Mark Harbin has more than 20 years of experience in commercial and industrial environmental systems. With the Compliance Services Division of IHS and a Certified Environmental Auditor (CEA), he is actively involved in conducting onsite refrigerant management audits and assisting clients in meeting their operational and environmental goals.
Continuity is a big challenge for organizations today – especially when it comes to regulatory compliance. Owners and operators have obligations under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to ensure compliance – regardless of economic or other challenges. Yet more and more employees are being charged with “do more with less” and to “wear more hats.” People get spread too thin. Something’s got to give – right?
The “sine wave” up and down of environmental initiatives in organizations is related to many factors – employee turnover, reorganizations, consolidations, downsizing, acquisition, layoffs, budget cuts, etc. No matter what external factor upsets business as usual, environmental regulatory compliance initiatives (fragile things at best) will be negatively affected. From my experience as an environmental auditor, refrigerant compliance is a frequent victim of lack of continuity. Why?
It is the one area of the Clean Air Act Amendments that is most perplexing to environmental managers. Title VI along with Section 608 and 609 of the Clean Air Act Amendments is related to stratospheric ozone depleting CFC and HCFC refrigerants. These regulations are a morphed hybrid of the air conditioning industry and its jargon, and highly detailed air pollution rules. The end product is a mass of confusion for most owners and operators.
Environmental managers do not typically speak HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) jargon and can have difficulty matching what the AC techs have said or logged with what the rules say. Getting a clear answer is often dependent on understanding the language of that trade. This tends to make them hesitant to lead refrigerant compliance initiatives.
The other group, facility managers, is typically managing groups of personnel that are crisis driven – systems break down, need immediate attention and quick resolution – or major costs can be incurred. Often spread thin with too few people and limited budgets, facility managers are usually not the first to volunteer to launch refrigerant compliance initiatives – or sustain them. But they often do anyway! Why? Because they understand that it is necessary for the organization to cover itself and its people.
Ownership and upper management, however, may not understand the necessity (and fragility) of refrigerant compliance – it’s too far down the food chain in their organization. Environmental managers have the responsibility of informing management of their regulatory obligations, but if they do not have a clear understanding of the specific rules how can they explain them to management?
"Sustainability" is a term that gets attached to a lot of issues. Management needs to inject some sustainability into their refrigerant compliance programs to ensure they survive the constant change that is the norm these days.
Sustainability measures that management can implement to aid continuity include:
- Establish a refrigerant management team to include environmental, facilities, operations, and purchasing/contracting (more people involved helps build momentum)
- Assign a site refrigerant compliance manager to oversee compliance initiatives
- Assign a “wingman” – don’t put the whole program’s success in one person’s lap (they might win the lottery and then what?)
- Develop refrigerant compliance policies and work practices specific to your organization.
- Assign responsibilities related to job titles. The Team should revisit and revise these as reorganizations, mergers, consolidations and the like occur.
- Provide the resources necessary to initiate and sustain refrigerant compliance over time – regular training, auditing, electronic recordkeeping systems
Deep downside: Ownership needs to keep in mind that failure to act can be deemed negligent and criminal by regulators. Several cases exist where plant managers and facility managers have had to defend themselves when accused of criminal conduct. Civil fines are based on $37,500 per day, per each violation. Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) can end up costing millions of dollars with complete replacement of CFC/HCFC chillers and HVAC systems. One facility with sub-standard compliance can bring full EPA investigation and enforcement to the entire organization! Guess who gets downsized next?