Money, sex, and health issues.
Few topics are more private.
Those who divulge to the media, information about their finances, sexual history or health problems usually want to gain notoriety.
For facilities, environmental compliance issues hold the same rank of privacy as topics related to money, sex, and personal health.
Often, when compliance issues are revealed during agency inspections, people don’t know the consequences of telling too much.
Let’s talk about the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) inspection process and when volunteering information could be an issue so that you know when to avoid it, and more importantly, why.
The SCAQMD inspection process
The SCAQMD conducts inspections in order to ensure that facilities are complying with:
- Air quality rules and regulations
- Air quality policies
- California state law
In general, since each facility type is unique, each facility inspection is also unique; however, the inspection process usually undergoes the same three phases:
- Post Inspection
Typically, when your facility is going to be inspected, the inspector will show up unannounced.
There are many reasons for this, but mostly it’s to observe how the facility routinely operates rather than how it operates after it’s been prepared to present its best self.
Some of the reasons for an inspection are:
- To conduct a routine inspection
- To address nuisance complaints regarding odors or dust
- To help with part of a larger investigation
Before the inspection begins, the inspector will almost always conduct a pre-inspection meeting.
During this meeting, the following will likely occur:
- The inspector will introduce him or herself
- The inspector will explain why your facility is being inspected
- The inspector will brief you on what will take place during the inspection
- The inspector will ask you to consent to the inspection, at which point you should generally give your consent to avoid causing problems
- You will be asked to give a brief overview of your operation
- You will be asked to introduce the members of your team, if applicable
Regulatory agencies are given the authority to inspect facilities under various legislative acts, and SCAQMD Rule 105 authorizes the agency to arrest individuals in certain cases.
Therefore, inspections shouldn’t be taken lightly, and volunteering information, especially that which is sensitive in relation to compliance issues, can have significant consequences.
Communication and documentation during the pre-inspection meeting
During the pre-inspection, the inspector will typically provide you with a list of documents that he or she may want to review, a list of equipment that he or she may want to see in the field, and questions for you to answer.
During each phase of the inspection, you should take good notes for your records.
Whatever the reason for the inspection, you’ll want to be sure that the pre-inspection meeting creates clear objectives for the inspection; in other words, “plan the work and work the plan.”
The inspection process itself
During the inspection, the inspector will want to enter the facility and see the listed equipment that was discussed during the pre-inspection meeting.
You should escort the inspector throughout the entire field inspection, and you should let the facility workers know that an inspection is in progress.
What to do with questions not addressed in the pre-inspection meeting
It’s inevitable that once the inspector is in the facility, he or she will ask questions about processes and items that were not discussed in the pre-inspection meeting.
For such questions, you want to be truthful, but you don’t want to provide any more information than is necessary; don’t volunteer information.
While you want to build rapport, don’t get too comfortable. There’s no need to tell the inspector everything about the day-to-day occurrences of the facility.
For example, if you aren’t specifically asked, don’t mention that the air pollution control device broke down last week, and you forgot to call it in under SCAQMD Rule 430.
These kinds of disclosures are likely to raise red flags about the operation of your facility, and you can never know what the inspector may do with the information that you volunteer.
The inspector could come back with his or her supervisor to do an investigation, or worse, the information that you volunteer could turn into an inter-agency or joint inspection and a subsequent lawsuit.
In the event that you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to say, “I need to get back to you on that.”
You should not speculate on any information that you don’t have first-hand knowledge about.
If you tell the inspector you’ll provide the answer later, be sure that you actually do.
Most importantly, you or another person should take notes during the inspection, which should include these questions and responses.
Inspector observations and data collection
During the field inspection, the inspector will make observations about the equipment and work practices in order to determine if the equipment is in compliance with the rules.
The inspector may find that something doesn’t look right or doesn’t meet the requirements of a particular rule, in which case, you should fix the problem.
An inspector may want to take pictures. If that’s in line with your company’s policy, be sure to get a copy of each photo.
Whenever possible, offer to take the pictures yourself and email them to the inspector at the end of the day.
In some cases, the inspector may want to collect a sample to be analyzed by the laboratory. If this occurs, get a split sample and have it analyzed the same way the inspector is having it done.
Inspections can be stressful, and people don’t always fully agree with their inspector.
The important point to remember is that you need to have a good working relationship with your inspector.
Don’t argue with him or her, as that will make things more complicated for everyone.
At the end of the field inspection, the inspector will typically return to your office and conduct a post-inspection meeting.
In this meeting, the inspector will review the findings with you and potentially ask for you to submit more information based on what was observed in the field.
To the extent that’s possible, be sure that all of your correspondence with the inspector is in writing.
Often, a notice of violation (NOV) is not issued right on the spot, unless it is for something egregious.
If there are violations that were observed in the field, be sure to ask for regulatory references.
More often than not, the NOV is issued after a detailed review of the records, data and observations from the field visit.
Before the meeting is over, be sure to confirm all of the action items by both parties, including any items that were fixed while the inspector was onsite.
When the field inspection is done, ask to get a copy of the written inspection report as well as a list of any additional data items that may be needed for the inspections.
Key Takeaways from an SCAQMD inspection
Inspections are routine events to ensure that facilities are complying with the rules and regulations of the SCAQMD.
If you want the process to go as smoothly as possible, remember the following points during an inspection:
- Set objectives during the pre-inspection meeting along with clear expectations of what is needed to be looked at and what data is needed.
- The inspector will have questions. Answer them truthfully but directly.
- Do not volunteer information that has not been asked by the inspector.
Your goal is to maintain a balance between developing a positive relationship with your inspector and protecting your facility’s private operational information.
Assisting with SCAQMD compliance inspections and audits is one way that we help you minimize the chances for an air quality violation and we can help you as well.
Contact us to stay on the right path to compliance.
Let’s take this over to you
Do you know of a colleague who is new to the process of agency inspections?
If so, please share this article with them so they don’t accidentally reveal any sensitive business information during their next agency inspection.
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