How GAWDA consultants can help GAWDA members avoid costly mistakes
By Tom Badstubner, Marilyn Dempsey, Michael Dodd, Rick Schweitzer and Steve Guglielmo
The GAWDA Consultant Program is a GAWDA Member Benefit that is included as part of your annual dues to the association. It is consistently rated as one of the most valuable member benefits that GAWDA provides. Between the four to them, GAWDA’s Consultants bring more than 100 years of industry-specific experience to the association. For this issue, we spoke to the Consultants about specific examples of times where they were able to help GAWDA members save money and avoid costly issues.
Thank you to Tom Badstubner, GAWDA’s FDA and Medical Gases Consultant, Marilyn Dempsey, DHS, EPS and OSHA Consultant, Michael Dodd, DOT Consultant, and Rick Schweitzer, Government Affairs and Human Resources Consultant, for lending their time and expertise to discuss these important topics. The following is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.
Welding & Gases Today: When speaking with GAWDA members at this year’s Spring Management Conference, one common theme that emerged is that the Consultant Program is one of, if not the most valuable GAWDA Member benefits. We’ve talked in the past about how to get more GAWDA members engaged in using the Consultants. Could you share with me any stories that stick out in your mind of times when you worked with a GAWDA member to help them save money?
Mike Dodd: There are several examples, in EPA, fatalities, audits and vehicle accidents. I’ll start with the EPA and specifically cylinder disposal. Every so often, I get distributors who call because they all tend to collect these odd-ball cylinders in the corner of their property. And they want to clean them out. Some of these contain odd chemicals or specialty gases that they’ve gotten back from customers. And now it has become a disposal issue.
So, I had one that called, and they had gotten quotes from people that were ranging anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million to dispose of these cylinders. And, with a simple phone call to me, I gave them a company name and a phone number, and they called back a week later absolutely ecstatic because I had saved them several hundred thousand dollars with one phone call.
Marilyn Dempsey: Also, you and I have worked with a couple of members who were disposing of acetylene cylinders and had similar problems with disposal companies treating the depressurized acetylene cylinders as HAZMAT. We’ve been able to give them documentation that supports disposal without the HAZMAT issue and that has saved them thousands of dollars.
Mike: That’s right. We were able to show them a couple of letters from the past where the EPA had acknowledged that acetylene cylinders were no longer considered hazardous waste, they were only considered industrial solid waste. That’s a good point and it saved those members a lot of money. And that’s an ongoing process.
WGT: Mike, you said you were able to give that member a name and a phone number of a company. Was that another GAWDA member?
WGT: That’s interesting. I think a lot of people might be under the assumption that you can only speak to the various governmental regulations. But, with all your industry and association experience, you can be just as valuable facilitating relationships between members. That’s kind of an unheralded benefit of the Consultant Program that you bring to the table.
Mike: Absolutely. And the beauty of our team of four is that we can tell members, “Just ask one of us the question. We will point you to the right person.” I get an awful lot of phone calls where they might not be my area, but they’re so used to talking to me about so many other things. And we’re able to get that question off to the right person by copying them. And that way, they can see, very quickly, here is the name and contact information of the person who handles that area. And we always copy each other back and forth so that we can each see the answers, as well. That makes all four of us smarter in each other’s areas.
WGT: That’s a perfect example. Tom, have you had any similar experiences in the area of FDA?
Tom Badstubner: There are some members who want to begin to produce their own Carbon Dioxide, USP or Helium, USP. These bulk medical gases are sometimes difficult to find, especially if you’re in a region that is not well-served with those products. So, we have developed a process where you can convert food grade Carbon Dioxide into medical grade Carbon Dioxide. Likewise, you can convert industrial grade Helium into medical grade Helium. The process involves validating the manufacturing (purification) and submitting the “certification” paperwork to the FDA. This FDA submission will result in a “New Drug Application” (NDA). Following the validation and certification, the drug product listing is updated with the NDA number. This then allows the GAWDA member to buy food grade Carbon Dioxide and for very little cost convert it into high value medical grade Carbon Dioxide.
WGT: That seems to be a very hot topic recently.
Tom: The legacy suppliers of medical grade carbon dioxide have already been through the process for their bulk plants. This may be an opportunity that allows you to make the medical gas yourself, control your own destiny, while lowering your cost. For example, A-Ox Welding Supply Company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, estimates that the monthly savings are at least $3,800 and the new bulk cost per pound is less than 50% of the prior cost.
WGT: Marilyn, you had talked about the acetylene cylinders earlier, but did you have another example you could share?
Marilyn: I do. Dealing with COVID we saved our members time and money finding answers and creating the business contingency plan for them. And now, business flow is opening up but there are employee issues, especially if they have long COVID. Some of those employee issues are OSHA related and some of them are labor issues. Rick and I work in tandem on those, and our collaboration has again saved the members time, money and frustration, so that they can do what they need to do to run their businesses.
Some of the other things that I’ve worked on are cylinder securement. For example, the fire marshal comes in and says, “You must secure cylinders to the wall” and I can give them documentation regarding nesting. They don’t have to search for the reference material. That saves them time and money from having to put up chains or straps and it helps keep their people safe. I’ve also worked to include air monitoring, electrical requirements in flammable areas, EPA filings and issues at customer sites.
