There is enough inherent risk in the hazardous waste handling process without making things worse by mismanagement or non-compliance. If you don’t take the management of hazardous waste at your facility seriously, there could be many risky situations as a result. While some waste management requirements only apply to small and large quantity generators of hazardous waste, all hazardous waste generators should follow preventive measures and maintain compliance with state and federal regulations. If not, generators could face these risks.
Risk of Non-Compliance
When it comes to compliance, ignorance is not a defense. For example, Macy’s, Inc. generated enough waste during several years to qualify as a small quantity generator but failed to notify the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state authorities. The retailer was fined a civil penalty of $375,000 and, as part of the settlement, was required to develop a program to train employees on hazardous waste compliance. The Macy’s hazardous waste settlement is an example of why it is important to stay on top of state and federal standards, including requirements for the different types of generators.
EPA defines hazardous waste generator categories and it is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with state and federal regulations and know your generator classification. A small quantity generator of hazardous waste in Massachusetts was recently fined $30,000 for improper management including damaged containers, improper storage, inadequate aisle space, inaccurate signage, and a lack of training records.
Risk to Employees
Contingency plan violations are among the most common hazardous waste generator violations, according to the EPA. Contingency plans are required by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) for all employers who have hazardous chemicals in their workplace. The standard is designed to protect against chemical source illnesses and injuries by ensuring that employers and employees are provided with sufficient information to recognize chemical hazards and take appropriate protective measures. Without a proper contingency plan in place, you are putting your employees at risk.
A California glass manufacturer failed to have a contingency plan in place to deal with spills or unplanned releases and paid state authorities $3.5 million to settle waste allegations. They were also cited for illegally disposing hazardous waste in the facility, which leads us to the next risk.
Risk to the Environment
Hazardous waste that is improperly managed poses a serious threat to the environment as well as to human health. One of the most common hazardous waste management mistakes is incorrectly identifying waste or failing to provide proper identification to the state or federal regulatory agency. EPA provides a regulatory definition and hazardous waste identification process, which can be very complex. However, hazardous waste generators must properly categorize their waste.
For example, an auto salvage and parts dealer was fined almost $23,000 for improper determination of hazardous waste and improper disposal. Negative impacts on the environment can be devastating, such as the destruction of plants and animals in a contaminated area. Also, some hazardous substances can cause explosions or fires.
Risk to Profitability
Your company risks unanticipated expenses and losing profitability if hazardous waste is not handled correctly. Inefficiencies due to flawed processes and/or a lack of employee training can result in a loss of productivity and have a negative effect on your company’s bottom line. Unforeseen expenses due to fines and penalties are another potential impact area for profitability. In 2016, EPA raised the maximum civil penalties for hazardous waste violations from $37,500 per day, per violation to $70,117 per day, per violation. It’s more important than ever to maintain strict RCRA compliance or risk getting blindsided and take a hit to your bottom line.
Large quantity generators have the same risk as you — O’Reilly Auto Parts paid $9.86 million in a settlement after improperly managing and disposing of oil and other hazardous wastes from 525 stores. They quickly adjusted their policies and procedures, but not before losing millions of dollars.
Risk to Reputation
Finally, if your company is seen as endangering the health and safety of employees or the general public, or harming the environment, your company’s reputation could be severely damaged. Fines like those mentioned above due to non-compliance would be another blow to your brand image and difficult to rebound from.
For example, a lawyer who recently represented a company that was fined $750,000 for discharging hazardous waste into a sewer system said that the “eye-popping” amount of the fine will “jump off a page” and harm the company’s reputation and business.
The head of the manufacturing firm in New Hampshire hit with a $130,000 penalty has firmly disputed accusations that his company violated state hazardous waste management laws, saying,”We’re trying to protect our reputation, which is very good.”
As if this wasn’t enough reason to take hazardous waste management seriously, there are criminal provisions under EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and penalties that include imprisonment — a severe blow to any reputation.
Compliance and proper hazardous waste handling should be a team effort, so be sure to give your employees the training they need. If you take the business of managing your facility’s hazardous waste seriously, so will they. You can also avoid many of the risks involved with managing hazardous waste by partnering with a trusted, reliable waste services provider and fully certified, experienced Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facility (TSDF).