The RMP regulations include a somewhat unusual provision – the use of audits, in addition to inspections, to determine if a facility’s RMP is in compliance with requirements. In both audits and inspections, EPA or an authorized state will often conduct the same type of review to verify the adequacy of the facility’s RMP.
But audits and inspections differ in important ways that facility owners and operators should be aware of.
RMP Audits. An audit is the process implementing agencies use to verify the quality of the RMP submitted to EPA.
Under 40 CFR part 68.220, agencies must apply seven specific criteria to the selection of facilities for audits: accident history of the facility, accident history of other facilities in the same industry, quantify of regulated substances on site, proximity of the facility to the public and environmental receptors, presence of specific regulated substances, hazards identified in the RMP, and a plan providing for neutral, random oversight. Audits generally involve on-site verification.
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Should the audit result in the implementing agency finding that elements of the RMP are deficient, the agency may issue the owner/operator a written preliminary determination of necessary revisions. Within 90 days of issuance of the preliminary determination, the O/O must respond, stating that the revisions will be implemented or explaining why they will not be.
The agency then issues a final determination specifying the required revisions, an explanation for each, and an implementation schedule. The O/O will be in violation of the RMP requirements if any specified revision is incomplete 30 days after the deadline in the schedule.
The important point is that an audit that uncovers non-compliance with the RMP regulations will not immediately result in a notice of violation. Only when directions in the final determination are not carried out as required will a violation occur.
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RMP Inspections. In contrast to audits, facilities are not necessarily selected for inspection based on the part 68.220 criteria. The inspection involves both off-site and on-site activities. Off-site activities might include determining that the rule applies to the facility, that the facility placed itself in the correct RMP level, and that the facility submitted a complete and correct RMP. Also in contrast to audits, RMP inspections always involve on-site verification activities. On-site activities might include verification of documentation; interviews with facility managers, employees, and employee representatives; and observations of ongoing process operations or maintenance activities.
Following an inspection, a facility may be required to update procedures, re-train workers in those new procedures, and submit a revised RMP. Inspections may also result in a variety of enforcement actions and penalties. In other words, unlike with an audit, the facility may not have the opportunity to revise a deficient RMP before a notice of violation is issued.
Audits and inspections are not mutually exclusive. Many times, a combination of activities may be used to achieve results. For example, an agency might investigate a chemical accident. While the investigation may determine a root cause, a chemical safety audit may confirm that procedures are being used to reduce the risk of future accidents. Additionally, the agency may also perform an inspection to evaluate compliance with the RMP requirements.