New General Environmental Duty (GED) to impact businesses

Feb 15, 2021

Businesses need to be aware of a new regulation around harm to the environment and human health. Noise pollution, chemical storage, waste management and contamination will all be put under the microscope, closer than ever before. Is your business ready?

Key amendments to the Environment Protection Act 2017 (Vic) which are intended to commence on 1 July 2021 will require businesses to meet obligations under a new General Environmental Duty (GED).

The GED will impose an obligation on businesses and individuals whose operations may cause damage to the environment or human health to reduce risks of such damage. Until the amendments come into force, businesses must continue to comply with their existing obligations under the Environment Protection Act.

Risks include:

  • Noise pollution, for example noise produced by roadworks, construction and manufacturing
  • Odour, for example receiving raw materials
  • Runoff to stormwater
  • Use, storage and disposal of liquids and chemicals
  • Waste management including transportation and end point for disposal
  • Pollution or contamination to air, soil, water and ground water.

The changes will require businesses to manage their activities to avoid the risk of damage to the environment and to respond if their activities cause pollution or contamination.

Businesses must ensure that they understand and assess risks relevant to their business and industry and eliminate or reduce them as far as “reasonably practicable”. What is considered reasonably practicable is likely to take into account the degree of harm and likelihood of occurrence and the cost of implementing measures to reduce the risk of harm.

Many businesses currently manage environmental risks under existing dangerous goods and occupational health and safety laws, however, some businesses will have new obligations.

The Environment Protection Authority will be granted greater powers in terms of investigation, enforcement and compliance. Businesses who fail to comply with the GED may incur civil penalties of up to $1.6 million. Contraventions which are intentional or reckless may attract penalties which are significantly higher. It is therefore essential that businesses identify risks and implement appropriate control measures, monitoring and reporting systems to ensure compliance.

Should you require advice on how your business will be affected by the GED, please contact Heather Richardson.