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When the Inspector Calls

CFR Environmental

Business is good, orders are up, and everything seems to be going well. That is until the inspector arrives. Without notice and completely unannounced, the inspector simply arrives for a surprise visit. Either environmental or safety; local, state or federal; your company is now going to be inspected for compliance with the regulations.

You start wondering what they may uncover. Sure, you may have a program in place to address these issues, but now your program will be put to the test by a regulator that may be having a bad day. So what’s the appropriate response?Our best advice is to always be ready for an inspection, greet the inspector openly, answer all questions truthfully, and be open about the outcome.

Regulation of the environment and employee safety is mandated by law. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) officials are required to inspect companies subject to the myriad of ever changing regulations. The inspector generally has a legal right of access to a company for necessary inspections. Inspectors are required to present identification credentials to establish their authority. The inspector may review, copy or request records. Such inspections are also required to be at reasonable times. Fulfilling these legal requirements are best accomplished through cooperation between the agency and the company.

There may be instances, however, where a company is not willing to allow the inspector into the premises. For example, the individual responsible for compliance is not at the facility that day. You may be able to negotiate a return visit at a later day. If not and the situation becomes contentious, be advised that the inspector has a couple of options, neither of which will work in the favor of the company:

  • Petition an administrative law judge for a warrant authorizing entry or access to records and to conduct the inspection; or

  • Commence a lawsuit to compel compliance with a request for entry and access to records.

Often the inspector will choose the first option and return with a warrant. Upon return with the warrant, the inspector is much more likely to set an example to the company for the extra effort and contention associated with the inspection.

One recent example was an air quality inspection where the front desk receptionist had specific instructions from the owner to prohibit entry. The environmental manager (who was in the building) was never told that an inspector was in the lobby. The inspector returned the next day accompanied by a warrant and the local sheriff. Needless to say, the inspection proceeded. The environmental manager was quite upset as he had worked for years to establish a working relationship with the agency that was now jeopardized by an ill-advised policy.

CFR has been EH&S compliance experts for nearly 30 years. Contact us if you would like a second look at your compliance programs.

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