J. J. Keller: Regulatory/compliance by the Book

By Shaw, Webb | Information Today, March 2008 | Go to article overview

J. J. Keller: Regulatory/compliance by the Book


Shaw, Webb, Information Today


On Jan. 14, 2001, in the waning days of the Clinton administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) ergonomics program standard went into effect. Regulatory/compliance publishers savored the prospect of a new regulation that affected almost every industry. Based on the new rule, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. (www.jjkeller.com) had a new manual and training kit to sell and new chapters to add in two best-selling manuals.

But political tides would soon prove Yogi Berra right: "It ain't over till it's over."

Gaining control of the White House as well as Congress on Jan. 20, 2001, Republican lawmakers chose to make ergonomics an example of their determination to reduce regulatory impact on business. On March 20, 2001, President Bush signed a resolution of disapproval (the first successful use of the Congressional Review Act of 1996) rescinding the ergonomics standard.

At J. J. Keller, we scrambled to retool and reposition affected products as "best practice." Ergonomics had been demoted from "must do" to "should do" and was not as easy to sell. The experience is an example of why regulatory/compliance publishers can't rely on regulatory activity to fuel growth.

At OSHA, the regulatory lull has continued, with the agency taking a business partnership approach. Fortunately for regulatory/ compliance publishers, other federal and state agencies have been active during the past 7 years in our other major markets (human resources, heavy-duty trucking, and hazardous materials).

Where's the Need?

Regulations have the reputation of being arcane, convoluted, and boring. So how could anyone derive a sense of need from this most bureaucratic of content? The answer is risk. By not understanding which regulations apply to his or her company and how to comply with them, a person in a position of responsibility risks fines, court penalties, lawsuits, business shutdowns, and all the bad press that goes along with a spectacular accident or lawsuit.

Consider the case of a Texas City, Texas, oil refinery where a 2005 explosion killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others. If approved by a federal judge, a plea deal will result in a $50 million fine (the largest ever for violating the Clean Air Act) and a felony conviction with 3 years' probation. The company has spent more than $1.6 billion to settle civil claims.

Many more examples from other regulatory fields are less vivid but damaging nonetheless.

In a broad view of "compliance," staying in line with nonfinancial regulatory requirements also could affect corporate compliance under Sarbanes-Oxley. In that context, compliance means senior managers at public companies must report events, risks, and other issues that can significantly influence profitability. Processes must be in place to ensure such issues are monitored and that this information moves up to top executives. In examples like the Texas refinery, that would include compliance with regulations where failure to comply could damage financial performance or even halt company operations.

Competitive Collage

Regulatory content's imperative nature attracts a large number of competitive publishers. …

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