I’d love to start us off with some context. Can you tell me a little bit about your day-to-day at KPA?
Yeah. Sure. So with KPA- maybe a little bit about KPA. I don’t even know if we need to go into that- but I mean KPA is an environmental health and safety company that… it’s really a solutions company, more than just environmental health and safety. We’re a compliance company. We’ve been around for, I want to say about 30 years now. Kind of spawned in Southern California and kind of took off from there, but I’ve been with KPA for about 15 years now.
And currently, I have about three different roles with KPA, I feel like. So my day-to-day can be impacted by anything that’s going on within one of those different realms. So, first and foremost, I find myself to be a field consultant. I am one of the people that is the boots on the ground.
I go out to the different clientele that we service for my own particular region. And I go in and help my clients be compliant with environmental health and safety. We’ve got other people that go in for finance and insurance, HR assistance, as well. But my area of expertise is the environmental health and safety world.
That’s where my niche is. So I go in and I complete audits for clients. I also train employees as well, on how to be safer in the workplace. I like to teach employees. Different techniques about how to go about maybe changing their behaviors in any given workday. There are different things out there that they may not understand.
We have a young workforce that’s coming into the workforce, that they may assume that they know what they’re doing, but they really don’t. And they may tell you one thing, however, you can easily find out through training whether or not you’ve got that person adequately trained in safety. So, I train employees.
Then also, I work with management that each one of my clients to go through their past history with safety, where have their losses been? Where can they improve that? We want to talk about how to manage hazards, how to identify hazards, and make sure that we’re correcting them in the workplace because those hazards are going to jump up and eventually bite them in the long run if they don’t do anything about it. So we talk about those. We talk about areas of improvement and how we can continue to build a safety culture at their facilities. Because that’s ultimately what they’re looking for. Now one of my other realms, I’m also a team supervisor.
So I manage a team of about six field consultants. I’m one of them as well, too. We’re spread out geographically across my region, but I help with the admin and kind of manage a book of business about 600 clients or so. My main goal is to try to make them all happy with what we do. And I instill that into my team to make sure that they go out and service clients, just like how I would service clients.
Well, it sounds like the companies that you work with and the team that you work with are all very lucky to have you.
Well, thank you. And then I guess my final realm would be, I kind of self-appointed at this particular area, but nobody’s told me to stop doing this, and I kind of head up our regulatory training team for our field staff.
So the boots on the ground that are actually going out to our clientele and doing onsite, environmental health and safety compliance work. We need to continue on with professional development to stay ahead of the game in the field. They need to know what’s going on out there. And I try to make sure that our staff is informed of all the different changes of regulations and how they might affect them.
And then also how to discuss these changes of regulations with clients. What’s the best approach to take? I put together these things called regulatory reviews, where I send this information out to our team and it educates them on how to interpret a regulation, but also how to deliver that regulation to a client so that they can best comply with that… could be something as simple as, you know, adding personal protective equipment, such as eye shields to a grinder, you know, a shop grinder, which is like an abrasive wheel. They use it to sharpen parts. There are different compliance components to that piece of equipment. One of them is an eye shield that’s on there. And I go into every single shop and each grinder seems like they’re, the eye shields are pushed back and up and out of the way. The eye shields are completely dust-covered. Nobody ever wants to use them. So in the interpretation, I do with my clients and maybe the field staff, I’m like guys, actually, it’s not a requirement that you have to have an eye shield on a grinder.
You just have to have eye and face protection. So why don’t we get rid of these eye shields that nobody is using, but actually require a face shield to be there that the employee can put on. And then they’re going to have much better protection to keep them, you know, the sparks and all the little flying whirlybird debris, from getting into their eyes and all that.
So it’s trying to break down a regulation to make it, what’s the most useful form that we can protect the employee out there. So I try to train our team on that, as well.
That’s great. I mean, you are what we would call a safety expert. Clearly, you know what you’re doing. And you spend so much one-on-one time working with the company leaders and safety professionals.
I imagine you have a lot of firsthand knowledge on how companies can get dinged by regulators. So speaking generally, what should leaders keep top of mind in order to avoid regulation violations?
That’s a good question. I would say the main thing is, to be in the know. The more you’re educated, the more you’re going to be able to be ahead of the game and always be prepared to, you know, I break it down for my clients like, look, you’re in one of these three categories: you’re in complacency, compliance, or you got a culture. It’s one of the three C’s that are out there.
Complacency is we know of this thing called OSHA out there, but we’re like, don’t look, don’t tell like, you know, completely covering the ears, covering the mouth. Like we know it’s there, but we’ll just take our chances when they come in here. And unfortunately, there are some employers that are like that, and I hate to hear that because they’re going about it the wrong way.
