What to expect when an environmental officer inspects your facility
An environmental officer can enter your facility at any time under Ontario’s environmental laws. Find out what to expect, how to prepare and what tools are used to support compliance.
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Why your facility can be inspected
An environmental officer (EO) is a provincial officer who has the legal authority to enter your facility at any time to ensure compliance with Ontario’s environmental laws.
There are several reasons why an environmental officer may visit your facility:
- to evaluate compliance with environmental laws or the conditions of an environmental approval
- to conduct a routine site inspection
- in response to a complaint, or a referral from another government agency
- as part of a follow-up inspection from prior violations
- to assess a spill or environmental incident resulting from business operations
Generally, an EO will schedule the inspection in advance by consulting with you.
Sometimes, an EO may visit your facility unannounced, for example in the event of a spill or an unregulated release to the environment.
When the EO arrives at your facility they will:
- identify themselves
- ask to speak to the person in charge, or a facility operator/environmental coordinator
- explain the purpose of the inspection and any areas that may be of specific concern
Environmental officers are committed to performing their duties according to the Regulator’s Code of Practice.
- is risk-based and compliance-focused
- promotes a fair and consistent regulatory environment
- is focused on the end goal (a safe, healthy and prosperous Ontario)
During the inspection
The EO will collect information to evaluate compliance, and make notes to record details of the inspection. The EO may:
- ask to interview staff
- review records
- tour the facility
- collect samples
- take photographs
- copy documents
Depending on the purpose of the inspection, the EO will look at some or all of the following:
- facility operations
- waste management systems
- air emission discharge points
- wastewater discharges
- pollution control equipment
- water treatment and distribution systems
In addition to the facility tour and interview, the EO has authority to access and copy relevant records, such as:
- process or equipment information
- operation log books
- equipment maintenance records
- environmental reports
- analytical results or records for
- drinking water
- air emissions
- wastewater discharges
- other environmental data required to be held by your facility
Inspection video and resources
Knowing what to expect before, during and after an environmental inspection helps you be better prepared for a site visit by an Environmental Officer (EO).
- It takes a close look at the wastewater and sewage works onsite.
- It shows what happens during an inspection, what will be examined, and what records and information will be reviewed.
Other resources to promote sustainable water management
- waterandwine.ca – a practical online platform designed to meet the water needs of Ontario winemakers
- waterandbeer.ca – a practical online platform designed to meet the water needs of craft brewers
- BLOOM – resources and videos
- Starting a winery in Ontario
Tips to prepare for the inspection
Know all aspects of your facility’s operation. For example, know where all the drains discharge.
Know what approvals and permits your business has or requires.
Keep your environmental records organized and readily accessible. This will keep inspection time to a minimum.
Know what consultants are doing on your behalf.
Provide accurate answers and information to the EO. If you do not know the answer, either:
- obtain the answer from someone who can respond
- tell the EO when and how you will get an answer
If you have any questions or if something is not clear, ask the EO for clarification at any time during the inspection. Also, be sure to inform the EO of your site safety procedures.
Check your facility’s compliance
Complete a self-assessment of your facility to ensure you are operating in compliance with environmental laws:
A self-assessment can help you identify ways to:
- improve your facility’s compliance
- improve resource management
- reduce pollution
- reduce operating costs
Ontario’s environmental laws
If you operate a business in the province, environmental officers can visit your facility at any time to monitor compliance with Ontario’s environmental laws, such as:
- Environmental Protection Act (EPA)
- Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA)
- Pesticides Act
- Environmental Assessment Act
- Safe Drinking Water Act
- Nutrient Management Act
Rules and requirements
Find out about the different types of environmental approvals you may need and how to apply for each:
- Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA)
- Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR)
- Renewable Energy Approval (REA)
- Search for environmental approvals in your community using the map-based search tool Access Environment
Your activity may also be subject to requirements under other programs and services administered by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change:
- Environmental assessments
- Brownfields property redevelopment
- Drinking water systems or wells on your property
- Permits to take water
Know the rules for:
- air quality and pollution
- managing wastes
- managing, storing or transporting hazardous wastes
- operating a greenhouse
- nutrient management on farms
- treating industrial wastewater
You are encouraged to contact your local district or area office of the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) as a first step to discuss what permissions may apply to your operations.
After the inspection
After the inspection, the EO will meet with you to review the observations and request clarification, if needed. The EO will also tell you if more information is required and will arrange with you how that information will be provided.
The EO will tell you about any non-compliance and explain the next steps to be taken.
Sometimes it takes several days to complete a final compliance evaluation. The EO will advise when to expect a report.
Tools to support compliance
If your facility’s operation complies with environmental legislation, the EO will take no action unless pollution prevention measures are necessary.
Every non-compliance situation will be promptly evaluated to determine whether it constitutes:
- a known or anticipated human health or environmental impact (e.g. emergency or spill)
- a potential, uncertain environmental hazard
If an emergency or spill poses an immediate danger to human health or to the environment such that immediate action is warranted – the EO may force action, including curtailing or stopping a company’s operations. Report a spill.
If the EO believes there is an environmental impact or an immediate danger to human health or to the environment – but the nature of the problem is uncertain (e.g. buried hazardous wastes) the EO may require you to take action to identify the nature and extent of the problem.
In other non-compliance situations, you could receive a verbal or written request to correct the situation within a certain time period. This is known as an abatement program. Such requests are typically used for minor issues.
Part 1 - Ticket
Some non-compliance may warrant a ticket under Part I of the Provincial Offences Act. These are similar to speeding tickets and have pre-set fines.
Provincial Officer Order
The EO may issue a Provincial Officer Order to deal with serious non-compliance. An Order is a legal document that sets out obligations for a specific person or persons in relation to a specific operation.
If the EO believes there is serious non-compliance, the matter may be referred to the ministry’s Investigations and Enforcement Branch (IEB) for investigation and potential prosecution:
- if the IEB lays charges, then you will receive a Part III Information and Summons under the Provincial Offences Act
- the penalties that may be imposed upon conviction are more severe than those under a Part I ticket