits – Observation of site conditions is limited by the ability to direct live stream video remotely. Technology can create limitations. If the camera can’t see it, neither can the auditor. Poor video quality can impede visual clarity. You don’t know what you don’t know.
- Communication confusion – It can be difficult to read body language and/or interpret emails and phone conversations to make sure communication is clear. This can require revisiting topics/findings several times to ensure accurate evidence is collected.
- Time barriers – There may be time zone and associated scheduling barriers depending on the location of the auditor and the facility.
Considerations and Best Practices
Regardless of the type of audit a facility conducts (i.e., remote, onsite, combination), standard audit best practices should be followed to ensure that audit results are comprehensive and credible. If the company opts for a virtual audit—for any reason—there are a number of considerations and best practices to ensure that the audit effectively fulfills its objectives and alleviates the risks outlined above to the extent possible:
- Site Familiarity – Virtual audits work best if auditors are familiar with the industry and/or operations. While it is not necessary for the auditor to have visited the site before, that type of familiarity with the facility provides the best-case scenario, especially for compliance audits, as it prepares the auditor to know what to look for (and where) and what questions to ask.
- Careful Planning – Much like onsite audits, virtual audits require careful upfront planning on the part of the auditor and the facility—and perhaps to an elevated degree.
- The facility needs to collect all documents and records prior to the audit and determine best way to present that information remotely (e.g., email/transfer ahead of time, allow access to company Intranet/shared directory space, share during a web meeting).
- Interviews are best scheduled in advance to ensure availability; however, they can be conducted on an ad hoc basis as need arises.
- It is best to plot out route and areas of specific focus for the audit ahead of time using a site map as a guide to ensure that all areas are covered and that the audit can be conducted as efficiently as possible using the allocated facility resources. An audit site guide must be assigned who is familiar with the entire facility.
- Technology needs and requirements must be evaluated, and logistics and access should be tested prior to the audit. It is vital that all cameras, web meetings, shared document space, WiFi, and other technology is working appropriately prior to the audit or a lot of time can be wasted troubleshooting issues.
- Video – Videos should be live. Site walks should be led by a site guide/employee along the planned route with smart phones, iPads, etc., with live streaming capabilities. It is important to ensure that live streaming works within the facility being audited so auditors have a clear view of site conditions. Auditors can also take advantage of any in-house surveillance cameras (e.g., security or quality systems) to provide additional footage of operations, when necessary. In most cases, surveillance footage cannot replace live video.
- Web Meetings – Opening, closing, and daily briefings can be conducted via web meeting. Remote audits provide the flexibility to conduct the audit in segments, with briefings following each segment. This allows the auditor to review video footage, evaluate records, and generate questions to ensure the information collected is accurate and complete.
Companies all over the world are working through a transition period right now, where they are trying to establish what a new “normal” looks like when it comes to operating practices, employee health and safety, business continuity, and compliance. Audits are one piece of the overall puzzle that can be transitioned somewhat seamlessly with the right planning and technology in place to ensure ongoing compliance.
How many permits does your operating system (e.g., facilities, production, storage, transportation, distribution) have? What kinds of requirements are associated with each of those permits? Who is responsible for making sure requirements are fulfilled? Are there key/critical dates? How many contractors/vendors do you have carrying out activities pertaining to the many diverse permit requirements? How do you manage all that information? And, importantly, how do you verify compliance?
Depending on the breadth and locations of your operations, managing permits and their associated requirements and due dates without a centralized system in place can be an insurmountable challenge. This was certainly true for a large transportation company managing over 3,600 permits for over 1,600 projects across more than 20 states. Finding a better way to track and manage permits wasn’t just a matter of convenience, it was a necessity.
Web-based Tracking System
After a series of washout incidents, the company’s Engineering Department stepped up its efforts to develop a program to ensure engineering and maintenance activities were meeting applicable construction and environmental permit requirements. With so many activities, responsible parties, and deadlines, the Department retained Kestrel Tellevate LLC (KTL) to develop a web-based project tracking system to help:
- Track permit requirements and construction restriction timeframes
- Produce project-specific All Permits Issued (API) documents
- Track post-activity mitigation requirements
- Manage change information
- Report actual-to-budget performance
While the Engineering Department remains responsible for the permitting activities associated with all construction, maintenance, and emergency response activities, KTL’s Permit Tracking System (PTS) offers a cloud-based project management solution to facilitate permit tracking across a variety of data points.
