Site inspectors must have express or implied permission to access a site for inspection purposes. Site access permission must be obtained from the owner, operator, or person in charge before accessing a site.
Except in unusual circumstances, contacts seeking site access permission from the owner, operator, or person in charge, and inspections based on such permission, should be conducted during normal working hours. Circumstances justifying after-hours contacts or inspections would be present where the person to be contacted is unavailable during normal working hours.
To ensure personal safety and promote public relations, permission of the owner, operator, or person in charge should be obtained if possible, even when a permit condition or administrative order explicitly gives site access authority.
If site access permission is sought in person at the time of an inspection or site visit, the inspector should present appropriate credentials and describe the purpose and scope of the inspection. If verbal permission is obtained, the inspector should make a written record of the permission.
If permission is granted, the inspector must restrict inspection to those areas to which access has been authorized. If permission to inspect particular portions of the property is not explicitly denied, the failure to object implies consent, as long as the original purpose of the investigation, as stated to the person who gave permission, does not change. In no case should an inspector enter a private residence unless express permission is received.
The inspector should never attempt to force entry onto a site or area. If permission is restricted to a particular date, time period or area, these restrictions must be honored. If verbal or written permission is denied or revoked after initially being granted, the inspector should leave the area, document the conversation, and contact his or her supervisor and/or legal staff so that appropriate legal remedies can be initiated as necessary. When entry has been denied or revoked, the inspector must avoid conveying any direct or indirect threat of sanctions or punishment to a person who refuses or revokes permission to enter.
Permission to enter can’t be inferred where the person controlling the site specifically objects. However, in certain circumstances, site access permission can be inferred. The typical circumstance where permission can be inferred is where a site is accessible to the general public without trespassing. In such situations, the inspector can proceed onto the site without prior approval. The person in charge should still be sought out and told the reason and scope of the visit before proceeding with the inspection. If the person in charge does not object to the stated reason and scope of the inspection, permission is implied.
If a site is inaccessible to the general public, permission to enter can’t be inferred. Property is not generally accessible where it is protected by a fence or by posted “no trespassing” or “keep out” signs. However, if a violation is in plain view from an area off the property, the inspector may document violations without obtaining prior approval, as long as the data can be collected without trespassing. If a site is fenced and the person controlling the site is unavailable, the inspector should not attempt in any way to gain access to the property. If a site is fenced, without signs restricting access, and the gate is open, the site is still considered inaccessible to the general public. Even if the site is fenced on three or less sides, the inspector should resolve this uncertainty in favor of requesting permission.
Obtaining Inspection Warrants
When access is denied, an inspection warrant, obtained from the court of the local jurisdiction, may be necessary to obtain site access for inspection purposes. When serving an inspection warrant, or if an inspector feels that their safety may be threatened when accessing a site, it is recommended that they request a law enforcement officer to accompany them.