And now that restrictions are loosening, I am able to visit member companies and perform physical audits. Because when you’re in your own home, you may not notice the safety issues; I can go in, identify issues and may even help save them money by providing efficiencies in the audit process.
WGT: You mentioned long COVID. There was a presentation at the SMC discussing an employee who was dealing with that and all the repercussions that meant for the company. A lot of the things that we dealt with this year were in areas we had never seen before, and we had to learn on the fly. Abydee used the term that you “saved the day,” referring to the Business Continuity Plan that you put together at the beginning of COVID. How different was this year, with COVID, than a typical year for all of you?
Rick Schweitzer: It was completely different than anything we have faced in our years of working with GAWDA members, because everything was changing daily, and we were dealing with an epidemic that then became a pandemic. None of us had ever dealt with that before. The laws changed, the government was trying to address this on a daily or weekly basis. And every day we would wake up and have new inquiries from members and new issues to deal with and new requirements from the government in many cases. And those, often, would vary from state to state.
So, for the first several months it was a brave new world and we just had to figure out things as we went along. Going to the particular case that you mentioned from the SMC, Marilyn and I have worked on that together for several months now. You had an employee who had family members who were sick from COVID, and then the employee got it. We had to advise on the mandatory two-week leave imposed by the government and the tax credit allowed to cover the paid leave. Then, we had to look at state laws to see if there were any additions or variations under state law. The employee had ongoing symptoms, so we had to consider when the short-term disability kicked in. And then, as the process went on, whether or not long-term disability would be appropriate. There was a question as to whether or not this was a worker’s comp claim. It turns out that it is not, because there is no proof that this was a work-related illness, which is a condition for worker’s comp.
Then, there was the question of a return to duty policy. Again, this was something that was unprecedented. Nobody had ever dealt with long-term COVID symptoms before. He had a VA doctor, who was making recommendations. We weren’t really convinced that those recommendations were reality-based. But, nevertheless, they were in writing, and it was something that the company had to consider. We also had to consider the long-term employment opportunities for this individual who wasn’t really able to work from home. They tried to accommodate him, but that wasn’t working out, so we looked at potential employment outcomes. And obviously, you want to avoid litigation as much as possible.
In essence, by having a set of consultants that knew the industry and knew the company and were willing and able to do the research on what was going on in the government, we saved them, at least until now, the possibility of being sued by a disgruntled employee and, more importantly, tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees. And that’s assuming that you could find a set of attorneys who knew all of this and would be able to respond in a timely manner.
WGT: I sat in on that presentation at the SMC. And you could tell that the presenter was frustrated by the entire situation. It seemed like you were not only able to provide your legal expertise but also having a dispassionate third party who could view the situation through fresh eyes, it almost seemed like you were the better angels in the situation and were able to stop any impulsive decisions from being made.
Rick: That’s a very good point. And that’s a service that we provide to try to give members an objective third-party’s view of a situation. And also look at the longer-term implications of something. Something might seem like a good idea today, but what would happen if you took that approach?
Marilyn: This all developed before we even knew the term “Long COVID.” It really was dynamic as we were going through.
Rick: And we don’t have perfect answers on this. We readily admit that. We’re trying to come up with the best answers that we can, today.
WGT: Throughout the presentation, you discussed the possibility of litigation somewhere down the road and wanting to be as careful as you could to avoid that possibility. I’m guessing that none of this is settled law yet. Are there any cases to draw from, yet? That is probably something that, going forward, more members are going to come across and ask you about.
Rick: Exactly. There have been several reported cases where large companies have been sued by employees or others for their alleged lack of taking reasonable care to protect employees from COVID. But there aren’t any reported cases of jury decisions or court decisions. And it will take several years, probably, before this law is settled.
WGT: It doesn’t take a whole lot of digging to figure that a couple of calls on these important topics can save members potentially a lot of money. Any last thoughts or calls to action for GAWDA members who may be reading this who haven’t made use of your services in the past? It’s a benefit that is included in GAWDA dues.
Mike: Where else can a member get access to the experience level focused on this business? It would cost them tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees. And it’s included in the price of their membership. It’s as simple as that. We bring decades worth of experience. We added up our years of service between the four of us in last issue. It’s more than 100 years of experience. We’ve been there, done that, and we’re a part of the membership, unlike an outside consultant who might not really know this industry. They get simple, concise, quick, easy to understand answers. It’s really hard to describe all of the different topics that we can help members work through. Some are extremely simple, everyday things. And others are totally off the wall and different and we just work through it together. It’s sort of like COVID. None of us had any experience in that. But we’re smart enough to go find things and look things up and help the members in that area because they can’t be focusing on that. They have their businesses to take care of.
Marilyn: I think Mike hit on it. Our experience gives us the advantage of knowing where to look for the answers so that a member doesn’t have to. They can run their business.
Tom: And also, the really large companies, the majors, and even large GAWDA members, often have the expertise and the background in house. The medium size and smaller GAWDA members, they often do not have dedicated compliance personnel.
Rick: And the savings from one incident can take care of your dues for the next 20 years.