environmental compliance

Compliance Considerations

Changes in codes and standards governing environmental protection, accessibility, safety and plumbing will impact facility decisions

By Dan Hounsell  

Maintenance and engineering managers often say they thrive on the challenges presented by their wide-ranging responsibilities. Many oversee large staffs and numerous facilities, as well as big budgets that they must comply with while accommodating the growing needs of their facilities. Just as importantly, they are responsible for the smooth operation of everything from HVAC and electrical-distribution systems to roofing and plumbing systems, not to mention overall facilities activities.

But these vast and varied responsibilities create equally challenging compliance issues. An increasingly important part of managers’ duties is tracking pending and recent changes in applicable codes, standards and regulations that affect facility engineering, maintenance and operations.

Environmental Protection

A growing number of activities in recent years by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have focused on reminding commercial and institutional organizations that they, like manufacturing organizations, must comply with environmental-protection laws. Managers face three relatively new EPA efforts that are likely to make environmental compliance a higher priority.

The first effort is a federal initiative alerting organizations that their programs to address hazardous-waste management must include adequate financial resources to properly clean up areas where such wastes are treated, stored or disposed of.

In February 2006, EPA’s Region 1 office in Boston announced a possible fine of nearly $30,000 against Yale University for failing to meet financial-assurance requirements of federal and state laws. The agency launched the effort after a report from its inspector general that many organizations might not be complying with the financial-assurance requirements, says David Deegan with EPA’s Region 1 office. www.epa.gov/region1/enforcement/waste/index.html

The second initiative is an alert issued to school districts in Connecticut and Massachusetts regarding the risk posed by improper oil storage and the potential for spills from schools’ heating and oil-storage systems. The alert follows several spills at schools in the last 18 months.

“We’re trying to raise the profile of the issue to schools,” Deegan says. “We’ve sent a letter to all school districts to help them understand the risk and the need to follow federal spill-control regulations.”

To prevent both spills and environmental compliance problems, managers in others area of the country should review their organizations’ procedures for handling and storing oil and update them as needed. www.epa.gov/oilspill

Finally, managers in federal facilities should be aware of an impending deadline for submitting information to the EPA regarding underground storage tanks. By Aug. 8, 2007, any federal agency that owns or operates one or more such tanks or manages land on which such tanks are located must submit a report about the tanks to EPA and Congress. The deadline is one provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. For more on the act, see the accompanying article. www.fedcenter.gov


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) have received increased attention in the last several years. This change is due in part to updates to the acts and the resulting guidelines that affect decisions on operating and renovating facilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is reviewing comments on proposed new ADA standards, with a comment period that ended in May 2005. Managers should continue to follow existing standards, and DOJ will indicate when the new standards are applicable, which could be several years. www.ada.gov/proposal.htm

Managers in facilities designed, built or altered with federal or leased by federal agencies should be aware of new ABA standards. In May 2005, the General Services Administration (GSA) adopted new accessibility standards that will apply to construction and alterations begun after May 8, 2006, and to leases entered into after this date. The new ABA standards for Postal Service facilities took effect Oct. 1, 2005.

Building Safety

Several developments soon will have a direct impact on safety considerations in institutional and commercial facilities.

First, managers in nursing homes should be aware of an impending deadline regarding fire-safety systems. On Aug. 18, 2006, new safety codes from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) covering fire sprinklers will go into affect.

The new codes require fire sprinklers in all nursing homes, in the construction of nightclubs and similar facilities, and in existing nightclubs and similar facilities with capacities of more than 100 occupants. The provisions apply to 2006 editions of the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code and the NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code. www.nfpa.org

The International Code Council (ICC) also approved the code change, which is included in its 2004 supplement to the 2003 international codes.

Next, new requirements for ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) take effect on July 28, 2006. The requirements arise from a 2001 field study, which discovered that a small but significant number of GFCIs that did not work after several years, creating a demand for more stringent safety features to alert users of a malfunction. New GFCI requirements from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) now call for:

  • An end-of-life provision. When a GFCI receptacle no longer can provide ground-fault protection, it either will render itself incapable of delivering power or indicate visually or audibly that it must be replaced.
  • Reverse line-load miswire. The GFCI will deny power to the receptacle if it is miswired. www.esfi.org;

Finally, building and fire-safety codes and standards are likely to receive an overhaul in light of the final report on the 9/11 terrorist attacks from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued in 2005. The report features 30 recommendations that are designed to improve the safety of tall buildings, their occupants and first responders. Among the recommendations:

  • increased structural integrity, including changes to or establishment of evacuation and emergency-response procedures, including the nationwide adoption of standards and codes to prevent progressive collapse
  • enhanced fire resistance
  • new methods for fire-resistant design
  • active fire protection, which would include developing advanced fire-alarm and communications systems that provide continuous, reliable, and accurate information on life-safety conditions
  • improved building evacuation, using pagers and cell phones for broadcast-warning systems and community emergency alert networks
  • improved emergency response, including installing, inspecting, and testing emergency communications systems, as well as radio communications and associated operating protocols to ensure systems function in challenging radio-frequency-propagation environments and large-scale operations
  • improved procedures and practices, including maintenance and operation practices and procedures that encourages code compliance by non-governmental entities, as well as the adoption and application of egress and fire-sprinkler requirements for existing buildings
  • education and training for both building and fire safety professionals. http://wtc.nist.gov


Finally, managers someday soon might have just one plumbing code and one mechanical code with which their facilities and systems need to comply. Last fall, the two organizations that publish the codes — the ICC and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) — announced plans to cooperate to produce a joint code in the respective subject areas.

The joint venture would update the Uniform Plumbing Code, Uniform Mechanical Code, the International Plumbing Code and the International Mechanical Code. www.iccsafe.org; www.iapmo.org

While changes in these areas are among the highest-profile developments affecting maintenance and engineering departments, they are by no means the only ones. They can serve as a reminder, however, of the far-reaching challenges managers face in ensuring their facilities’ compliance.

EPAct Lends a Hand with Energy Savings

A federal law enacted in August 2005 could have a far-reaching impact on energy savings in institutional and commercial facilities. The task ahead for maintenance and engineering managers is to identify the best opportunities for their organizations to take advantage of law’s provisions. While the act’s provisions are somewhat limited, changes are likely to occur that would both expand the types of buildings affected and lengthen the window in which qualified projects can start.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) sets a new tax deduction for expenses related to energy-efficiency upgrades to commercial buildings. The expenditures that qualify are those certified as being installed to reduce the total annual energy and power costs of interior lighting systems, and heating, cooling, ventilation and hot-water systems of the building by 50 percent or more, compared to a building that meets the minimum requirements of the ASHRAE Standard 90.1 2001.

The deduction is limited to an amount equal to $1.80 per square foot. For a building that does not meet the whole-building requirement, a partial deduction is allowed for each separate building system. The maximum allowable deduction is $0.60 per square foot. The separate building systems are: interior lighting; HVAC and hot water; and the building envelope.

The act set interim rules for lighting systems that remain in effect until the U.S. Treasury Department issues rules defining final energy-saving targets for lighting systems.

Finally, the deduction applies to property placed in service between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2007.

For more information on EPAct’s provisions, visit www.energy.gov or www.efficientbuildings.org

— Dan Hounsell

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  posted on 5/1/2006   Article Use Policy

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