The Right Way to Handle Permits at Your Facility


Every facility needs permits – some more than others. That’s not news.

But your job is not done when you simply obtain your permit. And that’s where we’ve seen many facilities fall out of compliance – an outcome that could have been easily avoided if they had taken a few easy, necessary steps.

Let’s get into more detail to make sure you stay on the good side of regulators.Step 1: Read the permit conditions.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many ignore this step… or simply don’t know it’s something they must do.

Yes, every permit comes with certain tasks you must do and things you must keep track of to stay in compliance. It could be recording how much material is used in a certain process each month, or measuring how much fuel you’re burning in your boilers.

(This is a key part of maintaining detailed documentation of all aspects of your facility, something I detailed in a previous article.)

Following Permit Conditions

Many facility managers have the attitude of, “I got my permit. I’m all set until renewal time.” They’re partly right. Yes, it’s key to have the proper permits, but there is always a next step.

For example, these folks are surprised when they don’t submit a required report, and then get a notice in the mail from regulators informing them they are in violation of their permit.

It’s not as if this was in fine print. It’s in the permit conditions.

Always read those as soon as you get your permit and develop a plan for following them. Even better, know what the conditions are as early as possible in the application process so you can have everything in place.

I get it. Permits can be six, 10, 20, 30 pages or more in length. And the larger the facility and the more manufacturing you have going on, the longer the permits and the more you have to keep track of.

But it must be done.

Proper Data Collection to Save Time and Money

Many permit conditions outline a requirement to collect certain data related to say, a manufacturing process.

But we’ve found that some facility managers have not read the detailed conditions and end up collecting far more data points than they need. The intention is good – collecting information to stay in compliance. But by collecting too much data – data that isn’t needed or required by the permit – they get bogged down in the process. Not to mention they spend time and money they didn’t need to.

We had a client – a cosmetics manufacturer. Their product had 80 – 85 ingredients. They were keeping track of all of them, thinking that’s what they needed to do to stay in compliance.

But we told them the permit conditions required that they only keep track of the amount of alcohol-based materials they used in the manufacturing process. That’s lost time and money. The problem here:  they had never read the permit conditions.

Confused by Your Permit Conditions? Get Help

I sympathize with facility managers. As I mentioned, permits can be huge, complicated documents.

A condition might read that you need to track all compounds in your manufacturing process that appear in Tables A, B, C in Regulation Such-and-Such. The compounds aren’t listed directly in the permit… so where do you find those tables?

It might seem like a tedious process to track down the information. But besides being a necessary part of your job, it’s actually pretty easy and there is help available.

With the cosmetics manufacturer, we reviewed their permit conditions with them. Then we showed them on the regulator’s own website where to find those tables. The only compound listed was alcohol.

Regulator websites are a fantastic resource. They’re designed to help you stay in compliance. They’re comprehensive and constantly updated with letters of interpretation and guidance documents that distill the complex information to help you understand regulations.

If you’re trying to determine if your facility needs a stormwater permit, download the guidance document. It tells you what you must do to stay in compliance step-by-step in a simple “cookbook/recipe” format.

OSHA is a regulator people love to complain about. But they have thousands of articles and documents to help you comply with regulations. I am a big fan of the list of top 10 violations they publish every year, for example. For more a more in depth look at these violations, click here to view the list in detail.

These are publicly funded websites designed to help you. Use them. As a consultant, this is always our first step.

If you still can’t find what you’re looking for… get in touch. Don’t be afraid to email or call the relevant regulator.

Believe it or not, but most regulators aren’t as interested in penalizing as they are in helping people comply. But if it makes you feel better, when you call, you don’t have to give your name or mention your company. You can ask a “general” question.

One statement of caution: The Internet remembers everything. Nothing is ever totally deleted. So, when searching for regulations, make sure you have the most recent version and the one that pertains to your facility.

Stay Up to Date

A permit has to reflect what’s going on at your facility at any given time. And it’s the facility manager’s job to make certain of it. Again, closely examining your permit conditions comes into play.

Whenever there is a change at your facility in any fashion, say you remove a production line or add a new one, you have to evaluate that action to see if it’s still covered by your permit. If not, you might need to get a new one or seek a permit modification. You must do so in a timely manner.

In general, permits are good for five years. There can be lots of changes at the average facility over that length of time, so you must know, based on permit conditions, what’s covered and what’s not.

Permits and Planning

Permitting is often an afterthought in a capital improvement project. But that leads to project delays and compliance issues.

That new production line? Look at the need for a new permit or an existing permit modification at the beginning of the planning process for that construction.

You don’t want to find out you can’t get up and running after it’s built and executives are about to cut the ribbon on that new piece of equipment.

It can take months to get a permit modification or a new permit. So act quickly.

This goes back to the Communication aspect of the Four Core Requirements to keep your facility running smoothly, including Facility Knowledge, Property History, and Documentation.

The better communicator you are, the more people will want to work with you and keep you in the loop about things like a capital project. You’ll get involved early so you can figure out the permitting needs early.

To get more details on Communication and the other three Core Requirements, you can check out this free checklist designed to help them stay top of mind in your day-to-day work routine.

Next Steps

Review the points above and then start examining your permits closely. Have you unknowingly fallen out of line?

If so, put together a plan to get back in compliance. And remember, your regulator has plenty of helpful resources if you need them.

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