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5 Issues Affecting Businesses In The Election

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Presidential Election 2012Although I try not to talk politics, there are times when it can’t be ignored. GAWDA members, like all business owners, are paying close attention to the upcoming Presidential election. One distributor told me last week that he was looking forward to November. And of course, the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the health care law has only heightened the discussion of how the elections will impact businesses.

Paychex recently published its list of the issues that are of greatest importance to small business owners as we hurdle toward Election Day. “As campaigns for elected office intensify between now and November, it is important that the issues small business owners care about are included as part of the national debate,” said Martin Mucci, Paychex president and CEO. Here are their top five issues in order:

1. Taxes: Provisions that could impact small businesses include: the continued viability of business structures (such as S-corps) largely intended to provide insulation from certain types of tax; the possible scaling back (or conversely, creation) of certain tax breaks targeted specifically to businesses; the ongoing potential for increased unemployment tax burdens on businesses; and the general question of whether the basic federal business tax rate should be adjusted.

2. Overall Regulatory Burden: In addition to taxes, the existence of a “business-friendly” environment, also referred to as freedom from undue regulatory burden, is usually seen as a primary factor in a small business owner’s appetite for expanding and/or investing in his or her business.

3. Employment Regulations: Worker-focused regulations include an increase to the federal minimum wage, the creation of additional “protected” categories during the hiring process, steps to ease the formation of labor unions, and other items which might not garner broad support from the business community.

4. Immigration: A key focus of the immigration debate will likely be the extent businesses should play a role in managing and enforcing immigration policy through hiring practices.

5. Retirement Security: There is growing concern over the inadequacy of retirement savings for many Americans and the possible role that some think employers could play in a mandated solution such as an Auto IRA program or other similar option.

While taxes are always an issue, the one item that really stood out to me was the overall regulatory burden. This is something about which I’ve held many conversations with GAWDA members. In the gases and welding environment, there are many regulatory bodies that distributors must pay attention to, including DOT (and its FMCSA and PHMSA administrations), FDA, OSHA, EPA and so forth. Thank goodness for GAWDA’s consultants to help make sense of it all!

What is the top issue in the upcoming elections as far as your business is concerned?

Making Sense Of DOT & FDA Regulations

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Making Sense of FDA & DOT RegulationsRegulations can be not only hard to keep track of, but hard to make sense of at times, whether it’s FDA medical gas regulations, DOT driver regs, OSHA or other standards. Thankfully for GAWDA members, the association has enlisted its consultants to help simplify this Sisyphean task.

Yesterday, two of GAWDA’s consultants delivered a regulatory update for members. Rick Schweitzer, Government Affairs, Human Resources & Legal Consultant, updated members on the latest driver regulations, including hours of service, EOBRs and the Certified Medical Examiners Registry.

There seem to be quite a few regulations up in the air as it relates to drivers in the gases and welding industry. One such issue is the tank vehicle definition. FMCSA quietly redefined its definition of tank vehicle in a way that would have required distributors hauling cylinders or tanks above a certain quantity to obtain a tank vehicle endorsement, even if the trucks are not carrying hazardous materials. With the rule having faced a great deal of criticism, Schweitzer reports that FMCSA will reconsider the tank definition. There’s only one problem. Several states have already started enforcing the new definition (they were not required to enforce it until 2014), creating confusion and an additional burden. It may be within their right, but is it fair for states to enforce a rule that’s under review?

There’s also quite a bit of regulatory anticipation on the medical gas side, as reported by FDA, Medical Gases and Specialty Gas Consultant Tom Badstubner. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there have been discussions about whether medical gases should be regulated differently than other drugs. But aside from the regulatory uncertainty of medical gases, distributors of food-grade gases face an increasingly uphill terrain. As Badstubner explained, food gas distributors are now being looked at as food producers, and as such, are inspected as though they ran a bakery. This means distributors may need to keep logs of cleanliness and check for infestations much like a bakery.

