Compliance is a buzz word today that goes right along with regulations, oversight, rules, and standards. The question is: Does compliance really matter and how do we manage our industry’s compliance?

As a member or prospective member of an industry association, we all hold ourselves to the standard of compliance. Whether it’s an associations’ own rules and standards, or a compliance group or code, like Occupational Health & Safety Association (OSHA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), International Fire Code (IFC) or one of the other international groups, we believe that association members are the best qualified to provide industry specific services to the market.

Many of the challenges faced by a national organization that has uniform standards throughout the United States is that the regulations, rules, and standards that govern each jurisdiction may not be uniform. The lack of a nationally accepted standard for many industry associations lends to the inconsistency in the quality of work provided on a national level, sometimes even among industry members.

Helping to fuel this issue is that industry association non-compliant companies compete with compliant companies, and they cut corners that can allow them to offer lower prices on products and services that generally do not meet the standards set by most associations.

Another issue facing many of us is that we have looked the other way with some compliance issues that may not have been required by the jurisdiction, but are required by a standards organization; then the jurisdiction adopts the latest national or industry standard and we have to present the customer with a new requirement. Even though many industry associations have been beholden to larger national or international associations, we may not have felt it was necessary to keep a customer compliant if the jurisdiction did not require it. This could lead to a potentially difficult discussion to have with a customer.

Finally there is interpretation and definition. Most standards documents are in some ways ambiguous and give the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) leeway in the determination of compliance. The issue here is what one AHJ deems compliant, another may determine does not meet the definition. One example of this is NFPA96 that states that up-blast fans will have a “Service Hold-Open” retainer. There are AHJ’s that deem a chain sufficient as a service hold-open retainer and others that say the retainer must actually hold the fan in place. This, and many other interpretations, puts at risk the validity of solutions as well as putting us at risk, as providers, if there is a loss at our client’s business caused by an issue defined so broadly.

For us, the best way to manage compliance is first to understand association codes along with any supporting standards that we and our customers have an impact on. Discuss the ambiguous issues with our peers and ask specifically for a clearer definition of the issues that affect us. While many code documents call for Webster’s Dictionary to be the definitive definition, many of us still struggle with the practical application of a dictionaries’ definition.

Second, once a definition is chosen, stick to it. As association members, we assume that we would hold ourselves to the association standards and as such, any other standard we may follow. Train your staff to understand the standards and reward them for bringing customers into compliance; doing so should bring greater revenue during the upgrade and hopefully lower costs once finished. For example, having proper access panels in place will increase the efficiency with which air hoods can be cleaned. By installing proper access you meet the standard and lower your costs going forward, creating revenue for compliance and residual savings for efficiency that puts more money in your pocket.

Finally, challenge each other as peers in an organization committed to quality standards. When you hear a peer with issues related to compliance, help them understand not only the standards requirement but also the practical application of the standard. For example, proper hinging of an exhaust fan not only reduces the chance of damage to a roof, fan, and people working, it also speeds up the cleaning process by allowing the fan to be tilted quickly and safely, reducing labor cost and risk.

Compliance is not some buzz word to be set aside when we leave association meetings, only to be addressed when an AHJ decides to review our clients and test the standard. If we use our compliance as an asset to reduce risk, save labor, increase revenue and give us something to measure by, we as a group can begin to use industry and association based codes and standards as selling tools that don’t have to be a bad word, but a buzz word for growing our companies while making them more efficient.

Written by Brian Smith

Business Operations
Business OperationsDirect: (224) 856-3324
Brian Smith is the Chief Operating Officer at Omni Containment Systems and an active member of IKECA, as well as the Senior Managing Partner at Individual Advantages, an international business consulting firm.