Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Paris Agreement Continues Progress On Climate Change

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

On December 11, 2015, representatives of 195 countries agreed to continue to expand global efforts to combat climate change. The new Paris Agreement breaks a longstanding impasse with a clever mixture of binding but unenforceable commitments, and present agreements and ongoing agreements-to-agree. It creates a structure that might, or might not, evolve fast enough to prevent the catastrophic climate changes otherwise predicted by most scientific experts.

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Tags: Environmental risks, Environmental, EHS, EPA, Greenhouse Gas, ghg, climate change

California Proposes Workplace Violence Prevention Requirements For Healthcare Facilities

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

Employees in the health care and social service sectors suffer workplace violence at much higher rates than in most other sectors, largely because of the higher risk from their patients and clients. In response to these risks, worker protection agencies and professional organizations have developed guidelines for workplace violence prevention in these sectors. Increasingly, worker protection laws and regulations are being revised to require these activities. Most recently, in December 2015 California has proposed to expand state requirements for security plans to include explicit workplace violence prevention programs.

Existing Requirements For Security Plans

California adopted hospital security plan requirements in 1993. Since 2010, these require state-licensed hospitals to implement security plans, including all of the following actions: Read More

Tags: Employer Best Practices, Health & Safety, OSHA, Employee Rights, California Legislation, EHS, Workplace violence

Clean Water Act Rulemaking Violated Limits On Publicity And Propaganda

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Feb 03, 2016

In May 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) completed a decade-spanning joint rulemaking, and issued new definitions of “waters of the United States” that are subject to these agencies’ regulatory authority (under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and related federal laws) (I wrote about these rules here). These rules parse ambiguities in several US Supreme Court decisions to re-establish predictable controls over water-affecting actions.

The rulemaking was highly publicized, including intense efforts by EPA and the Corps to solicit public involvement and comments. The agencies made unprecedented use of social media, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Thunderclap. These included encouragement to recipients to re-post the EPA information to others. When issuing the final rules, the agencies reported that they had conducted more than 400 public meetings and received more than one million public comments (many through social media).

These publicity efforts were also caught up in intense partisan political sparring between the Republican-led Congress against high profile (Democratic) Obama administration environmental initiatives. In part to restrict support building efforts, the 2014 federal budget prohibited expenditures “for publicity or propaganda purposes, and for the preparation, distribution or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or film presentation designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress, except in presentation to the Congress itself.” Republicans subsequently charged that the EPA and Corps efforts violated these restrictions, adding those charges to efforts to repeal the new rules. The agencies have defended themselves with claims that their efforts amounted to authorized use of publicity and media to develop or promote their own policies.

Senator James Inhofe, Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO, an independent research and reporting entity under Congressional authority) to investigate this disputed issue, and offer a formal opinion whether agency efforts violated the budgetary restrictions. On December 14, GAO issued its formal reply concluding that some of EPA’s efforts had indeed violated the restrictions. Although EPA had never directly invited the public to comment to Congress or to lawmakers, some of EPA’s postings provided hyperlinks to advocacy group pages that did so; for example, EPA provided links to Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Surfrider Foundation webpages that took positions on the issues and encouraged viewers to provide responses to Congress. In addition, other advocates had reposted the EPA information along with their own messages including encouragement to political action. GAO concluded that these links did violate restrictions.

As of this writing, EPA had acknowledged but rejected GAO’s conclusions. However, practitioners are cautioning agencies and non-governmental advocates to review their use of hyperlinks to consider whether “secondhand” advocacy or informational campaigns are attributable to the original source. For EPA and other agencies these considerations will affect use of appropriated funds, and for others they will affect use of hyperlinks in political contexts.

Self-Assessment Checklist

Does my organization routinely provide information via social media?

If so, does this information include advocacy as well as factual statements or advertisements?

If so, does the organization have policies or approaches to inclusion of hyperlinks to third parties in its postings, and to inclusions of hyperlinks to its postings by third parties?

Where Can I Go For More Information? Read More

Tags: Environmental, EHS, EPA, Internet

Have You Posted Your Workplace Injury and Illness Log?

Posted by Jon Elliott on Mon, Feb 01, 2016

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires most employers to prepare and maintain records of occupational injuries and illnesses (I&I Logs) as they occur. OSHA also requires employers to post an annual I&I Summary in each “establishment” within their workplace by February 1, summarizing that workplace’s I&Is during the previous calendar year. Delegated state-run programs impose comparable requirements.

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Health & Safety, OSHA, Employee Rights, EHS

Congress Accelerates And Expands Civil Penalty Inflation Adjustments

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Jan 28, 2016

Laboring under a host of compliance requirements, a weary environmental health and safety professional might be tempted to mutter “Well, what if I don’t?” Of course the answer is that the organization–and maybe the EH&S professional–could face civil and even criminal sanctions from regulators and prosecutors. These sanctions are written into the laws and regulations in order to encourage compliance and punish non-compliance, and they’ve just been revised…but how effective is such encouragement?