I’m only skimming the surface of the regulatory issues at hand. As Schweitzer and Badstubner pointed out, part of members dues’ pays for access to the consultants. So if you have regulatory questions, they are a great resource. GAWDA’s consultants also each write a regular column in Welding & Gases Today, which are all available online. Find answers to your regulatory questions in the Consultants’ Corner Archive.

New Tanker Truck Definition Draws Criticism

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Tanker Truck Regulations QuestionedAs reported in a recent issue of the GAWDA Connection e-newsletter, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration changed the definition of tank vehicle in a way that impacts many drivers. The change outlines volumes for trucks transporting liquid or gaseous materials within a tank or tanks. At or above these volumes, drivers need a special tank vehicle endorsement on their CDL.

The summary states: “This new definition will require a tanker endorsement on the CDL of any driver operating a CMV that would be transporting four or more intermediate bulk containers, since those typically contain anywhere from 250 gallons to 330 gallons of liquid per IBC.”

The article also explained that the American Trucking Associations was preparing a petition to amend the rule, which would be supported by GAWDA and other associations. This past week, ATA released that petition in the form of a letter to FMCSA, which called the definition “burdensome” and described it as broad and including vehicles that are “manifestly not tank vehicles.”

Along with these issues, a loose enforcement timeline creates confusion for drivers and companies operating in multiple states. The rule was enforceable as of July 2011, but states have until July 2014 to comply. ATA Safety and Security Policy Manager Boyd Stephenson told The Trucker, “States have the option of starting to enforce the rule on the effective date, others wait longer. So you might wind up with Montana beginning to enforce the rule immediately and Idaho choosing to wait three years.” Particularly for distributors doing business in multiple states, this could create some confusion and/or additional expense.

Another question is why it has taken so long for this definition change to draw attention. The notice was published in the Federal Register way back in May 2011 as part of a larger final rule revising the CDL testing and learner’s permit standards. With states able to enforce the rule as early as July 2011, should FMCSA made the change more transparent and/or deliberate?

How do you feel about the new definition change? Do you agree that it is too broad and burdensome?

How Much Are You Worth To Your Customers?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Distributors can help customers with regulations, even something as simple as making sure they have fire extinguishers mounted and charged.

What if you could save a customer $59,400? Or, more precisely, shelter them from a fine of that amount. That’s how much OSHA recently fined Mollett Welding and Mine Service, a welding and machine shop in West Virginia, for exposing workers to safety and health hazards.

Among the violations were such things as failure to:

  • Provide clean, orderly places of employment;
  • Evaluate and identify respiratory hazards;
  • Conduct a personal protective equipment hazard assessment;
  • Ensure employees wore eye protection when exposed to metal shavings;
  • Post “no smoking” signs; and
  • Ensure fire extinguishers were mounted, readily accessible and fully charged.

These are only a few of the 25 violations that the company faced. I picked out these specific violations because they are things their gases and welding distributor salesperson—or even a delivery route driver, in some cases—might be able to identify and help the customer correct. You don’t need to conduct a full-scale audit to discover these violations—many can be observed visually.

This business is about relationships—and helping customers deal with regulations can certainly go a long way toward building those relationships (Think of it as a value-add!). When you can help customers lighten the burden of regulations, you can bet they will be more loyal.

And along with saving the customer some money, many of the solutions to these violations call for products that gases and welding distributors sell, like PPE and welding fume removal systems. With a glance around your customer’s workplace, you might actually make a sale in the process of saving your customer from OSHA.

Just think: if you can save your customer $59,000, how much more would they be willing to spend with you?

When Is It Time To Say Goodbye To A Customer?

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

On Monday, GAWDA’s Consultants held a forum to provide regulatory updates to members. I am amazed at the incredible number of rules and regulations that gases and welding distributors have to know—and how many different regulatory agencies they come from (This was the first time I’d heard mention of the FAA in the GAWDA environment). Even the government seems to admit that regulations can be too complex. Back in January, President Obama ordered a government-wide review of regulations to reconsider outdated or ineffective regulations. Even though changes like this can be good, it is change. With constant change, it’s a good thing we have the Consultants.

