By Megan Headley
If the House bill proposed earlier this month to dismantle the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taken as a call to take a closer look at the way the organization regulates, as some media outlets suggest, then it’s an opportunity welcomed by many painting contractors.
Among other actions, the EPA manages the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) program that requires painting and other contractors to be certified before performing certain work that could disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities and pre-schools built before 1978.
Jeff Dupont, owner of Sound Painting Solutions LLC in Seattle, is a third-generation painter. “Having been a painter for many years, I’ve seen people die from respiratory issues,” he says. And while overall he says the RRP has driven positive improvements in the industry, he is one of many painters who finds the regulations to be overly stringent.
“Some of it is a little over-regulated in my opinion,” Dupont says. “For example, you’re supposed to have a suit on, with plastic booties, on plastic. Well, that’s not very safe. But in the [overall] sense of protecting your team, it is a lot better than it used to be.”
Dave Siegner, owner of Siegner & Co. in Portland, Ore., comes to a similar conclusion.
“In general, I’m a small government person,” he says. “However, the need for protecting our workers, the public and our environment is a very real and enormously important factor within any given industry. There’s no doubt serious waste within these gargantuan federal agencies. Refitting, retooling and downsizing to a non-detrimental size to their specific purpose for existing seems like a very good idea to me.”
Others point out that the regulations hamper business owners because there is still too little consumer awareness about the danger of paint removal for pre-1978 buildings, the fact of which far too many painters are taking advantage.
“I would say it hurts more than helps,” says Josh Abramson, chief solutionist for ALLBRiGHT 1-800-PAINTING in Valencia, Calif. “We typically lose jobs because we warn the homeowner and have to use lead safe practices and they don’t usually care and go with someone willing to take the chance of getting caught.”
Abramson adds, “I would be one to say loosening of regulations would help give people a choice. Not everyone cares or believes that they will be harmed.”
With a broad customer base that spans several markets, Siegner is able to take a more discriminatory view of those customers unwilling to pay the price for safety.
“Does it add cost to a project? Absolutely,” Siegner says. “We’ve likely lost jobs due to pricing them responsibly to include what’s required. Some potential customers only care about price. We do everything we can to not play in that marketplace. Generally speaking, if the prospective customer isn’t interested in doing something correctly, let alone legally, they’re not a target for us.”
Scott Lollar, director of operations for Catchlight Painting in Newton, Mass., agrees. “If our values regarding employee and customer safety are not important to a prospect, then they likely are not a target customer,” he says.
For many painters, the biggest problem remains a lack of broad public awareness about the need to work with certified firms.
“In the Seattle market we can be competitive when we’re competing against other EPA-certified lead renovation firms,” Dupont says. “Where we can’t be competitive is when we bid a job and the client has no clue about the lead job, they don’t understand why this other person is lower. So if we’re bidding against other professionals we can be competitive but there are times our bid is twice the [competitor’s] price.”
“I’m sorry to say that there are painting contractors who don’t care,” Siegner adds. “Many do however, and spend their time and resources through the PDCA and other trade groups in efforts to bring more education and professionalism to our industry.”
It’s those contractors that don’t care that pose the problem and the need for oversight. “For this reason, I think the painting industry and its customers need oversight from outside the trade,” Siegner says. “There are too many health and safety threats that are direct or indirect results of the work we do. This is one of the reasons a number of people feel our trade should be licensed as a few others are. If one child was affected badly by lead poisoning, would that be okay? How about 1,000? How about none?” Siegner asks.
The challenge, however, is creating oversight in a way that keeps everyone safe without overtaxing businesses. Striking that balance depends largely on close work with the contractors providing these services.
“I do feel strongly that government needs to work closely with industry, and they’ve not been corroborating with us much for a number of years,” Siegner says.
While there is no text yet connected to the proposed bill, a recent interview with the bill’s sponsor suggests that the goal is to drive environmental regulation to the state level.
“Each state is a little different,” Dupont points out. “We’re certified nationally with EPA, and we’re also certified by the state. And we’re a little more guided by the state of Washington than we are the national EPA.”
While many of these painters feel that reining in the regulation could benefit all, they also agree that erring on the side of employee safety is of utmost importance.
“RRP training is first and foremost about protecting our employee and their family and also the customer. The motivation to handle RRP projects is born out of care for our people and customers and less about compliance. Compliance is a result of doing the right thing. Our employees know we are very serious about following RRP rules and about proper use of PPE in these environments,” Lollar says.
Siegner adds, “Our company culture places high value on our employees (without whom we have nothing to sell) as well as the public and our customers. This is simply another safety issue, and with our commitment to safety and the environment, it was a no brainer.”
Megan Headley is managing editor of APC Magazine and Paint News. She can be reached at email@example.com.