How It Works
The PTS serves as a communication conduit by providing a standardized approach to project/permit activity tracking, while distributing periodic, tailored reports that allow the Engineering Department to manage project activities, as needed. Integrating with internal databases, PTS provides a means to supplement project data with ongoing contractor/consultant input. This enables comprehensive program oversight on the timeliness of the permitting effort and project details, which, in turn, offers preemptive visibility on issues that may affect project construction and permit compliance.
In short, PTS allows the company to:
- Catalog and track permits in one database
- Document and track project conditions, impacts, construction timeframe restrictions, sensitive resources, etc.
- Send and receive notifications of permits about to expire
- Coordinate and communicate with project contractors
- Establish accountability and a standardized approach for reporting and performance measurement
- Effectively manage project process from permitting through handover to construction
- Monitor financial performance
The Engineering Department has managed nearly 1,600 projects with more than 3,600 associated permits through PTS. Permits in the system include 404 (most common), 401, Floodplain, NESHAPS, FAA, 402, Air, Coast, Air Emissions, 408 Levee, Coast Guard Bridge, Heritage Tree, Tank, Well, Excavated Materials, NPDES, and others.
With this many projects and permits being managed through a consolidated system, PTS is providing many business benefits, including the following:
- Improved program efficiency, consistency, and coherence by fostering a standardized approach to all permitting data management and input by third-party users
- Customized, automated reporting that allows for enhanced progress monitoring, project accountability, and detailed oversight
- Flexible, cloud-based approach to accommodate a variety of program management aspects into a single tool for real-time, comprehensive visibility
- Sole repository for all project management data to help foster communication and coordination both internally and with contractors/consultants
- Improved permit compliance assurance reliability
At the most basic level, a root cause is the fundamental reason—or the highest-level cause—for the occurrence of a problem, incident, or event. The root cause sets in motion the entire cause-and-effect reaction that ultimately leads to the problem. Getting to the root cause of any problem is important not just for resolving the issue at hand, but for identifying underlying issues to ensure that similar problems do not occur in the future. This starts with a process called the root cause analysis (RCA).
What Is the Root Cause Analysis (RCA)?
A root cause can be permanently eliminated through process improvement. RCA is a method of problem-solving used to identify the underlying (i.e., root) cause(s) of a problem/incident. RCA can be used to solve problems and provide preventive actions for:
- Major accidents
- Everyday incidents
- Minor near misses
- Human errors
- Maintenance problems
- Medical mistakes
- Productivity issues
- Manufacturing mistakes
- Environmental releases
- Risk analysis, risk mapping
RCA is a systematic process based on the basic idea that effective management requires more than merely putting out fires. RCA focuses on finding a way to prevent these fires from recurring. Rather than just treating symptoms, RCA seeks to identify and address the true, underlying concerns that contribute to a problem or event.
Why is this important? If you just treat the symptoms of the problem, that alleviates them for the short term, but it does nothing to prevent the problem from coming back again. Lasting solutions address the underlying factors—the root cause(s)— that create the problem in the first place. Targeting corrective measures at the identified root causes, subsequently, is the best way to alleviate risk and ensure that similar problems do not occur in the future.
Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourage organizations to conduct RCA following an incident or near miss at a facility. In fact, facilities covered by OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard are required to investigate incidents that resulted in (or could have reasonably resulted in) a catastrophic release of highly hazardous chemicals. Similarly, EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations require regulated facilities to conduct incident investigations. In addition, certain management systems, including ISO and Responsible Distribution (National Association of Chemical Distributors) to name just a few, also require RCA.
Whether an organization is subject to PSM, RMP, or management system standards, identifying the root cause of any incident or problem through RCA is a best practice that can significantly benefit organizations by identifying underlying issues to ensure that similar problems do not occur in the future. So, how do you effectively implement RCA?
