If you are new to environmental management, or even if you are not, the most challenging time may be when the front gate guard or the receptionist calls to say, "the USEPA (or state equivalent) inspector is here and wants immediate access." Your first thought may be "what have we done wrong" or "are we ready for an inspection?" The good news is that you or your facility have usually not done anything wrong. The bad news is that it is too late to do anything about getting ready. Be a good Scout - be prepared!
Under every environmental statute of which I am aware, there is a right to conduct administrative inspections of regulated facilities and records at almost any time.1 Every environmental permit of which I am aware requires that the facility give unimpeded access to inspectors to view the regulated facility and to inspect the records that the permit requires be kept. While there is arguably a right to insist on an administrative warrant, they are routinely granted with no more showing than the fact that it is a regulated or permitted facility. Yes, you will have to let the inspectors in the door and show them what they want to see.
The most important part of the inspection may well be the "paper inspection." So, in addition to the obvious requirement to be in compliance with substantive requirements of environmental, health and safety laws, regulations and permits, having the paperwork in order is critical. For the person with EHS responsibility, it may be the one thing for which he or she is directly and solely responsible. What to do? Be prepared! Have the paperwork not only done but readily accessible in a convenient location. That is:
The clean original permits should be in separate, easily accessible files so that they can be produced for the inspector without delay or fuss.
Clean copies of the complete permit applications should be kept in the same location. Most permits incorporate the permit application or its conditions by reference.
Records required by the permits should also be kept in separate, readily producible files. To the extent that originals do not have to be kept at the point of production or operation, the originals should be in the EHS manager's files and readily produced. This includes copies of all required reports that have been submitted to the agencies.
Copies of all other critical documents and correspondence should also be readily available. This would include such things as letters to and from regulators that explain any requirements, letters stating that permits are not required or that certain rules do not apply; letters stating that explanations for apparent violations have been accepted, violations have been corrected or that compliance steps have been approved.