But we have other companies that do try, they try, but they are like, you know what? I know we need to be safe, but I’m trying to watch my bottom line and let’s just be compliant. I only want to do the trainings that we have to do. I only want to do the bare minimum of what we have to do just to be compliant with those regulations. And that’s not really what these regulators are looking for either. You know, it can get into technical sessions like, you know, are we going to actually find a company because they’re compliant? Are they actually practicing safety? No, they kind of did what they needed to do just to get above that level.
So compliance isn’t the right way to go either. But culture is what you’re really aiming for. And culture is where, okay, we’ve done everything we can to the facility, but we’re not going to stop there.
We have the- we practically wrapped our employees in bubble wrap, but we’re not going to stop there. We’re going to make sure that they understand what they’re doing out in the shops. From a compliance officer’s standpoint, that’s what they want. They want to walk up to any employee on the shop floor and be like, you see this piece of equipment over here, how would you operate that?
And the employee walks over. Well, first we got to put on her personal protective equipment. Second, we got to make sure that we’re following the SOPs, which are written out right here next to the machine. I gotta make sure that I put this guard in place. And they’re going to go down a path that the compliance officer is going to be like this facility did their homework.
They did their training the right way. They didn’t just, you know, send somebody through a computer module or they just didn’t have like a, you know, just you know, blow through a training as fast as possible. They actually made sure that their employees understood what they were trying to teach that employee so that they’re not going to get hurt on that piece of machinery.
It’s not hard to be compliant, but it is hard to build a culture and it takes a lot of work. And it means that, you know- another tip, I guess, for a leader and how to avoid regulations is to be present in your safety program. I work with companies all the time where they pass, you know, somebody signed up with us as consulting services in KPA, but they’ll pass it off onto somebody else below them.
And it can work that way, but if you don’t have. Buy-in from the top level of management, you’re setting yourself up for failure, in my opinion. The employees have got to see from the top-level manager, the plant manager, or the president, whoever that person might be, that when they walk on that floor they’re going to put on their safety glasses, just like that employee would. If that employee sees the manager or president putting on their safety glasses, then they believe that, ok my president believes in safety, therefore, I guess this really does streamline throughout the entire company. And that’s where you’re building upon that culture as well.
Sure. Leading by example, we love to see it. What would you say that OSHA is really focusing on for 2022? What should we be really narrowing in on?
Yeah. So COVID-19 is still lingering out there. Yeah, that one is- so, OSHA did have some different emergency temporary standards that they tried to enact in the past year or so. Back in late 2021, they tried with the vaccination mandate, but that was recently found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme court.
So that one did not actually go through. And that would have been a big precedent set across the entire country. It would have given OSHA some power that maybe they never had in the past. But really, even though that got shot down in the Supreme court, that doesn’t mean that OSHA is going to stop with COVID-19.
We understand that that is a very important agenda item for the current president’s administration. And it is a public safety issue. It’s a workplace issue as well, too. It’s still a hazard in the workplace. Just because you know, a mandate on vaccinations got shot down. That doesn’t mean that OSHA is still not going to cite an employer for exposing workers to potential COVID-19 outbreaks.
Yep. I know it seems like we’re not out of the woods yet.
No, no. Other areas that they’re focusing on they just did increase their maximum penalties for, you know, a serious violation. And willful violations. They do this every year. I don’t like to talk about it too much. I don’t like scare tactics, but they did just increase that to keep up with inflation.
They do it every year. So max, for example, max penalty, you could get for a willful violation. A willful violation is we discovered through our investigation, you knowingly exposed your employees to this hazard. You know, maybe there was like a piece of electrical line that was severed. And then the employers working around that and the employee brought it to your attention.
And you said, Nope, you keep doing your job. I mean, that’s a willful violation right there, max penalty on that is about $145,000. So yeah. That’s probably going to get the max penalty if you pull something like that as an employer. But as I said, don’t like to talk too much about just the scariness of fines.
Sure. Well, it’s good to keep in mind because ultimately, you know, if you were to get dinged like that, that really affects the bottom line. So cutting corners, in the end, is an expensive thing to do.
Yeah. There are a couple of other focus areas though. So they do have a proposal out there to make heat illness a federal regulation.
But right now it is actually a state regulation in the state of California. I believe also in Florida. But like the state of California requires that, you know, you have a policy on, for outdoor workers, providing water, shade, and then rest time, as well. So if they take this and make it a federal regulation, that means all employers that have employees working outside will have to develop a heat illness policy and make sure that their employees are trained on recognition of heat illness-related symptoms as well too.
