Compliance: The Eyes Have It

Self-regulation as a solution to regulatory noncompliance

March 18, 2016
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Remodelers will see increased scrutiny of residential jobsites by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

With another remodeling season just around the corner, we can once again expect to see increased scrutiny of residential jobsites by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Both organizations understand that the biggest compliance problems occur among small operators. But there’s a problem: Those operators are hard to find. So it’s far easier to go after higher-profile companies, the ones whose job signs, truck logos, and permits posted in street-facing windows announce their presence to anyone who cares to look. Many of these companies are licensed, insured, and certified for the work they are performing, including RRP (lead abatement through the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting program). Many are not. And it’s difficult to know exactly how many, which only serves to illustrate the problem.

It’s not hard to understand, then, why conscientious remodeling contractors feel like victims in a zero-sum game that is stacked against them. It seems that everything they do to comply and improve—from renewing their licenses, to paying to certify their employees, to posting permits, to joining industry associations—just paints a bigger target on their backs. 

What’s more difficult to grasp is why those same contractors continue to stonewall compliance efforts instead of helping themselves by actively policing their own industry. It should be clear by now that, despite all the election-year rhetoric, OSHA and the EPA aren’t going away any time soon. Why, instead of acknowledging what cannot be changed and working to improve it, do most remodeling contractors continue either to ignore the problem or to complain about it but do little or nothing to help solve it? 

Snitches and Stitches

What might that solution look like? Partly it includes continued involvement by individuals and industry associations whose advocacy at the federal, state, and municipal levels has helped in some measure to temper regulatory zeal. But the most obvious step remodelers can take—self-policing—continues to be off the table. 

Maybe it’s that word “policing” that causes legitimate contractors to shrink from the idea of actively aiding in compliance efforts. After all, “snitches get stitches.”

But do they? From what I can see, the only people taking a beating are legitimate companies making an honest effort to comply. And the assault, in most cases, comes not at the hands of OSHA or the EPA, but from the unlicensed, uninsured, uncertified operators who fly under the radar and undercut the market with low-ball prices. 

“Policing” may end with “snitching,” but it can begin with “watching” and “educating.” A few noncompliant operators simply don’t know what they don’t know; identifying them and helping them learn solves the problem. 

As for the rest, collectively you know who they are. You can start by letting them know that you know—sometimes just being aware that someone is watching can change behavior. From there you can escalate with whatever form of direct advocacy does the trick, whether it’s an informal lunch, a beer after work, or an invitation to an association meeting. 

This problem isn’t going to go away on its own or through the efforts of an outside agency. If you want it fixed, you’ll have to fix it yourselves. Start with support and persuasion, but if they fail, you need to be willing to name names. 

About the Author

About the Author

Sal Alfano is executive editor for Professional, 202.365.9070

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