The Risks of Ignoring Environmental Records during Malfunction Events

by | Sep 11, 2012

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It’s no secret that one of the most important methods of keeping your business in compliance with regulations is to keep regular and detailed records about all your environmental aspects, including equipment parameters and production records. What many managers don’t know is that these environmental records become even more important during those periods when your compliance is most at risk: shutdown, startup and malfunction (SSM) events.

When a piece of equipment suddenly starts to malfunction, or when your air emissions begin to bypass your control equipment, the last thing on your mind might be to endure taking regular readings from you monitoring equipment and environmental management system. During an SSM event you’re more likely to prioritize finding a solution to the problem as quickly as possible and performing maintenance to correct the issues at hand.

But one of the wisest things you can do for yourself in any SSM event is to start taking more frequent environmental readings and dedicating a regulatory specialist to managing your compliance records throughout the entire SSM period. These records can turn out to be a life-saver after the malfunction has been addressed when it’s time to submit an affirmative defense to protect yourself from (or at least minimize) noncompliance fines.

This data is so crucial to capture because if you didn’t collect the data during the event, it can’t be recaptured and since the burden of proof lies with you, this may result in penalties.

To clarify how EPA’s affirmative defense works, it’s a malfunction report designed to protect responsible manufacturers from paying civil penalties related to air emissions and permit noncompliance due to unpreventable and unpredictable malfunctions. Under certain conditions a period of malfunction may not cost you anything if events are deemed by your regulators to be out of your control – but the burden of proof falls squarely on the shoulders of your compliance specialists.

They will need comprehensive environmental records to convince your regulators that you did everything required within an acceptable time period.

Identifying Malfunctions with Environmental Records

Pinpointing when and where a malfunction event occurs is a difficult task without detailed environmental records. This includes operational data from any sort of control equipment, which is one of the most common sources of unanticipated malfunction. Having a continuous monitoring system in place is a sound idea, even if it isn’t required by your permits. In fact, continuously monitoring control equipment parameters is the best preventative measure.

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