New mandatory reporting requirements related to contamination are set to be introduced in Victoria as part of the Victorian Government’s first major overhaul of the Environment Protection Act since the landmark legislation was ratified in 1970.
Currently there is no requirement for mandatory reporting of the existence of contamination in Victoria, unless the site is subject to an Environmental Audit under the Act. By comparison, mandatory reporting provisions already exist in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and ACT.
The environmental footprint of real estate is globally very significant with buildings consuming around 40% of the world’s energy and contributing up to 30% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. In view of this, the real estate sector is focussing on sustainability, with leading institutional investors incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of their assets into their investment processes.
Asbestos was banned in domestic building materials in the 1980s, however, it was still used in Australia up until December 2003, before asbestos, and all products containing asbestos, were eventually banned.
Despite the ban on asbestos use, new cases of mesothelioma have highlighted the human cost of previous occupational exposure to asbestos. Not only is there the human cost, associated with the individual, and their families; but there are costs to the employer.
Asbestos is still an emotive topic, and employers will often have a potential reputational risk from unfavourable media attention. There is also the additional cost implications of common and statute law.
Providing a safe workplace in Australia is a primary focus of employers. Where an employer has identified a potential health risk the use of occupational hygiene monitoring is an essential tool in understanding worker exposure.
From a regulatory perspective, Safe Work Australia is deciding the direction of Occupational Exposure Standards (OES), and have roadshows currently scheduled for stakeholders and businesses in February 2017. Any changes to the current OES will influence business compliance where: “A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure that a worker is not exposed to airborne contaminants above the workplace exposure standard”, whilst compliance is “demonstrated only when the exposure of individual workers or groups of workers is known, with an accepted degree of certainty, to be below the exposure standard”.
VIC EPA Recommendations for Incoming Water Quality Guidelines for Aquatic Ecosystem Protection
In August 2016 the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (VIC EPA) released an information bulletin which outlines the proposed Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (ANZECC) for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and provides recommendations for the immediate adoption of these values.
It is noted that the ANZECC water quality guidelines are currently under review and an updated version is expected to be finalised and released mid-2017.
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of man-made chemicals which do not occur naturally in the environment. Recently the media has highlighted the concerns of regulatory agencies and property owners surrounding PFAS contaminated sites in a number of states across Australia (including at Fiskville (Victoria), Oakey (Queensland) and Williamtown (New South Wales)). This highlights the need to understand and thoroughly assess the potential for PFAS contamination to have occurred.
The duty to report contamination to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) arises when land (which includes soil, groundwater and soil vapour) is contaminated by a substance present at levels in exceedance of those dictated by the EPA for a particular land use. The duty to report is specified under the EPA Guidelines, Guidelines on the Duty to Report Contamination under the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 (July 2015). Last year, EPA undertook a review of the Guidelines.
This week Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) launched the Victorian Landfill Register (VLR). The VLR is lists all current and known closed landfills in Victoria and includes an interactive map allowing users to visualise landfills across the state.
Current and closed landfills pose a wide range of risks to surrounding properties and receptors and the VLR will allow users to identify such sites and evaluate these risks.
Contamination can present a significant obstacle to development of land. Commercial lenders, property owners and developers can mitigate risk by undertaking environmental due diligence. Site contamination and cleaning up and/or managing the contamination can involve significant unforeseen costs and result in delays in development. Effective environmental due diligence is essential to manage this business risk.
Land in areas with a prominent history of commercial and/or industrial land use, such as inner suburban Melbourne and Sydney, is often contaminated to varying degrees. Historical work management practices and regulatory requirements were less stringent than now. Also, concern for the environment has become more prominent. In addition, the potential environmental impacts caused by past commercial and industrial activities were not readily appreciated or understood.
We are pleased to announce the appointment of Craig Marsh as a Senior Health and Safety Consultant in our Sydney office.
Craig is an occupational health and safety specialist with over 8 years’ experience in both Australia and the United Kingdom. His experience and capabilities are welcome additions to the firm.
Craig has experience managing health and safety across a range of industries including healthcare, mining, warehousing, logistics, engineering, maintenance and administrative environments. He has been responsible for the development and implementation of a range of key health and safety initiatives.
Australia is continuing to closely monitor and react to the outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19).
While the number of confirmed cases and deaths in Australia resulting from COVID-19 are relatively low compared to many countries across the world, the numbers have been increasing rapidly. This virus is more contagious and deadly than seasonal influenza. Older age groups and people with a compromised immunity are most at risk.
The respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to significant changes to the way work is done. The Australian Government encourages workers to work from home where possible to reduce the risk of exposure through reduced use of public transport and face to face contact. This is consistent with the Australian Government’s guidance regarding social distancing.
The Federal and State Governments are encouraging employers to commence planning the transition back to the workplace. Therefore, it is essential that you start planning for the return of your employees with a view to making your workplace “COVID-safe”.
Employers and employees must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices consistent with advice from relevant health authorities in order to make your workplace “COVID-safe”. Employers must ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and hygiene requirements that will remain in place to limit the spread. Employers are obliged under health and safety legislation to provide a safe workplace.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used in a range of consumer products, stain repellants, pesticides and firefighting foams. This group of chemicals is persistent and highly resistant to physical, chemical and biological degradation. They are also highly soluble in water, meaning that they may readily leach from soil to surface water or groundwater and then be transported long distances from the original source. As a result of this, PFAS are found in humans, animals and the environment in Australia and globally. There are some uncertainties regarding the potential risks of PFAS, and there is no natural background level, so a precautionary approach to protect human health and the environment has been adopted by authorities.
On 1 July 2021 the new Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (the ‘Act’) will come into effect. Now the operation of the new legislation is imminent it is timely to ensure you are well prepared.
The Act has subordinate legislation including Environment Protection Regulations (the ‘Regulations’) and Environmental Reference Standards (ERS), and Compliance Codes (e.g. codes of practice). The Regulations provide the detailed requirements regarding aspects such as: contaminated land, permissions, waste management, environmental management, environmental audits and financial assurances. The ERS provide the standards to which the environment is to be maintained and are intended to replace the existing State Environment Protection Policies. Details of the new legislation can be accessed from Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s (EPA’s) website at https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/newlaws.
Developing and implementing an effective management system is the foundation for success for companies committed to keeping employees safe, limit their impact on the environment and reduce unnecessary costs from injuries and illnesses in the workplace. An Integrated Management System (IMS) combines all of a business’s policies, processes, and procedures into one unified management framework.
Energy from Waste (EfW) is a growing market in Australia. Currently, up to 80% of the thermal WtE/EfW plants globally are in Japan, Germany and the US.
Last year, in the Australian electricity market, 76% of the total electricity generation came from fossil fuels, with black coal alone accounting for 54% of the mix, and the other 22% coming from other sources such as brown coal, oil, and gas. Nearly a quarter of the electricity generated in Australia came from renewable sources in 2020 and this is expected to increase further.
A new type of assessment to determine whether an Environmental Audit is required for a site, is introduced in Environment Protection Act 2017 (EP ACT). The assessment is called a Preliminary Risk Screen Assessment (PRSA) will be primarily undertaken as part of the planning process. 53X Environmental Audits for land use suitability have been replaced by a PRSA and Environmental Audits under the new Act (EP ACT).