How To Survive A RCRA Hazardous Waste Inspection

The door to your offices open and in walks a government inspector informing you that she would like to perform an RCRA hazardous waste inspection.

For the unprepared this is the “Oh !@#$ moment.”

Do we have our paperwork in order?

Are our storage areas clean and in good repair?

Did we ship out our hazardous waste within the acceptable time frame?

rcra-hazardous-waste-inspectionBusinesses that handle hazardous waste streams need to be particularly concerned if they have not maintained compliance with their hazardous waste generator requirements. 

In California, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is the state agency that is tasked with regulating the generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA).

As part of their agency mandate they monitor compliance with State and Federal hazardous waste requirements by conducting facilities inspections.

To help you develop a comprehensive standard operating procedure (SOP) for RCRA hazardous waste inspections conducted by DTSC, we’ve laid out the crucial inspection elements: site readiness, procedures for handling the administrative audit and the physical inspection of the premises, how to conduct a post-inspection consultation, and appropriate responses to enforcement actions.


Inspections Without Notice 

The most common inspection is the Compliance Evaluation Inspection (CEI). This is a rigorous inspection that checks all aspects of a facility’s hazardous waste operations. With all but a few exceptions, NO PRIOR NOTICE IS GIVEN TO A FACILITY PRIOR TO AN INSPECTION.  

This means that inspectors will show up at a facility, identify themselves as DTSC inspectors, present their agency credentials and ask for the person in charge of maintaining the facility’s hazardous waste compliance program. 

Even though you should be aware that an inspection is probable as a hazardous waste generator, you probably won't be expecting an inspector when they knock on the door.

The steps of a normal hazardous waste or other EPA inspection include:

  • An opening meeting for introductions and setting the parameters for the inspection
  • A request for records for review
  • A site inspection
  • A closing meeting to discuss findings, violations and orders of correction

As a hazardous waste generator, it is crucial to have a DTSC inspection protocol. Your plan should identify the company representatives responsible for handling regulatory inspections.

Your reception staff must be familiar with procedures for verifying the inspector's credentials and addressing security measures. It is also a good practice to have additional personal protective equipment for all visitors, and it should be offered to the inspector prior to entering your facility.

The Inspection 

As previously discussed, there are 4 general steps to a DTSC inspection including the introduction. The introduction is where the guidelines for the visit are established. Once this formality is completed, the focus of the inspection will begin.

Records Review

Prior to a visit, make sure that your records are stored in a location that is easily accessible, your records are in good order, and your staff is properly trained on the different types of records required.

It is important that someone in your company has ownership on keeping the records up to date and that all of your training and shipping records are in order.

The inspector will likely review the following items:

  • Waste Identification
  • Disposal Records
  • Biennial Report
  • Hazardous Waste Manifests
  • Hazardous Waste Contingency Plan
  • Employee Training Records

Site Inspection

It’s vital that you remain calm, cool and collected during this process.  This is probably the most stressful part of the process. Maintain a professional demeanor during the process.

Respond promptly and truthfully to any questions of you posed by the inspector. Good two-way communication is paramount. Ask for clarification and regulatory references to any question that you do not understand, and most importantly resist any urge to point out things on the inspection.  This can only lead you to unwanted consequences.

A good practice is for an employee to take notes and make sure to document anything that the inspector notes in the walk-through.

For example, if the inspector takes a picture of a piece of equipment, a container, or a hazardous waste storage area, make sure you document it by taking a picture of the same area.

 This way, you know your records are in line with what the inspector is bringing back to his or her office.

Post-inspection Consultation

Once the site inspection is completed, a de-briefing takes place during which the inspector will ask any final questions, provide additional information, and review preliminary findings.

During this stage of the meeting, you might agree on several immediate corrective actions and firm up follow-up steps. The inspector can help you understand the enforcement and compliance process.

A report that may include time-sensitive formal and informal requirements will follow shortly after the initial inspection is completed.

By knowing what to expect when a State or Federal inspector arrives at your site, you will be well prepared to handle the meeting.

Use the process above to make sure everyone at your site is trained properly and understands their responsibilities during inspections and what to do when an inspector arrives.


DTSC Authority 

These inspections are not to be taken lightly. The California Health and Safety Code section 25185 provides the DTSC with the authority to conduct inspections.  As part of these inspections they are allowed to conduct sampling activities, inspect and copy documents, and take photographs at sites or establishments where hazardous wastes are stored, handled, processed, treated, or disposed.

Hazardous waste inspections can happen any time and knowing what to expect is crucial to make sure a knock at your door doesn't send your blood pressure and heart rate through the roof, and have you scrambling at the last second.

 It is DTSC policy that they will conduct inspections and write inspection reports as part of their duties. 

The DTSC is granted the broadest authority of any branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency.  DTSC inspectors are responsible for identifying and documenting all violations at a facility during an inspection, and if they discover violations they have authority to initiate enforcement actions on the spot.


Are You Prepared? 

Preparation begins with an understanding of your facilities hazardous waste generator status, and the requirements associated with your status.

For most companies it is wise to bring in a licensed and qualified company that specializes in handling the hazardous waste that your facility generates.  It is extremely important for organizations to evaluate their waste handling and disposal procedures prior to an inspection. 

Inspections can be triggered in a number of ways including a disgruntled customer or former employee complaints. For more information on DTSC inspections please download a copy of their “Policy for Conducting Inspections” guide

If you are not prepared a DTSC inspection can be one of the most expensive business lessons you will ever learn. 


Featured Image Credit: Photo by BSEEGOV | PD

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