RCA can be broken down into a simple six-step process, as outlined below.
Step 1: Identify and Clearly Describe the Problem
The first step is to understand and document the problem/issue/incident that actually occurred. This might involve interviewing key staff, reviewing security footage, investigating the site, etc. to get an accurate account of the issue. Certainly safety- or security-related incidents might require an immediate fix or prompt action before the carrying out the complete RCA. This is always the first priority.
Some problems are easier to define than others based on what happened and the extent of the issue. When defining and describing the problem, it is important to be as descriptive as possible, as this will aid in future steps to identify the root cause(s).
For example, the first description below is somewhat vague. The second description provides an additional level of detail that more fully documents the situation:
- A forklift driver wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. (vague)
- During a walkthrough of the warehouse on 2/1/20, it was observed that forklift driver John Smith, who is a contract employee, was not wearing his seatbelt while operating the forklift. (clear)
Step 2: Identify Possible Causes…Why?
There are several methods for identifying possible root causes. One of the most common is known as the “5 Why Method”. This approach simply involves asking the question “Why” enough times (i.e., five times) until you get past all the symptoms of a problem and down to the underlying root cause of the issue. The detailed problem description put together during Step 1 serves as the starting point for asking “Why”.
Let’s take our problem description from above a step further to identify the possible causes using the 5 Why Method.
At this point, the 5 Why Method is leading you to the core issue that set in motion the entire cause-and-effect reaction and, ultimately, that led to the identified problem(s). It’s now time to determine whether the five whys have dug deep enough. Where does your questioning lead you? Is there one root cause or are there a series of root causes contributing to this incident? Often, there are multiple root causes that may be factors to address when preventing future incidents.
In our forklift operator case, the 5 Why Method points to the lack of a standardized checklist of all items to be trained on—including forklift training—prior to a new contract employee coming onsite.
Step 4: Corrective and/or Preventive Action Taken
Based on the identified root causes, it then becomes possible for the facility to determine what corrective and/or prevention actions (CAPAs) can be taken to fix the problem and, just as important, prevent it from occurring in the future. For our example, there are a number of potential CAPAs:
- Stop the employee from operating the forklift and educate him on seatbelt policy prior to resuming work
- Review contract/temp employee training program
- Retrain shift managers on training expectations
- Obtain training records for contract/temp employees
- Provide refresher/retraining, as necessary
- Add signage to forklifts and warehouse bulletin boards about seatbelt policy
Step 5: Analyze Effectiveness
The effectiveness of whatever action is taken in step 4 needs to be evaluated to determine whether it will resolve the root cause. If not, another CAPA should be explored, implemented, and analyzed to assess its impact on the issue/problem. If it is a root cause, it should help to resolve the issue and you should move on to step 6 below.
Let’s return to our example. You might ask, “Was the retraining effective?” An evaluation shows the following:
- Yes, the employee continues to operate the forklift using seatbelt.
- Yes, subsequent walkthroughs of the warehouse over the next six months have not resulted in any additional seatbelt violations.
- The next contract/temp employee brought on to assist during the busy end-of-year season was required to produce current training.
Step 6: Update Procedures, as necessary
As CAPAs are implemented, once they prove effective, related policies and procedures must be updated to reflect any changes made. This step ensures the outcomes of the RCA will be integrated into operations and used to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
In our current example, this might mean that the Contractor Policy is updated to include a new section specific to the hiring of contract/temp employees with the following requirements:
- Obtain valid training certificates for work performed
- Ensure Managers conduct on-the-job training for contract/temp employees specific to work performed
Benefits of RCA
Following these six steps will help to ensure a thorough investigation that identifies the root cause(s) versus just symptoms is conducted. It further ensures that any changes related to the root cause are integrated into the organization to prevent similar events from happening again. In the end, the RCA process can help:
- Reduce the risk of injury and/or death to workers and community members
- Reduce the potential for environmental damage
- Avoid unnecessary costs resulting from business interruption; emergency response and cleanup; increased regulation, audits, and inspections; and OSHA or EPA fines
- Improve public trust by maintaining an incident-free record
- More effectively control hazards, improve process reliability, increase revenues, decrease production costs, lower maintenance costs, and lower insurance premiums
KTL recently announced our partnership with Martin Mantz Compliance Solutions (Martin Mantz), developer of the GEORG Compliance Management System® software. KTL is providing regulatory compliance expertise to the German-based company as it expands its offerings to clients with operations in the United States.
