Last fall we finished launching products compliant with the RoHS directive in Europe. Additional efforts have been addressed for similar regulations around the world. Throughout this activity, a common partner has been working in the background to supply interpretations where no clear understandings were available. This partner provided timely and valuable information to make important business decisions regarding product requirements for specific markets: YOUR trade association.
It’s a common misunderstanding that trade associations are quasigovernmental bodies. The fact is that they work for you and your industry. AHAM, ARI, GAMA, and NEMA are among the trade associations that your company funds and helps manage. The staffs within these associations are there to help address industrywide issues as the most-common denominator representing the interests of your companies and employees.
Future regulatory issues are coming at us fast and are more complex than ever. Many of the OEMs, suppliers, and service providers within the appliance industry do not have the luxury of maintaining a full-time government liaison staff to coordinate and disseminate information on regulatory challenges. We all face these issues and develop strategies to accommodate them when we are working on short- and long-term strategic plans.
Industry trade associations manage a comprehensive load of national, regional, and international regulatory issues, depending on the needs of their members. Current issues are normally reported through regular e-mails, newsletters, conference calls, Web seminars, and faxes. However, when questions on particular concerns come up in the course of doing business, the staff within your association can find answers with a few phone calls.
Our ability to resolve the specifics of codes, regulations, and standards normally cost us in terms of time and people. Our ability to have an impact on the same codes, regulations, and standards is directly related to our communications with trade and professional associations, as well as our level of participation in the panels, rulemakings, and committees creating them.
Codes are government-adopted rules driven by organizations recognized through legislation. For example, the National Electrical Code (NEC) is developed by the National Fire Protection Agency’s Standards Council and adopted by local or state jurisdictions. Membership in industry trade associations allows us to monitor and indirectly affect these rules, where individual company representation on the code-making panels within the NEC is difficult.
A regulation is a legal restriction promulgated by government administrative agencies through rulemaking supported by a threat of sanction or fine and based on authorizing law. Public participation in the development of new regulations is limited to certain opportunities to comment in the process. Our best avenue to provide input into these processes is through our industry trade associations.
Standards are technical specifications to be used consistently as agreements, test procedures, guidelines, definitions, or the basis of third-party certification programs to ensure that materials, products, processes, and services are fit for their purpose. While most standards are voluntary in nature, they can be adopted as codes and government regulations and end up as de facto laws in the country for which they are developed.
Safety and performance standards are the most accessible types of documents affecting the design, manufacture, sale, and distribution of our products. Industry trade associations are the best and safest avenues for providing technical input to the standards development process. Participating in the development and maintenance of industry standards is the best means to protect and strategically focus the future designs of our products.
Become a member of a professional association, participate in its operation, communicate its charter to your management, inform your staff of its activities, and leverage it to provide critical regulatory information needed to address an ever-increasing level of regulatory issues.
About the Author
A graduate of Western Illinois University, Len Swatkowski received a BS in Industrial Technology in 1977, an MS in 1982, and an MBA in 1988. To contact Swatkowski, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.