Stormwater Litigation Prevention: The Importance of Corrective Actions

Many facilities run into communication issues when attempting to obtain sample kits for stormwater collection, this blog discusses key steps to ensure that you and your lab have a friendly and understanding relationship from the start!

Corrective actions have somewhat of a negative connotation. But, for all the current and to any future 😉 Mapistry customers, corrective actions are a vital part of your environmental compliance program. We are going to focus on corrective actions identified during stormwater inspections for the purpose of this article, but corrective actions are a universal tool that can be utilized in many different areas of compliance

But, first….what is a corrective action?

A corrective action is an identified deficiency found during an inspection, for example an open dumpster lid. Deficiency still sounds harsh but, that open dumpster is not going to plument your stormwater program into non compliance, it is however, something that needs to be addressed to prevent pollution!

Corrective Actions are GOOD!

Corrective actions ensure things like open dumpster lids are addressed before they turn into instances of non compliance. We often see things are small as closing a dumpster lid, turn into a Notice of Violation. Which brings me to my next point, inspectors and corrective actions. Imagine your a city inspector traveling from site to site inspecting industrial stormwater compliance, and you come across a site using a fantastic software called Mapistry (shameless plug…sorry guys). You walk on site and ask for the facility’s inspection records and amazingly all inspections are neatly organized into an interactive dashboard. Not only are all inspections completed, but they have corrective actions attached!

And those corrective actions demonstrate ownership of the facility’s stormwater program (not pushed onto an outside vendor) and it also shows awareness and training, the facility person conducting the inspection actually inspected! In addition to demonstrating ownership over one of their environmental program corrective actions also demonstrate:

  • You’re not pencil whipping a report (the Mapistry software makes this pretty difficult)
  • You’re being proactive about improvements and identifying deficiencies like that open dumpster lid in real time preventing pollution (ISN’T THAT THE GOAL?)…not waiting for the consequences
  • You’re complying with your regulatory requirements (California requires monthly inspections and 5 years of records…does your facility have BOTH?)
  • Oh and corrective actions mitigate financial risk…preventing capital expenditures like treatment systems and litigation

Fixing a stormwater program may seem like a daunting task, and you might have no idea where to start! It’s a time proven method to clean up a site by implementing regular inspections (oh and they’re required by a lot of states ehem California) looking for areas of improvement. By documenting issues to address consistently, you are giving yourself a plan of attack to clean up the site and ensure compliance.

So how does this whole corrective action thing work at an industrial facility? Let’s check out the life cycle of a corrective action:

Step 1: If you are a Mapistry customer, you received an email reminder, that it’s monthly inspection time! You pull out your smartphone or tablet open the Mapistry App and start walking your facility. While walking the facility you are looking for potential pollutants or for areas you can improve on stormwater related practices. (could be sweeping, housekeeping, maintenance, spill prevention, all kinds of BMPs, basically everything the app is prompting you to inspect 😉 ) – ( Check out our blog on poking and prodding your way to a great inspection )

Step 2: As your walking the site, you notice, uh oh that pesky dumpster lid is open!! You report a deficiency in Mapistry by clicking YES, and the describe the corrective action, cover dumpster.

Step 3: You communicate what needs the corrective action is, and then you can assign the corrective action to a team member, yes it’s that simple!! ( Mapistry sends out emails to notify anyone a task is delegated to automatically to make your life a little bit easier ).

Step 4: You follow up on the timeline of when corrective action will be completed. (You’re halfway through the cycle! Now, Mapistry will send you update emails once a week listing all outstanding corrective actions and how long it’s been since they were created. Isn’t that neat? It takes some leg work and chasing around out of equation.

Step 5: Now the task has been completed! The fix has been made! It’s time to document the correction. (Go back to your original comment on what could be improved or fixed, write the date the fix was implemented on site. You can even take a picture if you’re really proud of it!)

Step 6: Repeat. Now that the circle is closed for the month, you can start all over again!

What if you manage stormwater compliance across 15+ sites?

It might appear to be an insurmountable task to monitor corrective actions across so many sites in addition to making sure the inspections are taking place in the first place!! Mapistry has a solution for that :), we call it the Anatlycis Dashboard . This dashboard compiles analytics from all your sites into one easy to understand metric, GET EXCITED. That means with just a few clicks of the mouse, you can get an immediate understanding of how your 10, 15, 20, or however many sites you have, are doing. You can check all sites as a whole, how many outstanding actions there are, down to how many outstanding actions at each facility and how long on average those actions stay outstanding prior to being closed! It provides all the data you need to find problem sites and identify high risk areas.

So how does this prevent stormwater litigation?

I’m glad you asked 😉 First, that open dumpster lid we’ve been talking about, may not cause an immediate 60 Day Notice, but keeping dumpsters covered is a best management practice (BMP). BMPs are the most common issue cited in intents to sue, 95% to be exact ! That extremely high percentage makes it that much more important to take inspections and corrective actions seriously, and understand how they work as a line of defense for you program. Closely behind BMPs for the leading cause of stormwater litigation, effluent exceedances… I probably sound like a broken record but corrective actions actually prevent pollution! That open dumpster lid could leach harmful chemicals directly into your storm drain, catapulting your facility into an elevated status but it also POLLUTANTS the environment. Corrective actions prevent effluent exceedance by ensuring things like BMPs and potential pollutant sources are being monitored for constant improvement. When you document a process of constant improvements you’re bound to look good, at least better than someone with blank inspections every month. It certainly isn’t doing any good to have all your monthly inspections without corrective actions (implying there were no deficiencies on site) then during each rainstorm, your sample results come back above benchmark levels. Second, completing inspections is half the battle. But completing inspections and demonstrating that follow up actions and prevention measures are being conducted… that is program ownership if I’ve ever heard of it! The Mapistry software in combination with hard work and vigilant staff, ensures that your program is compliant and always mitigating potential risks.

In Summary:

Ensuring compliance is a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, endeavor that requires real time insights to what’s going. If you’re like me, you probably have NEVER (ever!) walked a site without identifying at least one area that needs improvement, corrective actions are a method of communicating deficiencies and also increasing accountability to ensure solutions are achieved. Industrial activities don’t just stop onsite after you complete an inspection, so your inspections shouldn’t stop either! Documentation can be burdensome at times, however, it’s essential to understand why what you’re doing is important, use inspections and reports to your advantage to get things written up and corrected. I know we all hear it enough from the dentist, but regular cleaning is the best way to prevent problems later on. The same is true for your stormwater program! Cleaning and looking for areas that need attention then doing something about those areas will help out in the long run by preventing elevated stormwater samples, preventing equipment from breaking, or preventing lawsuits. Let’s help prevent pollution, one corrective action at a time!   

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