In this recent article, our partners at Martin Mantz discuss how Rudolph Logistics Group, an international logistics service provider from Germany, is using GEORG as a compliance solution to provide employees clear information in accordance with ISO standards on:
- Tasks – what they have to do
- Responsibilities for implementation – who needs to do it
- Date/time of completion – when it needs to be done
- Description of the way the task is to be performed – how the task must be fulfilled
The objective is to simplify requirements to the extent possible so employees can focus on tasks to be completed without needing to interpret complicated and extensive guidelines. Read more…
Effective information management is critical to complying with complex EHS regulations. Join KTL and Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) for this APPA webinar to get helpful tips for the successful management of EHS information, data, documents, and records.
Improving EHS Management with Information Technology: A University Demonstration
April 16, 2020 | Noon – 1:00 p.m. CT
This webinar will use a formal EHS management system model (plan-do-check-act) to highlight the importance of:
- Identifying, understanding, and documenting applicable EHS requirements
- Providing easy-to-use EHS information management tools
- Capturing institutional knowledge of experienced staff for operational sustainability
Facility managers, plant operators, EHS staff, and supervisors working in higher education will better understand:
- Key components of an effective EHS management system based on ISO 14001/45001
- Best practices for applying information technology to assist with EHS compliance
- Strategies for improving adoption of new technology tools throughout campus
- How to use an affordable, available technology platform (Microsoft SharePoint®) to enhance EHS compliance and communication practices
SEMO’s Autumn Gentry will join KTL Principal Joseph Tell to provide a demonstration of SEMO’s recent efforts to manage and communicate EHS information using Microsoft SharePoint® tools to simplify EHS compliance.
About APPA, Leadership in Educational Facilities
Formerly known as the Association of Physical Plant Administrators, APPA is recognized globally as a leader in professional development programs, credentialing, research, publications, networking, and information services for the educational facilities profession. APPA’s mission is to “support educational excellence with quality leadership and professional management through education, research and recognition.”
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KTL is pleased to announce our partnership with Martin Mantz Compliance Solutions (Martin Mantz), developer of the GEORG Compliance Management System® software. KTL is providing regulatory compliance expertise to the German-based company as it expands its offerings to clients with operations in the United States.
“Martin Mantz has created something unique with the GEORG software in that it simplifies and provides an interpretation of legal and technical requirements in a customer-specific database,” KTL Principal Lisa Langdon states. “KTL’s understanding of industrial operations, as well as U.S. legal and technical requirements (e.g., EPA, OSHA, FDA, ISO), allows us to translate these requirements into simple tasks in the GEORG system that employees can follow to help fulfill regulatory requirements.”
How GEORG Works
GEORG is used to make the requirements of standards and regulations comprehensible and transparent. KTL specializes in the practical mapping of legal requirements and audits. These audits allow KTL to create technical content for the GEORG system based on facility-specific applicability. We then work directly with the company to delegate the identified tasks. If there are revisions in the standards/regulations, KTL works in the system to ensure tasks are updated to meet regulatory requirements.
The benefits of this approach include:
- Effectiveness – All tasks are assigned, easily formulated, and regularly updated.
- Efficiency – The effort and expertise required to understand complicated regulations is reduced.
- Transparency – Responsibilities are clear and easily visible to all employees.
- Conformity – Compliance status within the system reflects the degree of fulfilment of the related requirements.
Faber-Castell Expands GEORG Implementation to U.S. Subsidiary
Faber-Castell Cosmetics, an internationally renowned Martin Mantz customer with worldwide operations, is already benefitting from the Martin Mantz-KTL partnership. After successful implementation of the GEORG software in their German facilities, Martin Mantz has worked with KTL to expand usage to Faber-Castell’s subsidiary in the U.S.