Do you know if that was in reaction to the 2021 heat wave or is it just coincidental that that’s happening? This year.
I think it’s coincidental. I think, unfortunately, I shouldn’t say unfortunately, but California does set a precedent a lot of times for making regulations that just kind of expand across the country as well, too.
A lot of times they are good regulations. I mean, yeah, we had a heatwave that did go on. But I mean, heat illness has been something that’s been around forever. I think it’s a good idea now that, you know, there are different injuries or illnesses that employees suffer from every year. In fact, unfortunately, we hear about deaths from time to time as well too.
I mean, this can in fact impact a lot of different areas, not just employers that you would think of, like in construction, but it can even go up to a level of, you know, if you’ve got a football team, like an NFL team is practicing outside. I mean, they would have to create a heat illness policy as well.
Oh, that’s interesting to think about.
Yeah. I mean, they are employers.
Right? Makes sense.
Okay. So we know OSHA is top of mind for everyone, but what other regulatory bodies should companies be paying mind to and where are they putting their attention this year?
Well, we’ve got the environmental protection agency. I feel like OSHA and EPA sometimes go hand-in-hand with each other. So OSHA is obviously the safety side. EPA is the environmental side.
So one of the big things that they are kind of taking a look at this year that could impact a lot of people is they’re trying to define what navigable waters of the United States are. And they’re coming close to a definition. In fact, the Supreme court’s even involved in on this.
So right now, if you interact with navigable waters of the United States, a lot of times you’re going to be required to have some kind of permit. You know, if you’re discharging to those waters, if you are storing chemicals near those waters, then you may have to have a spill plan. You may have to have a national pollution discharge elimination system permit if you’re discharging to those waters.
So what’s come up is like for instance areas that were classified as maybe a wetland. Is a wetland a navigable water of the United States? By the old EPA definition, they’re saying, yes, it is. However new interpretation is. Can I put a canoe in there and paddle around in there? If I can, then it’s a navigable water by the United States.
If I can’t then that’s just land. And in fact, I read an article about this the other day. There’s a couple out of, I think it’s Idaho, that are trying to build their home on a piece of property, that’s basically on a wetland. You can’t build your home here; it’s a wetland.
It seems like a bad idea. Right?
I know. Yeah. Why would you want that piece of property? But to each their own.
But the EPA is saying, no, you can’t build it here. It’s a wetland. However, they’re like, we can’t put a canoe in there and, you know, travel around. It’s like a swamp. And so this can set a precedent on other companies being like, well, wait a minute. Yeah, we’re near a wetland, but it’s not navigable water of the United States. Therefore we don’t have to have that technical permit then.
How interesting. Well, we’ll just have to see how that one plays out.
Yeah. Outside of the EPA, I would say a lot of times it’s not really a regulatory agency. But a lot of people don’t consider environmental health and safety litigators.
So it’s not necessarily a regulatory agency that you should be concerned about, but it’s attorneys. And usually on the safety side of it. Yeah, OSHA May hit you with, you know, a citation for not complying. But if this OSHA citation was in regards to an employee injury where you better be more concerned about is that employee’s attorney.
And are they going to be reaching out to sue on the civil level for, you know, personal damages or for injuries and looking for a settlement?
That’s a great point.
Yeah. Back in, I think it was about 2015, there was a case I was kind of involved in where I was kind of an expert witness, but it was Pennsylvania.
There was a man that was run over by a forklift, unfortunately. It was back over in the facility. The gentleman that was driving the forklift had some frequent safety issues. So, violations or write-ups in the past. And also his training was pretty sketchy as well too. I don’t believe that facility actually trained him.
I think they threw together a training at the last second to try to appease the OSHA officer. So, when something like that happens, of course, litigators will get involved. And the first thing they always ask for is I need to see the OSHA report on this. And the OSHA agency wasn’t identified. Number one, that’s going to raise red flags with OSHA, and we’re going to start with a higher citation amount.
Number two, you know, it looks like you are trying to hide stuff here and you were pretty much kind of admitting the negligence part on your own company. Yeah, so, that gentleman ended up with about nine surgeries. Oh no. And I think the settlement was somewhere around $9 million. I don’t know of an OSHA penalty that’s ever gotten that high. But obviously, you know, when you have a serious injury, that’s obviously going to make the dollar amount skyrocket in a settlement.
