Tips for a Surprise Regulatory Inspection

Author: Scott D. Nostrand, P.E.

Regulatory programs that have been subject to inspections in New York in recent years include, but are not limited to:

  • Air Compliance – Title V and State Facility Permitting
  • PBS – Petroleum Bulk Storage
  • CBS – Chemical Bulk Storage
  • Oil Pollution Prevention – Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans
  • RCRA – Hazardous Waste
  • SPDES – Stormwater and Industrial
  • EPCRA - Community Right to Know; MSDS

When your front office receives a phone call announcing an upcoming regulatory visit, or someone walks through the front door for an unannounced inspection, there are several things to keep in mind that will help in obtaining a satisfactory inspection. The following tips can help make an inspection a less stressful time:

  • Be Polite and Cooperative (the State and/or Federal Inspector has the legal authority to visit your facility)
  • Be Knowledgeable (Ask what they are there to inspect, and what areas are not within their inspection mandate)
  • Be Responsible (Know who at your facility has technical responsibility for the regulatory program that the inspector is reviewing, and provide access to that person if possible)
  • Be Truthful (Answer their questions with honesty, and if you do not know, say so)
  • Be Organized (Know the location of hard copy and online documents (e.g. Spill Plans, Permits, Inspection Forms and Records). The easier you can make the inspectors job, the better the outcome usually is)
  • Be Accepting (Even a well managed facility will likely obtain some demerits. It is very difficult to maintain 100% compliance, although that should be your goal).
  • Be Smarter (Learn from the inspection results, and decide how to improve your compliance performance for the future).

Regulatory Agencies use inspections as a compliance tool, to ascertain the regulated communities’ compliance status, and as an educational process. Yes, sometimes an inspection results in Notice of Violations, Fines and Consent Orders, but a well managed facility, with knowledgeable staff that have learned the regulatory programs can avoid such enforcement penalties. A polite and organized staff can make the inspectors visit smooth, and minimize an air of distrust.

If the thought of an inspection is disconcerting, and you are not sure who you would have meet with the inspectors, or if you question your level of compliance in the different regulatory programs, you may want to consider conducting a limited or full-scale regulatory compliance audit. An audit is conducted by professionals that you engage, on your time, in order to review and check your compliance status. An audit will result in a corrective action plan, to help you bring your environmental programs into compliance, so that when a regulatory inspector comes to visit, you can show them your facility and operation with pride and confidence that no major concerns are present.

While an inspection is not a common day event, they do and will happen, and the next knock could be at your door.

Barton & Loguidice provides environmental consulting in all major regulatory programs for clients throughout New York and other States.