The Victorian State Government’s Environment Protection Act 2017 gave the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) new powers for protecting human health and the environment. As part of the update, the EPA now takes a proactive approach to protect against pollution or waste. This also means changes to the way that certain businesses operate.
Under the new laws, businesses need to perform risk-based assessments for any activities that may pose a threat of harm to human health or the health of the Earth. The goal is to prevent health disasters from occurring in the first place. Here is a closer look at Victoria’s new environment protection laws and how they apply to businesses.
What Is the Environment Protection Act?
The Environment Protection Act 2017 is an amendment that dramatically overhauls the existing Environment Protection Act 1970. The updates went into effect on July 1st, 2021. At this point, businesses involved in potentially hazardous activities should have the proper environmental management systems in place.
Previous laws have attempted to reduce the impact of harmful materials. For example, the government banned the use of asbestos decades ago. Asbestos was used in one in three Australian buildings before the ban.
Unfortunately, modern industries continue to use and produce potentially harmful materials and by-products. The new laws are designed to help reduce the impact of environmental hazards, such as:
- Air pollution
- Industrial waste
- Contaminated land
- Chemical hazards
To help minimise the effects of these hazards, the EPA introduced the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018. The act granted the EPA new powers, including the ability of an environmental regulator to penalise businesses that fail to comply with the new laws. You may face fines and/or jail time for violating the laws.
At the heart of the new environmental protection legislation is the General Environmental Duty (GED). The GED is comparable to the duty of employers under the Occupational Health & Safety Act. Employers must provide and maintain a reasonably safe work environment.
As with the OHS Act, the environment protection laws require businesses to assess risks and develop specific risk management plans. You need to identify potential environmental risks and then implement steps to minimise those risks.
Who Needs to Comply with the New EPA Laws?
Any business that engages in hazardous activities needs to identify and mitigate potential risks. Businesses in the following industries are more likely to need to pay close attention to the new laws:
- Energy and petroleum industries
- Waste and recycling
The GED requires all businesses in Victoria to understand and minimise risks from pollution and waste. You need to take reasonable, proactive steps and employ adequate environmental management practices.
Your obligations increase with the size of your operations. For example, a small business may need to undergo a basic compliance inspection to verify certain hazard controls are in place. However, a medium or large business may need to follow specific industry guidance and can expect more detailed inspections.
How to Comply with the Environment Protection Amendment Act
No matter the size of your business, you should still take steps to reduce your impact on the environment. Here are the typical steps involved in complying with the EPA laws:
- Arrange an environmental audit
- Create an environmental management system
- Track and report your environmental impact
- Review all applicable government requirements
Licenses/permits are also needed for certain operations. For example, if a business activity may affect an area of national significance, you will likely need a license or a permit.
1. Arrange an Environmental Audit
The first step in complying with the EPA laws is to schedule an environmental audit. An EPA officer can assess your business operations and your current impact on the environment. The audit helps you identify ways that you can reduce your impact and prioritise your environmental management practices.
Subsequent audits provide a way to monitor your progress. For example, you can use your initial audit to set the benchmark for measuring improvements and setbacks.
2. Create an Environmental Management System
After assessing your environmental impact, you should develop a detailed environmental management system (EMS). Management systems provide clear instructions for you and your employees to follow for minimising potential hazards.
The EMS should identify all areas of your business operations that may harm the environment. It should also include operational and emergency procedures for dealing with potential hazards.
3. Track and Report Your Environmental Impact
Continue to track and report your environmental impact. Depending on your industry and type of operations, you may need to report energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, natural resource management monitoring, and more. Reporting is typically voluntary but may be mandatory for certain industries.
4. Review All Applicable Government Requirements
Along with Victoria’s new environment protection laws, you need to comply with all applicable government requirements. This includes national, state, and local laws and industry standards. As a business owner, it is your responsibility to understand which laws apply to you.
Environmental protection is a priority for the government. The latest Victorian environmental laws aim to reduce the impact of pollution or waste. If your business engages in activities that may pose a threat to humans or the environment, take the time to implement the necessary risk management systems.
Explore Victorian occupational health & safety (OHS) courses available through OHS.com.au. You can also contact us for more information about EPA compliance.