Most businesses get inspected. Whether it’s EPA, OSHA, IRS, TCEQ, the city health inspector or the fire marshal, the general principles are the same: to be as prepared as possible. I’ve represented a lot of companies during and after inspections, and I’ve seen it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. In this post, I’ll provide tips on being prepared for and properly responding to inspections.
(Note- this doesn’t necessarily apply to criminal inspections or search warrants)
- Have a plan – Your plan can be as short as a one-page sheet, but you need a plan for how to respond when the inspector arrives. Most importantly, who should the receptionist call to escort the inspector and answer questions? You need a list of contacts and phone numbers (office and cell numbers) for each type of inspector with a backup escort noted. Also, is there a conference room where the inspector can wait until the contact arrives? Chose a nice location with all the plaques the company has received for its charity work.
- Stay with the inspector at all times – You need to see what the inspector sees, so stay with the inspector at all times and note where she/he goes. Take photos when the inspector takes photos. Collect samples if the inspector takes samples. Note what questions are asked, what answers you gave, and what follow up information was promised.
- Don’t volunteer information – The inspector is not your friend. Don’t give him or her the grand tour of your plant, showing all the neat operations you have. Ask where they want to go and what they want to see, and DON’T GO ELSEWHERE. Similarly, only answer the question asked. Do not volunteer information (“Would you like to see our new incinerator, too?”). If you don’t know an answer, it’s OK to say you don’t know but will get back to the inspector (and then follow through). Also, all employees should be trained on how to respond to an inspector’s questions. In a perfect world, they should direct the question to the escort to answer. If that is not possible, they should only answer the question asked, to the extent they know the answer. Never speculate.
- Know where documents are – If an inspector asks to see your waste manifests, and you can’t find them, that’s bad. Know where the files or electronic folders are located.
- Be polite and be professional – The inspector is not your friend, but don’t be a jerk. Don’t make them get a search warrant (true story), and don’t say “my taxes pay your salary.” That never ends well. Be polite and professional, but remember Rule #2.
- Ask for an exit interview – Once the inspection is completed, ask if you can have a sit down now to discuss what the inspector found. Often, deficiencies identified during the inspection can be immediately fixed. It’s also okay to ask if the inspector expects to issue any fines.
Inspections are extremely stressful situations, but don’t panic. Have a plan in place to make it go as smooth as possible.