Activists and politicians have long argued that potential punishments might be treated as a cost of doing business, and if that cost is low enough compared with the cost of compliance that some organizations may choose to ignore the requirements and take their chances. This possibility grows over time, if nominal penalty levels are left unchanged while inflation effectively reduces them.

To counteract inflationary erosion of these the effects of inflation, for the past quarter century U.S. federal law has directed most agencies to make periodic “cost of living” adjustments to maximum available civil penalty levels (there are no provisions for standing periodic adjustments to criminal penalties). The first version of this approach was enacted by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, which directed the President to report annually on any adjustments made under existing statutory authority, and to calculate what such adjustments would have been if more agencies had the authority to make them.

How Has The Act Worked Since 1996?

Congress amended the Act in 1996 to authorize and require most agencies to make inflation adjustments every four years. The exceptions precluded cost of living adjustments to penalties under the following:

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Tags: Health & Safety, OSHA, EHS, EPA

EPA Adopts Rules For Electronic Clean Water Act Reporting

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Jan 26, 2016

The Clean Water Act (CWA) provides detailed national requirements, under which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states cooperate to establish water quality goals, and administer planning and discharge permit programs to preserve and enhance water quality nationwide. To improve the efficiency of these massive efforts, EPA has launched a series of initiatives to provide for electronic reporting and data management. Effective December 21, EPA has adopted extensive revisions to CWA rules to require electronic reporting instead of paper reporting under a wide variety of CWA provisions. These rules provide facilities with deadlines after 12 months (“Phase 1”) for high-priority discharger reports, and 5 years (“Phase 2”) for other discharger requirements. They also provide a series of deadlines for state regulators to share and report information electronically, ranging from 9 months to 6 years from now. EPA emphasizes that these revisions do not increase the amount of information reported by various entities, and so asserts that entities’ reporting burdens should actually diminish once they’ve managed their transition to the new methodologies. EPA also anticipates significant benefits from data sharing among agencies.

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Tags: Health & Safety, EHS, EPA, Hazcom, Stormwater

EPA Proposes To Revise Hazardous Waste Generator Requirements–Part 2

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Jan 20, 2016

Separate Summaries For Generator Categories

In September, EPA published substantial regulatory revisions (which EPA entitles collectively as the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule) to its regulation of hazardous waste generators under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In Part 1 of this series of blogs (click here), I summarized the principal revisions. In this Part 2 I recast the proposal to compile changes applicable to different categories of generators: 

  • “Conditionally exempt small quantity generators (CESQGs)” – which are being renamed as “very small quantity generator (VSQG)”.

  •  Small quantity generators (SQGs).

  • Large quantity generators (LQGs).

What Requirements Would Apply To VSQGs?

EPA’s proposes to rename Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGs) as Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs), and to offer these generators additional flexibility. Eligibility for this category continues to be determine based on the following monthly waste generation volumes: Read More

Tags: Health & Safety, OSHA, EHS, EPA, Greenhouse Gas, Hazcom

EPA Proposes To Revise Hazardous Waste Generator Requirements–Part 1

Posted by Jon Elliott on Mon, Jan 18, 2016

Summary Of Proposals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent the last decade considering revisions to its hazardous waste management regulations (issued under federal laws generally referred to as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)), exploring opportunities to clarify and simplify the text of the regulations and the actions necessary for compliance. In September, EPA published substantial regulatory revisions (which EPA entitles collectively as the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule) in the Federal Register; comments were due by December 24, after which EPA will decide whether to finalize the changes. EPA calculates that these proposals will include more than 60 changes to specific requirements, and more than 30 additional technical clarifications and corrections. These revisions would clarify some existing provisions, remove some longstanding requirements, and also add some additional new requirements. Some requirements apply to nearly all generators, while others are targeted at one or more of three volume-based tiers.

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Tags: Health & Safety, OSHA, EHS, EPA, Hazcom

New Year’s Resolutions: Setting Green Goals for the Year

Posted by Jane Dunne on Thu, Jan 14, 2016

New Year’s resolutions are all about improving yourself and being the best person that you can be. Most goals fit into one of three categories: personal success (money), priorities (family) and health. Let me show you how focussing on kindness to others, reducing material excesses and embracing your local neighbourhood can play a part in some of the best green resolutions. There are ways to live gently on the earth, while saving dollars and expressing your gratitude for all that you have, by giving back to your community and setting green goals for the year.

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Tags: EHS

Environmental Justice: A Brief History

Posted by Rebecca Luman on Tue, Jan 12, 2016

Over the past two decades, society has grown increasingly conscious of pollution’s particular impacts on communities with minority and/or low-income populations. Awareness that these communities seem to bear a disproportionate amount of adverse health and environmental effects led to the multi-agency establishment of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council in 1993 and issuance of Executive Order (EO) 12898 in 1994, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. Since then, EPA, as the primary federal agency responsible for protecting human health and the environment, has taken a lead role in helping other federal agencies implement the EO.

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Tags: EHS, EPA

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