Is Your Facility Prepared for a Compliance Inspection?

January 7th, 2012

It’s already 2012 and now is a great time to review your facility’s environmental, health & safety compliance standing.   You should be aware of your ability to withstand an inspection from OSHA or EPA this year.   Typically, an inspector will assess the effectiveness of your facility’s environmental and safety programs by asking EHS, operations, and maintenance staff to answer a series of general questions.   Once they start getting inconsistent, or a lot of  ”I don’t know”  answers they know they have a ‘live on on the hook’!   It’s only a matter of time before they reel you in.   You need to stay ahead of the game.

Here’s how you can make the inspection of your facility go as smoothly as possible:

Tips for a Smooth Inspection

  • Cooperate - The most important advice to follow during an inspection is to cooperate with the inspector.   The inspector may equate noncooperation with regulatory noncompliance.

  • Accompany the inspector - The facility owner, operator, or workplace supervisor should accompany the inspector during the inspection to take notes on the inspector’s comments. When accompanying the inspector, pay particular attention to questions that the inspector asks you or employees about workplace health and safety or waste management practices.
  • Correct errors - It is also important, if possible or if requested by the inspector, to correct regulatory problems, such as a malfunctioning chemical-treatment-process machine or a minor spill, during the inspection.
  • Duplicate samples and records - Should the inspector take samples; you should take a samples the same time so that you have nearly identical samples.  Ask the inspector what test or analysis the sample will undergo and have the same test or analysis conducted independently on your sample for your own records.

Should the inspector request copies of corporate records, either make the copies then, or if the request requires a substantial amount of copying, agree to a schedule to provide them to the inspector.   Keep a copy of everything you provide to the inspector.   The inspector may also take pictures of relevant plant equipment or processes.   You should take the same pictures from the same angle.

Are you ready to answer these questions?

  • How are EHS regulatory requirements determined and communicated?
  • How is compliance monitored?
  • What is the effectiveness of the internal communication systems, particularly under spill or release scenarios? Accidents and Injuries?
  • What is the existence and completeness of detailed process flow charts and mass balances?
  • How is noncompliance communicated to management?  What is the follow up?
  • Is environmental and safety compliance a factor in job performance evaluations for front line Supervisors?  Employees?  How about Management?
  • What is the existence and scope of an environmental and safety training programs?
  • What are the existence, scope, and maturity of the facility’s EHS management systems?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  You don’t have to go through this alone!  There are a lot of valuable resources available to you on the web.   OSHA and EPA both have good resources on their websites; contact other professionals through social media such as LinkedIn Groups.  You can also contract with a professional consultant, or contact your state’s Department of Labor; many have assistance programs that can get you on the right track.   Most important though, talk to your senior management and get them to understand the importance of EHS, both from a regulatory compliance standpoint and more importantly from a good business perspective.  Be prepared to make 2012 a great year!