One of the items that really stood out to me was Mike Dodd’s synopsis of a recently settled $4.5 million lawsuit against a propane filler. According to Dodd, the propane supplier repeatedly told a customer that they were improperly transporting the cylinders, and that they needed to be transported in an upright position. Regardless, when things went wrong, the company still found itself on the wrong end of a lawsuit. “At some point, a distributor may have to make a business decision not to sell to a customer that continues to ignore proper safety precautions,” says Dodd.

This raises an important question: When is it time to say goodbye to a customer? Especially in times like these, it can be hard to willingly let go of business. But when that customer puts your company at risk, it may be time. What other examples do you have of when it’s appropriate to stop doing business with a customer? Share by leaving a comment below.

Social Media Regulations…From FDA

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

FDA's social media regulationsAmong the more unusual regulations that we might see in 2011, FDA is slated to publish draft guidance on the use of social media. Yes, you read that correctly. A recent message from the Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (DDMAC) says that the division has “been researching draft guidance topics on the following issues related to Internet/social media promotion of FDA-regulated medical products:

• Responding to unsolicited requests
• Fulfilling regulatory requirements when using tools associated with space limitations
• Fulfilling post-marketing submission requirements
• Online communications for which manufacturers, packers, or distributors are accountable
• Use of links on the Internet
• Correcting misinformation”   (via EyeOnFDA.com)

The agency is targeting a publish date of 1st Quarter 2011, so we should see this very soon. One bullet points specifically to the online communications of distributors, so this will impact those GAWDA members who manufacture or distribute medical gases.

I was surprised to learn that the FDA was stepping into the realms of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, et al, but it does make sense to a certain extent—social media are largely unregulated. We’re in a new age with social media, and with it come unique challenges. Bullet #2 raises an intriguing point: how do you meet regulations when Twitter limits your characters?

I’m still undecided on this, but I want to hear what you think: Has the FDA overstepped its bounds, or do you welcome the idea of social media guidelines? What social media issues would you like guidance on?

How A Resolution Becomes A Regulation

Friday, January 7th, 2011

In my last post (Resolutions For A New Year), I talked about setting resolutions for 2011. As I learned from Ned Lane’s article “Top 5,” communicating those goals to others can help you accomplish them. Not only does it create accountability, but it can enable those around you to provide any needed support. If they don’t know about it, they can’t support you.

While I was thinking about resolutions, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if federal agencies made New Year’s resolutions, too? With a steady stream of changing regulations, compliance in itself can be a full time job. If we knew ahead of time what was on the agenda, it might help distributors be ready and, in turn, allow them to help their customers prepare.

Although the government doesn’t issue its own New Year’s resolutions as such, I’ve tracked down some of the items they’ll be paying attention to this year:

• First, GAWDA’s FDA & medical gases consultant, Tom Badstubner, looks at the medical gases initiatives planned by the FDA, Congress and the USP. Among the potential changes are new guidance from the FDA and medical gas monographs from the USP.

• For truck drivers, GAWDA Government Affairs, Human Resources & General Counsel Consultant Rick Schweitzer reports that Hours of Service could be changing. Follow the link to find out what changes your company may have to make to dispatch and driver management protocols.

• OSHA recently released its regulatory agenda for the next year. Changes to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard may be impacting distributors in August 2011, and they should keep tabs on combustible dust rulemaking that may be impacting their customers.

• Among EPA’s regulatory priorities, the agency’s attention to indoor air quality could have an impact on the welding industry (pp. 79845 – B2).

• For an overall look at coming changes, take a look at the “Top 11” regulatory changes in 2011 as compiled by Paychex, Inc. Of note are changes in tax law, allowing businesses to expense capital investments and healthcare reform. These should be on the radar of any business owner/operator.

What regulations are you watching for in 2011? What will impact you and your customers most?