About Martin Mantz Compliance Solutions
Martin Mantz Compliance Solutions, based in Grosswallstadt and Leipzig, Germany, offers its contractual partners services in the area of legal organization (GEORG) of companies to avoid organizational negligence and compliance violations. This includes consulting and provision of the compliance software GEORG Compliance Management System®, implementation of the technical and legal modules, as well as construction and maintenance of the customer-specific database. https://www.martin-mantz.de/
About Kestrel Tellevate LLC
KTL is a multidisciplinary consulting firm that specializes in providing environmental, health, and safety (EHS) and food safety management and compliance consulting services to private and government clients. Our primary focus is to build strong, long-term client partnerships and provide tailored solutions to address regulatory requirements. KTL’s services include management system development and implementation, auditing and assessments, regulatory compliance assistance, information management solutions, and training. KTL is a Small Business Administration-registered company with headquarters in Madison, WI and Atlanta, GA and offices across the Midwest and Washington, D.C. www.kestreltellevate.com
Aerosol cans have long provided regulatory challenges under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some states have defined aerosol cans as universal waste; some states define it as reactive (D003) waste. On December 9, 2019, the EPA published a new rule (effective February 7, 2020) adding hazardous waste aerosol cans to the Universal Waste Program under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations.
This change provides a clear, protective system for managing discarded aerosol cans. The streamlined universal waste regulations are expected to ease regulatory burdens on retail stores and others that discard hazardous waste aerosol cans; promote the collection and recycling of these cans; and encourage the development of municipal and commercial programs to reduce the quantity of these wastes going to municipal solid waste landfills or combustors.
Current Review of Universal Waste
The designation of universal waste holds several advantages for generators. Universal waste doesn’t “count” against generator status. It does not have to be manifested and generally requires specific labeling language.
Under EPA’s definition, the following are the current universal waste streams:
- Batteries (Li, Ni-Cd, Ag, Hg)
- Mercury-containing equipment (MCE)
- Electric lamps
- Cathode ray tubes (in electronics)
- Pesticides (recalled or farmer-generated)
Adding Aerosol Cans
Adding aerosol cans to the EPA’s Universal Waste Program now provides the option for generators to manage the waste as hazardous or universal. The program addresses emissions with more stringent language and allows generators to set up separate management.
More specifically, the following outlines some basic details of the program for effectively managing aerosol cans as universal waste:
- If the aerosol can is empty (i.e., at ambient pressure, there is no more liquid inside), it is considered an empty container. It can be recycled as metal or thrown away as solid waste (except for Nebraska, where it is D003).
- Full and partial aerosols can be recycled.
- Depending on the vendor, segregation may not be required.
- If the aerosol can is punctured, contents must be captured, and a hazardous waste determination must be performed.
- If the waste from the aerosol can is hazardous, the contents count toward generator accumulation.
- The only benefit to generators occurs if they ship unpunctured cans for recycling.
- If a household hazardous waste (HHW) facility accepts business aerosols and punctures them, the HHW facility becomes a generator.
- All emissions must be captured and managed properly; filters may be hazardous.
The new program for managing aerosol cans requires a safety program, education, and written documentation. KTL has the experience and expertise to help you evaluate your waste and to properly manage universal waste. Although not as complex as the requirements for proper hazardous waste management, universal waste has nuances that a generator must be aware of to properly meet the regulatory requirements. KTL can help determine how this new regulation applies and if it can help you minimize your regulatory burden, save some money, and manage your waste more efficiently.
To ensure companies uphold standards (internal or external) and continuously improve performance, audits are critical. In short, there are three primary purposes of auditing:
- Verify conformance with the standard/requirement – Are we doing what the standard/requirement says we must do?
- Verify implementation of stated procedures – Are we following the steps in our documented procedures?
- Evaluate effectiveness – Are we accomplishing our goals and objectives?
For an audit to be effective, appropriate mechanics must be in place when it comes to planning, execution, and reporting.
As with most things, your execution will only be as good as your plan. All good audits must begin with planning. This involves everything from planning for your team, to planning out the scope of the audit, to planning all the associated logistics.
Auditors: Who Is on the Team?
