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Surviving a Shop Inspection

Don’t wait to become a statistic. Any money spent on being proactive now is money that won’t be spent on fines later

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All body shops are subject to inspection by
state and county authorities. And knowing how to respond to an
inspection determines whether you will handle it or it will handle
you.

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What can you do? Learn how to stay ready for
inspections, what to do in the event of one and how to manage
the "hereafter."

How to Prepare

First and foremost, know what’s expected of
your shop. Shop owners spend thousands of dollars every year to
adhere to federal and state regulations that aren’t always comprehensible.
A voluntary compliance audit by an independent agency or consultant
will help you to see your shop through the eyes of an inspector
and anticipate issues that, uncorrected, could result in fines
and remediation plans.

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Secondly, record keeping is critical, and
smart shop owners make it an operational priority. Designated
personnel should know where the records are kept and how to understand
them, and you, as the owner, need to know which records you’re
required to make available to an inspector and which ones are
protected by attorney/client privilege. Identify information that
you consider to be trade secrets and be assured that all inspectors
can be asked to sign reasonable confidentiality agreements.

Appoint a member of your shop team to be the
point of contact for any inspection personnel. If an inspector
calls to schedule an inspection, or arrives unannounced, and your
designee is not available, ask the inspector what options are
available to reschedule to a time when the appropriate personnel
can be available.

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Is Your Shop a Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Look around your shop. Do you see:

  • Paint cans in your dumpster with more than an inch of paint
    in the bottom?

  • Used spraybooth filters in your dumpster or in an unmarked
    container without TCLP test results on file in the office?

  • Still bottoms waiting to be disposed of in improperly marked
    or unmarked storage containers?

  • Solvent storage containers that are improperly marked or unmarked,
    rusted, leaking or obviously a long-term resident of the shop?

  • Unkempt MSDS books or sloppy record keeping?
  • Employees who have absolutely no idea what to do in the event
    of inspection?

  • Any paint products in your inventory that would require the
    use of moonsuits?

When an Inspector Arrives

On that dreaded day when an inspector actually shows up on your
doorstep, don’t panic, slam the door in his face and run to hide
under your desk. That’s the wrong way to handle things! Instead,
ask (nicely) for the inspector’s credentials. Huddle with the
inspector and the appropriate members of your team before the
inspection begins to develop an agenda and scope. Inspectors understand
that you still have to conduct business while they’re there and
will be able to define the duration of the inspection for you.

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It’s not wise to insist that an inspector produce a warrant. It’s
easy enough for an inspector to obtain one, but alienating the
inspector is never a good idea. That inspector has an enormous
amount of influence and working with him, instead of against him,
will determine how far he’s willing to go in working with you
on any corrective actions.

Also, make sure the inspector is accompanied by designated shop
personnel at all times – preferably someone who’s familiar with
the shop’s legal rights and who’s also able to answer the inspector’s questions.

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Never lie to an inspector! Give him facts, never volunteer anything
and avoid thinking out loud during the inspection. Take notes,
pay attention to who the inspector talks to, the questions he
asks and the areas that earn his closest scrutiny. If the inspector
takes a sample, make sure you take one also. If the inspector
takes pictures, you take pictures. If you have any reason to believe
that the inspector may have uncovered any sort of criminal violation,
contact your legal counsel immediately.

Once It’s Over

When the inspection is over, hold a closing conference with the
inspector. Ask about any violations that were found, and request
a copy of the final report. All shop employees who participated
in the inspection to any degree should immediately write a memorandum
summarizing everything that took place.

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If your shop receives a Notice of Violation (NOV), contact your
shop’s environmental representative. If you feel that the listed
violations are inaccurate or unreasonable, it may also be appropriate
to contact legal counsel for assistance.

Inspectors are often willing to work with shop owners interested
in making corrective action, so contact the inspector or have
your environmental company contact the inspector. Ask questions
and make an effort; show an interest in your own survival. If
effort to make correction is demonstrated, chances are good that
the inspector will approve any extensions that are requested in
order to obtain new equipment, make changes to shop processes
or obtain test results. Making an effort has, in many past cases,
made a difference in how the whole situation was handled – up
to and including the size of the fines.

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Speaking of fines, keep in mind that state agencies have the power
to impose large fines. Each violation can cost as much as $50,000
per day or a jail sentence, or up to $250,000 per day and/or jail
time for a "knowing violation." Shop owners can be imprisoned
for failure to cooperate, failure to remediate and for consciously
choosing to manage their shop’s environmental issues in any other
than the prescribed fashion.

A Little Preparation Goes a Long Way

The time and effort a shop owner makes on his behalf will make
a world of difference in what the inspector finds when he walks
through the door. Don’t wait to become a statistic. Any money
spent on being proactive now is money that won’t be spent on fines
later.

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Writers Tara L. Munro, compliance administrator, and David
L. Hindman, president and technical consultant, are employed by
DLH Environmental, a company that provides permitting and testing
services to painting/coating professionals. To contact DLH, call
(888) 226-6040 or go to (www.dlhe.com).

It Could Happen to You

If you think it couldn’t happen to you, think again. Here are
just a few violations and resulting fines that were noted between
1995 and 1997:

  • In North Carolina, Cherokee Oil Co. president and vice president
    were each sentenced to 51 months in jail and fined $100,000 each
    after illegally disposing of used oil and various hazardous substances.
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  • R. Feldman, a Missouri shop owner, was sentenced to 37 months
    in federal prison and had to pay $1 million in fines and restitution
    for the unlawful disposal of hazardous waste – along with being
    charged with one felony count of conspiring to unlawfully transport
    and dispose of hazardous waste in violation of the Resource Conservation
    and Recovery Act.

  • In Illinois, E-Z Trail, Inc. was fined $100,400, put on five
    years probation and ordered to pay $97,112.21 in cleanup costs
    following a guilty plea to felony charges of disposing of hazardous
    wastes in violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery
    Act. The company buried approximately 40 55-gallon drums of hazardous
    solvents containing highly flammable xylene and toluene and lead-base
    paint wastes on its property between November 1991 and September
    1992 without a disposal permit.

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