Yeah, no kidding. No, that’s really, that’s good to think about because I think when we’re talking about the stuff, we do tend to really focus at least financially on what the fines from a regulatory perspective look like, but you’re right. Those settlements and the personal kind of attorney’s side of things can get really pricey as well.
It’s not only that it’s the publicity as well. And your reputation. Your reputation gets damaged as well, you know? And it could also be bad for business depending on the outcome of it.
So keeping all of that in mind, what best practices do you advise for companies that are looking to really stay out of regulatory crosshairs and also litigation and things like that in 2022?
So I would probably say, going back to my comment earlier about staying in the know and being educated, if you don’t have necessarily the time to put into researching regulations or doing that on your own than hire an EHS professional or hire an organization like a consulting firm to actually keep you in the know. I mean, that’s, I think that’s imperative. Education, like I said, is the biggest way you’re going to stay out of regulatory pressure. So. You know, if you don’t have the ability to do it yourself, I think doing it yourself is probably the best practice that you can actually do for yourselves to make sure you’re investing in your own company.
But another way to invest in it would also be to hire a professional or work with a consulting firm, you know, which would you rather have? You know, if you work with a consulting firm like us. It’s staying organized. That’s another key thing. You know, a professional is usually going to keep you organized as well, too.
So would you rather be, you know, OSHA officers, they’re regulatory officers there and you’re bumbling around for your programs, your records. And they’re like, where’s the training for this guy’s forklift certification? Well, hang on, I got to go up to the HR office and find that. They can’t find it. And you know, at that point you got an OSHA officer in your conference room that’s just sitting there.
That’s not a good look.
But if you’re working with a company like, like at KPA, for instance, you can all of a sudden like, oh, where’s your training form on this forklift driver. Oh, let me go into my software platform here.
Click, click, click, click. Ok, here you go. Print. Here’s your forklift certification. All right. That’s what I needed to see. Excellent. And it’s like, wait a minute. Where’s your program? It’s all right here, man. It’s all right here in my software and it’s easily accessible by all of our employees. So you can go out there and ask John Smith, you know, he can get into this program just as well too, and he can pull up all these training programs. And at that point, he’s got all of this at his fingertips. Just like I’m providing it to you as well, too.
Yeah, it sounds like that’s a good thing to have on your side. If you want to stay organized.
And I’d say, make sure you stay involved in your EHS program. Don’t just pass it off to somebody else. Now, if you’re running a company you want to be in the know of what all is going on. You don’t want to get the phone call one night where oh yeah. You know, John Doe was run over by the forklift last. Well, Hey, okay. Is everything okay? What do we need to do at this point? I don’t know what’s going on, and you’re in crisis mode at that point. Well, you could also say to yourself, we can call our EHS professional and they’ll tell us exactly what to do.
There’s I mean, there are other simple things. Don’t lie. I’ve been working with companies where people have, you know, flat out lied to regulatory officers and that just doesn’t go well at all. They do investigate. I read an article just the other day in one of my safety magazines, about a 65-year-old man who lied about whether or not an employee actually was his employee. He said it wasn’t his employee. And of course, you know, that one’s pretty easy to figure out in the long run. And now he’s serving a 30-day jail sentence with like five years of house arrest after that, just for lying about whether or not an employee was his.
Honesty is the best policy.
Exactly. Don’t plead ignorance as well, too. Like I said, with earlier complacency, it happens a lot where it’s like, oh, I didn’t know that was regulation. They don’t want to hear that either. Be in the know, understand safety programs. If you understand your own safety program, your own environmental program, you don’t have to plead ignorance. Be visible with your safety efforts with your employees. It goes a long way with them.
I’d say the last thing is probably to invest in safety. So I mentioned the word invest earlier. So investing in safety is don’t make your employees… don’t require them to wear safety glasses from the 1980s. Spend a little bit of money, get them something with a bit more up-to-date with 2022. You know, maybe provide them with some new high visibility best, or- a great example might be like shoes for crews program. Right now, when it comes to OSHA regulations, that it’s a little bit of a gray area, but in some certain situations, you don’t have to pay for your employees’ safety boots. But a lot of companies I find, do pay for safety boots and safety shoes, and the employees love that. It’s such a value add that, you know, it’s personal protective equipment. I don’t want to have to go out and buy my own shoes, my own boots and wear them here where I’m just going to tear them up. You know, that’s an expense for that employee. If you invest some money into that for the employee, it goes a long way.
And you know, if you saved yourself a crushed foot injury? Probably paid yourself back at about three times what you originally invested.
Makes sense. Well, thank you, Zach, so much for talking with us today. I really appreciate it.
Yeah, I had a lot of fun.