Depending on the size and complexity of the audits, audit teams need to be selected. These individuals must be independent of the area being audited and trained in the basic elements of the facility’s management system and/or programs. Team members will be led by a trained auditor. The auditor’s responsibilities include the following:
- Comply with and communicate audit requirements
- Prepare working documents under the direction of the Lead Auditor
- Plan and carry out the assigned responsibilities within the scope of the audit
- Collect and analyze evidence to draw conclusions
- Document audit observations and findings
- Report audit results to Lead Auditor
- Retain and safeguard audit documents
- Cooperate with and support the Lead Auditor
- Assist in writing the report
As indicated above, one person on the team is typically designated the Lead Auditor. This individual will coordinate audit assignments and address any questions/concerns that may arise. Specifically, the Lead Auditor has the following responsibilities:
- Assigns team members specific management system/program elements, functions, or activities to audit
- Provides instructions on the audit procedure to follow
- Makes changes to work assignments, as necessary, to ensure the achievement of audit objectives
Audit Objectives, Scope, and Plans: What Are We Auditing?
The audit is all about:
- Conformance – auditing sections of the standard/requirements to determine if the system conforms
- Implementation – auditing work instructions to see if they are being followed
In determining the audit scope, it is importation to define what is to be audited (e.g., policy, planning, implementation, checking/corrective action, management review). If the organization has more than one physical location, the scope may outline what physical locations and/or organizational activities are to be audited (e.g., production lines or departments). These factors will ultimately also help determine the length of the audit.
Logistics: How Are We Going to Do This?
There are many things to factor into the audit from a logistical standpoint for it to go smoothly. Safety should always be of utmost concern. What precautions do auditors need to take? Is there any PPE that might be necessary? Do auditors need any special safety training introduction or training before conducting the audit? Consider the facility. Auditors need to understand the operation/activity being audited. In line with this, the auditor must also have an understanding of whether there is any equipment or special resources needed, ranging from technical support (e.g., tablets, smartphones) to lunch. Finally, it is important to make sure there are no conflicts of interest when it comes to the auditor and the facility that is being audited.
Once planned appropriately, audits should be conducted according to the program elements. Interviews and objectives evidence will both provide the support needed to conduct a valid audit.
The auditor must know in advance which elements are being covered in an audit so he/she can:
- Control the pace of the audit.
- Guide the course of the audit.
That being said, additional audit activities should not be restricted if other issues arise.
Auditing should only be done against current controlled work instructions or procedures related to the program elements. Procedures that are being used in the field must be verified. Historical and/or uncontrolled procedures should not be used.
Auditors must remember that they are creating a record. Notes should include statements, document numbers, identifiers (e.g., department, area), positions. Common pitfalls to be avoided in taking notes include abbreviations, no location identifier for observations, no document references, illegible, pejorative, cryptic. These things all impact the credibility of the audit.
The goal of an interview in the audit is to obtain valid information. However, how questions are asked will impact the answer. Auditors must prepare and know what questions need to be asked and how to ask them in advance of the audit. Creating an atmosphere of trust and open communication is key to getting open and honest responses. Remember, the goal is to audit the system, not the interviewee.
The following are good rules of thumb for conducting effective audit interviews:
- Direct questions to the person who does the job, not to the supervisor.
- Never talk down to anyone.
- Speak the person’s language.
- Speak clearly and carefully.
- Use who, what, where, when and why in your questioning vs. can or does.
Objective evidence provides verifiable information, records, or statements of fact. This is vital in any audit report. Objective evidence can be based on any of the following:
- Examination of documents
- Observation of activities and conditions
- Results of measurements
- Other means within the scope of the audit
Evidence should be firsthand evidence based on witnessed fact, not supposition, presumption, hearsay, rumor, or conjecture. It can be qualitative or quantitative, but it should be repeatable.
Findings form the basis of the report. Findings can be classified in one of two ways:
- Nonconformance is the observed absence of or lapse in a required procedure or the total breakdown of a procedure that can cause a negative impact on the organization’s environmental performance. These can fall into a few categories:
- Does not meet the requirements of the standard. This may include issues identified with records, procedures, work instructions, and use of controlled documents.
- Is not fully implemented. Most commonly, these implementation nonconformances may relate to training, communication, and documentation.
- Is improperly implemented. This is often demonstrated by worker lack of understanding, improper implementation of written work instruction, or missing stated required deadlines.
- Opportunity for improvement is just that—an opportunity to improve management to either reduce impacts, minimize legal requirements, prevent future nonconformances, or improve business performance.
The following examples and tips can serve as guidelines for writing useful and more concrete findings that will the company to identify opportunities for improvement:
- Do not overstate conclusions.
- Poor: The procedure for handling spent light bulbs is being ignored.
- Better: Three spent fluorescent bulbs were found in the general trash.
- State the problem clearly and exactly.
- Poor: Instruments are not being calibrated.
- Better: The sampling and analytical instruments in the wastewater treatment plant are not calibrated.
- Avoid generalities.
- Poor: The area’s empty drum management process is inadequate.
- Better: The hi-lo driver in the area handling empty drums was not trained on hazardous material handling.
- Communicate the extent of the problem fully.
- Poor: All cardboard in the catalytic converter area is being sent to the compactor.
- Better: None of the cardboard in the catalytic converter area was being stored and/or evaluated for reuse as dunnage.
- Do not focus on criticisms of individuals.
- Poor: Jim Jones had no understanding of the safety policy.
- Better: Discussions with several employees indicated that the safety policy was not fully understood.
- Give specific references.
- Poor: Hazardous waste area inspections have not been conducted.
- Better: Weekly hazardous waste storage area inspections (VMEWP-008) have not been conducted since June 2002.
- Avoid indirect expressions.
- Poor: There were occasions when the reports were not filed on time. It appears the air monitoring equipment is not calibrated.
- Better: Reports were filed late on ten occasions in 2002. There were no records of air monitoring equipment calibrations for 2001 or 2002.
Audits are a skilled activity. They provide the basis for assessment of conformance and, correspondingly, company actions to improve performance. For audits to be valuable, however, the audit process must be consistent and controlled. Clearly and correctly documented nonconformances lead to appropriate corrective actions—the mechanism for translating audits into improvements.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule requires facilities storing specific chemicals above certain threshold amounts to develop risk management programs to prevent and mitigate accidents that could release those chemicals into the environment. Just what the RMP rule entails has been the subject of debate since EPA first proposed the RMP Amendments in 2016. Rules related to RMP requirements have been published, petitioned, delayed, vacated, reissued, and reconsidered. As the most recent action in the ongoing RMP saga, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the RMP Reconsideration Rule on November 21, 2019.
According to EPA Administrator Wheeler, the intent of the RMP Reconsideration Rule is to promote “improved coordination between chemical facilities and emergency responders, reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, and address security risks associated with previous amendments to the RMP rule.”
What does that entail? In the final Reconsideration Rule, many of the major provisions that were added in the RMP Amendments Rule are rescinded, including the following requirements to:
- Hire a third-party to conduct a compliance audit after an RMP reportable accident. EPA retains the right to still require a third-party audit, when appropriate.
- Conduct a Safer Technologies and Alternatives Analysis (STAA). Again, this can still be required by EPA but is already encouraged under the rule’s existing Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) provisions.
- Conduct and document a root cause analysis after an RMP reportable accident/near miss, in efforts to maintain consistency with the OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) standard.
- Make very broadly defined information available by facility to the public upon request to alleviate potential security/terrorism threats.
A number of other requirements, particularly as it relates to local emergency coordination and training exercises have been retained and/or modified, as follows:
- Requirements that facilities must coordinate annually and document coordination with local response organizations.
- Annual notification drills to confirm that emergency contact information is accurate.
- Requirement to perform field and tabletop exercises as a way to train facility personnel and local responders.
- Frequency of 3-year tabletop exercises to ensure regular emergency training is conducted.
- Provision to reduce potential security risks associated with avoiding the open-ended information disclosure provision.
- Frequency of field exercises by removing the ten-year minimum requirement to reduce burden on local emergency responders.
- Scope and documentation provisions for field and tabletop exercises to reduce burden.
- Requirement to hold a public meeting after an incident that has offsite impacts vs. releases with only onsite impacts.
The EPA RMP Website provides additional information and resources, as well as a copy of the complete RMP Reconsideration Rule and the updated requirements.
According to the EPA RMP Reconsideration Final Rule Fact Sheet, the final rule retains the prevention provisions that have resulted in the trend of fewer significant chemical accidents, which have declined more than 50% since RMP was first published in 1999. With the RMP Reconsideration Rule, EPA’s intent is to take a more risk-based approach that focuses on the highest risk facilities (i.e., the less than 2% of RMP facilities reporting multiple releases), as opposed to the 90+% of RMP facilities who reported no accidents from 2007-2016.
RMP regulates approximately 12,500 facilities, including agricultural supply distributors, waste/wastewater treatment facilities, chemical manufacturers and distributors, food and beverage manufacturers, chemical warehouses, oil refineries and other chemical facilities. As a whole, industry has commended EPA for taking a more risk-based approach to RMP that reduces the regulatory burden on industry:
- “The RMP program has been working very well. The data clearly shows a continuous reduction in accidents of regulated facilities. It is important for EPA to focus on compliance assistance efforts and promoting enhanced coordination between RMP facilities and local first responders.” Richard Gupton, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Counsel, Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA)
- “SOCMA and its members have been actively engaged in the reconsideration of the 2017 RMP Amendments and has been supportive of the Agency’s efforts to delay implementation of the prior rule while it conducted reconsideration proceedings. This final rule will provide much-needed certainty at facilities seeking to understand and achieve their RMP compliance obligations.” Robert Helminiak, Vice President of Legal and Government Relations, Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA)
- “We commend the EPA for developing a rule that reflects the extensive feedback the agency received through a comprehensive and thoughtful process to seek public input. The agency wisely incorporated the recommendation to strike the right balance of sharing vital safety information with emergency responders and protecting sensitive security information. EPA also followed the recommendation to utilize the EPA’s latest data to identify areas where more focused compliance assistance is needed to help facilities further reduce the number of reportable safety incidents.” Mike, Walls, Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs, American Chemical Council (ACC)
- “NACD commends EPA for taking our recommended changes to the 2017 rule seriously and for instead pursuing a commonsense approach that improves facility safety without hamstringing businesses with burdensome requirements that have no proven benefit.” Jennifer Gibson, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD)
As the regulatory history with the RMP Rule demonstrates, it remains important for impacted companies to stay on top of the requirements, coordinate efforts with local emergency responders, and plan accordingly. For companies impacted by the RMP Reconsideration Rule, it is important to:
- Understand the hazards posed by chemicals at the facility
- Assess the impacts of a potential release
- Design and maintain a safe facility to prevent accidental releases
- Coordinate with local emergency responders
- Minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur
Kestrel Tellevate LLC (KTL) has experience working with a broad cross-section of industries impacted by RMP, particularly chemical companies. We have created RMP and General Duty Clause audit protocol and conducted audits and investigation/improvement programs following significant release events. We also routinely work with Local Emergency Planning Commissions (LEPCs) to coordinate emergency response efforts and exercises.
Our understanding of the regulations and industry needs spans years of experience and commitment to helping industry comply with regulations and operate more efficiently. For example, KTL developed and implemented the Guidance Manual and Training Modules for the Responsible Care Management System (RCMS) and RC14001, ACC’s management system integrating environmental, safety/process safety and security. KTL is also a Preferred Provider of compliance services for NACD member companies and a recognized NACD Responsible Distribution Adviser, providing in-depth support for members and affiliates during Responsible Distribution implementation and integration with other management systems and EHS compliance initiatives.
Regulatory enforcement-driven projects such as those related to RMP require skills in regulatory strategy, negotiations, expert analysis, presentations and testimony—and, equally important—trust and relationship building. KTL can work with companies to:
- Identify/understand/prioritize compliance risks
- Outline steps to improve performance
- Define organizational roles and responsibilities
- Streamline compliance methods
- Plan and conduct required tabletop exercises and coordinate with local emergency response
- Implement, monitor, and continually improve